I fell in love with the Great Minnesota Get Together the first time I set foot in the fairgrounds. My Minnesota born and bred girlfriend (now wife) had been telling me about the fair for years, but as a Jew from Queens, I just couldn’t relate to her vivid descriptions. So when we planned a late summer trip to the Twin Cities from our home in New York, I just couldn’t wait to eat my way through this purely Minnesotan experience.
My New York-centric idea of a fair is one of the street variety. Once the pride of neighborhoods throughout the 5 boroughs, the typical NYC street fair has been reduced to a sad array of cheap food, cheap goods, and nothing that distinguishes one from the next. If you’ve been to a NYC street fair, you know the routine – smoothies on one corner, corn cakes with mozzarella on another, creepy guys selling underwear, knockoffs galore, Asian men giving chair massages, the sock guy, some back alley DJ selling cassettes made on his boom box, and various other nonsense. Since there is a Starbucks on every block, you really have no idea where the fair begins and where it ends.
With that frame of reference, The Minnesota State Fair has always been a real treat for this East Coaster. You either get it or you don’t and there is no in-between. I got it immediately – falling in love with the awesome cheesiness (curds, yum!) all around me. At this event that takes place every year, I saw things I never thought I’d ever see. From weird foods on a stick to lawn tractors of every size and color, my eyes went gaga. All the milk I can drink for 25 cents? Are you kidding me? Sadly, the milk is now $1, but you get the point.
A few years back, my parents were in town during the fair. We brought these two native New Yorkers to the fair to show them some pure Minnesota culture. I’m not saying they didn’t have a good time, but I think that’s when I first realized I belong here and they would only be visiting.
During yet another visit to Minnesota, I was recovering from gall bladder surgery. Even though the doctors told me I would be fine without my gall bladder and that I wouldn’t have to restrict my diet, there was still some concern (from my mother). Would I be able to eat as much? Would I be able to eat spicy foods? What about dense, rich foods? I think you know where I’m going with this. If I could survive the fair, I would be fine. That was my motto as ate my way through the day. The deeper it was fried, the better.
Guess what? I’m still here – the doctors were right on.
Beyond the spectacle and the oddities, there is something more to this state fair. It really is a right of passage – a place people first go as kids and then one where they bring their own children. It’s a place where you can buy a pronto pup from the same guy that served your father and maybe even your grandfather. Same pronto pup, same location (different price). Everyone has his or her own favorites – things that must be eaten, things that must be seen, and things that must be done (big yellow slide anyone?). And then the cycle of life begins. What was fun as a kid becomes less fun as an adult. Maybe your adult body can’t quite handle the crowds or the heat or the calorie intake. But then you have your own children and you’re back to square one.
I’ve been to the fair a few times now and last year marked my first as a Minnesota resident. I have noticed that some of the natives feel like they might be too good for the fair or that their time might be better spent elsewhere. I don’t like those people. My kind of people get excited for fried cheese, 1200-calorie foot long corn dogs, and a few dozen freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (served in a cone of course). What made last year’s experience so special was that we were able to take our son for the first time. He brought a new enthusiasm that only children can provide. Now it’s up to us to show him the ropes around the fairgrounds and make sure that he gets it.
So as the 2010 Minnesota State Fair approaches us, I urge you to show your Minnesota pride. Head to the fair and try something new. Or just do the same exact thing you did last year.
As for me – well, I’m expected to be the guinea pig now. People back in New York are anxiously awaiting this year’s photographic proof of all things consumed at the fair. So here I come chicken fried bacon smothered in gravy. I hope you’re tasty.
Filed Under: Noshin'