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Deep-fried and decadent: Fair food will never be known as healthy, but it sure is good

By Jeannine Stein

Los Angeles Times

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 6 2011 4:25 p.m. MDT

When dining on a dish like deep-fried butter or fried Oreos or funnel cake at a county fair, every one knows it fair game on the calories.

Jeannine Stein, MCT

I ate deep-fried butter at the Orange County (Calif.) Fair. And I'm not apologizing for it.

Let's face it — going to a county fair is like getting a free pass to Junk Food Land. All bets are off. No one gives you the admonishing finger if you follow a platter of funnel cake with a deep-fried Oreo chaser. In fact, as I carried around the deep-fried butter, I was bestowed admiring glances from other fair-goers.

You have to love a place that offers something called a "Coronary Combo" of deep-fried butter and chocolate-covered bacon.

Of course, eating the artery-clogging treat (and the rest of the stuff I'll tell you about in a minute) was all done in the name of journalistic investigation. Or something. I was there to find out if fair foods are all they're cracked up to be. Are they worth the calories and the extra hit of Metformin, even if it's a once-a-year thing?

When the fair was in full swing, my husband and I high-tailed it to the main food drag and went immediately for the butter, which has become legendary for being perhaps the worst food imaginable on the planet. You take butter, dip it in batter and deep-fry it. What could be better? Or worse, I guess. The dish came piled high with whipped cream, and there was the option of adding chocolate sauce. But I wanted to experience it in its purest form.

It was good. The taste was like a buttery churro or, to quote my husband, "A funnel cake on steroids."

The theme of this year's fair was "Let's Eat!" as if people really need to be reminded. Fair food is an American tradition and as much a part of the fair experience as the Ferris wheel and the giant alligator. An exhibit detailed the history of fair food, from peanuts and popcorn to the tradition of deep frying anything that doesn't move.

Next we decided to go savory and split a barbecued turkey sandwich, waffle fries and an ear of roasted corn. The corn was the best of the three and didn't even need butter. Not that it would have mattered at this point. Then, with a few hours of walking under our belts, my husband decided to try some grilled beef kebabs, which were on the chewy side, although they did come with unadulterated onions and peppers.

Vegetables made a couple of appearances at the fair, in fact, most often fried, as in zucchini nachos. I thought a stuffed jalapeno might be tasty until I discovered what it was stuffed with — a Butterfinger bar. That may be the least appealing food combination ever.

While eating the kebabs, we shared a table with a young couple who generously offered us some of their fried Kool-Aid. They, like us with the butter, had been curious about what this bizarre-sounding item had to offer. Balls of fried doughnut-like dough revealed a hot-pink interior that tasted like Kool-Aid and had a fizzy tang. Not something I'd go back for.

With an hour to go until closing time, we figured we'd throw caution to the wind and try one more thing. I lobbied for the cheesecake on a stick, but my husband convinced me that the deep-fried Snickers bar would be a better choice. It wasn't bad — I liked the hot, melted chocolate — but by that time the whole fried-dough thing was becoming overwhelming.

Shall we do the calories? I thought you'd never ask. The WebMDsite lists fried Snickers at 444 calories and 29 grams of fat, and a funnel cake at 760 calories and 44 grams of fat. That ear of corn was positively slimming at about 125 calories.

The online site My Fitness Pal has one fried butter ball weighing in at 443 calories and 39 grams of fat, but since our version was extruded, I'm not sure how to calculate calories. Let's just call it an even billion.

Yes, it was fun trying some truly decadent foods that are otherwise unavailable, even though I felt like a big ball of fried dough by the end. My guilt was assuaged by the fact that this is so far a biennial event for my husband and me, and by the fact that I walked (albeit at a leisurely pace) for about six hours. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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