It’s been ten years or so since I last visited the Indiana State Fair and, as an avowed enthusiast of tradition and stasis, I’m delighted to observe that very little has changed in the intervening decade. Yes, there are some exotic-looking kebabs, which ultimately turn out to be bits of pig impaled on a stick, and there’s even an acknowledgement of Italian culture and food in the International Pavilion, where the burgeoning diversity of that great nation’s cuisine is represented by biscotti and brightly colored soda.
The deep-fried Snickers bar — that tribute to Scottish thrift and ingenuity which was just making its debut last time I visited the fair — is still on the menu, but is now in the company of a similarly prepared Milky Way (actually quite tasty, even at 10 a.m.) and an abundance of other candy bars. A scary addition to the lineup this year is the deep-fried bubblegum (available from Carousel Foods).
Last time I checked, bubble gum was a petroleum-based product. My late grandmother, an unrepentant hypochondriac and quintessential old wife, was always warning me that if I ever swallowed bubble gum it would tie my guts in knots and I would spend the rest of an otherwise happy childhood in hospital. Who knows what happens when you deep fry the stuff, but I wasn’t prepared to put it to the test so early in the day, and my usual roster of willing cohorts was mysteriously absent, leaving me in the company of our thoroughly agreeable but gastronomically cautious photographer, Mark.
(Just as an aside, Mark, if you’re reading this, next time you decide to go on a macrobiotic diet, please wait until after the state fair; I need a guinea pig, for goodness sake.)
A prime rib sandwich consumed close to the source just inside the cattle pavilion was sliced so thinly that I believe a new form of laser cutter was employed in the process. For $8 this was—for want of a better choice of words—daylight robbery, but there again, that kind of pricing goes with the territory.
Much attention has been paid to the most striking culinary innovation of this year’s fair, the spaghetti and meatball ice cream (Monroe Concessions, across from Pepsi Coliseum in a place of honor given the winner of the fair's Signature Food contest). Molecular gastronomy has come to the Hoosier state in a most unlikely form; Ferran Adrià, eat your deconstructed heart out. Well, maybe not, but it’s a fun idea, even at $5 for a small dish, which unfortunately melted before Mark was able to get his award-winning shot. If you have to try it, take a couple of bites, then give the rest to an unsuspecting child.
For the grand finale, I decided to try a dish ambitiously and quite cunningly entitled "The Lamb Parfait" (Porky's BBQ). Essentially a deconstructed, and then reconstructed shepherd’s pie served with barbecue sauce in a clear plastic container, it was, to paraphrase Steve Martin in The Jerk, quite possibly the best lamb parfait in a cup I’ve ever tasted.