“Howdy folks, and welcome to the great state fair of Texas”, spoken by none other than Big Tex, the oversized icon with his commanding presence, booming voice and 10 gallon hat. His voice resounds over the grounds of the “State Fair of Texas” for three full weeks in late September and early October every year, this year marking number 125. Yep, that’s right the great state of Texas has carried on this tradition for 125 years.
Those of us that live in Texas learn about the fair from a very young age. A memory I’ll never forget is making the trek – all 350 miles of it – up to Dallas from down on the gulf coast where I grew up, in a big yellow school bus, with a bunch of high school choir kids practiced and ready to perform at the fair. I don’t recall the singing part, but I do remember racing up and down the mid-way, riding rides, screaming at the top of my lungs as the old wooden roller coaster plunged, and spiraled in a seemingly endless ride, stopping abruptly, leaving my friends and me laughing hysterically, each of us telling our version of how scared we were on that rickety ole’ thing. Sadly, the old wooden roller coaster is no longer a fixture at the fair. Replaced by brightly colored rides blasting ear shattering music that sling one into outer space, around in dizzying circles, upside down, inside out and back again. The clatter of that old wooden train of roller coaster cars slowly being pulled up, up, up, to the pinnacle, only to be dropped straight to the bottom, clattering and clicking all the way, gone for good. Oh, it’s been gone for many years, still the midway is alive with laughter, screams and the occasional teary eyed kid wishing he’d not have gone on that crazy ride after-all.
One rage that never changes at the fair is the variety of food offered by carnies, touting their goods. Fried food is the most popular food you can chow down on at our great state fair. So popular that there is a “fried food” contest every year to see who can turn out the “best” fried food. These vendors fry anything; Twinkies, Snickers bars, butter, beer, salsa, bubblegum, you name it. The 2011 winner was fried Buffalo Chicken in a Flapjack and the fried bubblegum was given the trophy for most creative. Some previous winners have been; deep-fried Frito pie, fried peaches and cream, and fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches. And I ask you what competition revolving around food would be complete without a bacon entry? Yes, in 2008 chicken fried bacon was handed the trophy for best fried food.
Now eating all this fried food often times sends fair goers home with tummy aches, feeling fat and bloated for days afterwards. It’s the price to be paid. There is no lack of grease and salt lavished on fair food. Not my kind of meal. I do indulge in a Fletcher’s corny dog every year, slathered in good ole’ yellow mustard. I figure once a year won’t clog up my arteries too bad. I admit I’ve never tried the fried beer, butter, or bacon but this year I did stumble upon a fabulous food vendor serving freshly made Mexican food at the fair. This is a rarity .
Her name is Lupita. Her booth is kitty cornered across from the carousel. While browsing food peddlers I noticed her plates of food, displayed on the counter with fresh cilantro and freshly grilled jalapenos. Upon closer inspection I noticed the workers chopping fresh veggies and fruit inside the booth. I also spotted a tub of dough just waiting to be pressed into tortillas for breakfast tacos or enchiladas. Aqua frescas displayed alongside fresh fruit cups filled with large spears of juicy pineapple and bright red watermelon. What’s not to like? As my man Dan and I ordered two breakfast tacos Lupita herself came out from behind the stand to talk. Wiping her hands on her apron, sporting a flower in her salt and pepper hair she approached and asked if I liked to take pictures. I replied, ” Yes.” “We ordered breakfast tacos. Are you Lupita?” “Yes”, she smiled, “I am, do you want beans?” Never missing a step of what was going on behind the counter. “Of course”, was my response as she spoke to the girl with a friendly smile flipping the fresh tortillas for our tacos, making sure they were made to order. She warned me about those grilled jalapenos, “be careful, they’ve been coming hot this year!” I tell you this story because in all my years of fair going I’ve never spotted a booth turning out such fresh and delicious food with a friendly proprietress to boot. It made a lasting impression.
After adoring hubby and I relished every bite of those breakfast tacos and grilled jalapenos, lucky for us ours weren’t too hot, I went to find Lupita hoping to discover that she would give me directions to her restaurant. She doesn’t own a restaurant! She has been serving tacos, gorditas, enchiladas, tamales, rice and beans at the fair for 18 years. How in the heck did I miss her all this time? I’ll be back next time I visit the fair for a dose of Lupita’s delicious fair food. If you find yourself strolling the fair, stop in and give her a try – you won’t be disappointed.
Fair food aside, visiting the fair is a tradition in our family. We enjoy seeing the shiny new cars and trucks, the livestock buildings complete with all their animal smells, the quilts lovingly made, adorning blue and red ribbons declaring “Best in Show” and “First Premium”, the endless jars of pickled okra, squash, tomatoes, and green beans, the variety of music and talent around every corner, pig races, frisbee dogs and visiting the bee keepers association booth to spot the queen enclosed in a plexiglass showcase, the only close up view of bees for many folks. Elsie the Bordens cow is always stationed in the Food and Fiber building with baby Beauregard by her side, their large brown eyes gazing through long eyelashes looking longingly to the outdoors. The parade complete with fire trucks, cowboys in flashy costumes, the Shriner band always a favorite, clowns on mini-motorcycles driving in circles through the crowds. And finally the fair wouldn’t be complete without the midway full of crazy rides and carnies hawking each fairgoer to try their luck at games of basketball, fast pitch, dart throwing and ring toss. And if you are a lucky winner, carting bigger than life stuffed animals around the fair grounds, juggling your prize and your corny dog.
There’s nothing to a Texan like the great State Fair of Texas. There are of course those who “don’t like the fair”. I’ve never understood that opinion. There’s something for everyone at the fair. Only one more week to go before the fair closes its gates on the 125th anniversary celebration. We’ve been twice and maybe, just maybe we’ll go back for one more round of the sights, sounds and smells of the great State Fair of Texas.