Slideshow: Best in show at the state fair

by Rebekah Schouten
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KANSAS CITY — A proliferation of global cuisine in this year’s state fair offerings points to a more sophisticated future for fair fare. Dennis Larson, the Minnesota State Fair’s license administration manager and resident “Food Guy,” said the on-a-stick mainstays of state fairs may be eclipsed by upscale alternatives.

“I think fair food can be classy and still be in small portions and walkable,” Mr. Larson said. “I think my breaking point was one fair had deep-fried bubblegum on a stick one year, and I thought, ‘That’s about it. We don’t have to go any further.’”

Many of the new items debuting at the 2015 Minnesota State Fair feature upscale, global flavors.

“International seasonings like chutney, tikka, curry, kimchi, ginger, aioli, cilantro, chili honey lime … those are just a few of the new spices that I really wasn’t that familiar with, but we’ll all be here now at the fair in one variation or another,” Mr. Larson said.

Indian cuisine has emerged as a prominent theme at Minnesota’s state fair, with such examples as Butter Chicken Samosas, pastries filled with chicken in a tomato curry sauce that are served with a side of green chutney; Indi Frites, Indian-seasoned russet and sweet potato fries in a crispy batter; and Tikka On-a-Stikka, chicken marinated in spices and yogurt then chargrilled and smothered in tikka sauce.

One vendor combines Indian flavors with a Canadian favorite with Kimchi ‘n’ Curry Poutine. The dish features braised pork and potatoes covered with curry gravy and cheddar cheese that is topped with kimchi and a poached egg.

“We’ve had poutine before from Quebec, and now there’s indigenous variations … who’d have thought,” Mr. Larson said. “This comes from India and it’s got a totally different spin on it.”

Minnesota isn’t the only state catching on to the global cuisine trend. The Wisconsin State Fair is giving fair-goers a taste of Greece with its Chicken Milano. It features chicken marinated in Greek wine, garlic and grilled vegetables all wrapped in a warm pita and served with salad and tzatziki sauce.

The California State Fair marries Japanese flavors with fair food tradition by offering Wasabi Bacon Bombs. These sausage bites, impaled on two chopsticks, are wrapped in bacon and served with wasabi sauce.

One of the Minnesota State Fair’s more strange-sounding ethnic offerings, Mr. Larson said, is the Hot Tail, which consists of a roasted pig tail coated in a scallion ginger sauce.

“We picked that not just to be an odd novelty, but it’s actually coming in as indigenous to that culture in Korean food, so we didn’t just bring it in for the shock appeal, but because it makes sense with that culture, and it’s something we don’t see every day,” Mr. Larson said.

The combination of ethnic flavors and odd offerings continues with the Minnesota State Fair’s Fire and Ice Kreme, which features soft serve ice cream covered in sriracha sauce and corn chips. Sriracha shows up in several new food offerings at Minnesota’s fair, including Sriracha Balls, Sriracha Sliders and a Sriracha Dog.

“The hot thing is sriracha sauce,” Mr. Larson said. “We actually have six new items with sriracha. Before this year, I didn’t even know how to spell it or pronounce it. Now I do.”

While food with shock value still headlines most fair menus, Minnesota’s included, Mr. Larson said he compares the state fair food industry to the food truck business. Food trucks have recently shaken off many negative perceptions and are now considered more upscale.

“It may be a long time before we ever change the culture or the perception of fair food, but we’re hoping we get away from just the ‘whatever shock appeal on a stick’ with having true high-end entrée-centered foods,” Mr. Larson said. “I think that’s where we’re going to, because that’s what the culture wants.”

Click for a slideshow of more state fair foods.

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