The Iowa State Fair — which continues through this weekend in Des Moines — is a tradition for many Iowans. My family is no different. This year marked my 14th year at the first few opening days of the fair. Of course, we’re there for other reasons as well.
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But, really, why does anyone go to the fair? To eat.
I try something new every time I go. My favorite food this year was without a doubt the chocolate covered chocolate chip cannolis on a stick. The “Dipped in Chocolate” where these are sold never disappoints, they sell tons of desserts dipped in chocolate like cheesecake, tiramisu, peanut butter pie, cookie dough, monkey tails (bananas), key lime pie and a couple new things each year. Owner Dennis Mitchell says the success of the vending stand can be attributed to one thing — “Pretty much everything dipped in chocolate is good,” he says.
I don’t disagree. But, there is more to life that things dipped in chocolate. Or so I’m told.
At 8:15 a.m. on opening day of the fair in Des Moines in the middle of a fried food paradise of powdered sugar-coated Twinkies and frozen margaritas, hundreds of fairgoers were shaking their moneymakers doing Zumba.
Odd? Not when Gov. Terry Branstad — who has set the goal of making Iowa the healthiest state by 2016 — has deemd this to be the year that the famous-for-fried-food fair gets healthy.
So can it be done? We sure tried, for one day at least. You can only abstain from fried food for so long, after all.
First stop was The Salad Bowl on the second floor of the Agriculture Building. Founded by a former Iowa State Fair CEO, the place has a healthy vibe and serves creations that will unclog your arteries, not the opposite. Now run by the daughter of the former CEO, Connie Boesen, the menu options include a salad on a stick and fruit on a stick with a yogurt dipping sauce. Even the kid friendly option of PB&J on a stick has grapes between sandwich wedges.
“People like the food at our stand because it’s something different than what you usually see at the fair,” one of the employees told me.
It is Iowa, though, and what’s the State Fair without a big plate of pig. Throw out the plate and you have pork chop on a stick. It’s a must-have for Albert Martin who’s been coming to the fair every year for 30 years,
“It’s only 9 in the morning, I’ve been at the fair for only 30 minutes and I already have my pork chop on a stick,” he said.
At just 120 or so calories in a three ounce chop, pork isn’t a bad choice, at 9 a.m. or any time.
Finish it all off with a lemonade. Not the healthiest considering the generous helping of sugar, but, hey, lemon is a fruit, right?
It’s my second day at the fair, and I’ve already spent $20 by the time I walked in the gates. Parking cost $10 and it was another $10 to get in. So I’m on a mission to eat at the fair today for as cheaply as possible.
Although most of the fried delicacies come at a cost, there are some wallet friendly options among the 200 food stands and 57 items on a stick. The official website for the Iowa State Fair (Iowastatefair.org) has a list of 91 foods for less than $2. The fair can be tasty even on a budget.
Here are some of the best foods I found for $2 or less:
- Lamb jerky, $1.25, sheep barn
- Pretzel Rods, $1, Zags Popcorn west of Grandstand
- Homemade Fries, 42, Rib Shack north of Walnut Square
- Cake Pops, $2, Jalapeno Pete’s Grand Avenue across from Administration Building
- Baklava/Kandalifi, 42, The Green Rock Garden
- Hard Boiled Egg, free, Agriculture Building
- Watermelon, free, HyVee in the Varied Industries Building
For my final day at the fair I’m not worrying about health or price. I want to try as many crazy foods on a stick that I can. Fair vendors added 14 new items this year.
Here are my top 10 suggestions:
- Nothing Spared Fair Fsquare with potato chips, Oreos, marshmallows, crisped rice cereal, pretzels, toffee and M&Ms
- Caribbean style crab fritters
- German Chocolate funnel cakes with coconut frosting topping
- Blue sapphire funnel cakes. Made with chocolate cake batter in honor of 100th year of the Titanic.
- Chocolate covered chocolate chip cannolis on a stick
- Deep fried pickle “dawg.” A pickle covered in cream cheese and ham.
- Double bacon corn dog. A corn dog wrapped in bacon and dipped in batter with bacon pieces.
- Chocolate covered deep fried cheesecake.
- Hot Beef Sundae. Not a new item but a classic that can’t be missed.
- Deep fried Ho-hos and deep fried Oreos. Not a new item either but a must-have every year as well.
— Jacqueline Schutte
Jacqueline Schutte is an intern at KCRG TV-9. She is from a small town in Northeast Iowa and will be a junior at Wartburg College in the fall. She enjoys running, cooking and her cats Rango, Jason and Aldean.