Uncategorized

Freaks and Fried Butter in Florida, USA

imageedit_7_3595029283

I am going to say something today that you might dismiss as ridiculous hyperbole, but I promise you that I say it with utmost sincerity:

There are few events in life as entertaining for a European as the Florida State Fair.

Six years ago, on a whim, Scrubs and I parked our rental car in front of the Tampa fairground and hopped out with entirely average levels of excitement. We bought our tickets, pushed open the gate, and ambled in. I was hoping for a small petting zoo and maybe a few stalls selling candy floss (or ‘cotton candy‘), while Scrubs was hoping for a speedy lap of the fairground and a quick getaway before I had a chance to kidnap a pygmy goat.

What we hadn’t even dreamed to hope for or expect were the hours of entertainment we managed to buy for a mere $12 each. From the moment we walked in and looked around at the first aisle of stalls, we knew that this would be one of the high points of our trip. In Europe, there is a common negative stereotype of Americans that is… unflattering, to say the least. You’ve probably come across it before; Americans are expected to be loud and not particularly bright, with a love for the star-spangled banner that borders on the fanatical, an enormous appetite for junk food and an enthusiasm for supersizing everything whenever possible.

Although on our travels we had periodically come across certain people or places that had tipped their hat to these stereotypes (the same as in any country, really), the Florida State Fair was the first and last place we visited that managed to fit all of these into a 300 acre space.

Food stalls with multiple options greeted us as we walked in. They offered everything – and I mean everything – on a stick. I am not sure why Floridians believe food is immediately made immeasurably better if it’s on a stick, all I can say is that they seem to believe it fervently.

We walked past these stalls with our mouths agape. Monstrosities that must have been conceived in the depths of hell screamed at us from brightly coloured billboards.

Everywhere we looked, people were eating indescribable (yet presumably edible) foodthings with great relish. Our eyes as wide as saucers, we eventually made it past the food stalls to the agricultural shed, where I found the pygmy goats, as expected… and cattle. Cattle with enormous horns that looked downright uncomfortable. I’m not sure these bulls were fully on board with the whole bigger-is-better mindset.

At least I understood why the cattle were there though. We passed the pygmy goats and cattle and pigs and sheep, and suddenly came across a kangaroo.

Kangaroos, as far as I can tell, are not native to Florida.

181526_10150096869718751_658982_n

We kept walking and came across a giraffe. A giraffe! Giraffes are definitely not endemic to Florida! He looked extremely out of place. I stopped to give him a carrot.

imageedit_2_6047920174

As we left the menagerie and continued on our way, we stopped for some grilled corn on the cob (not on a stick) and discussed the peculiarity of seeing African and Australian land mammals at a fair that was supposed to celebrate the best of the state of Florida. Little did we know, however, that the most peculiar was yet to come. We rounded the corner only to find a collection of brightly coloured tents festooned with hand-painted signs that stopped us dead in our tracks.

I feel I should explain here that my only experience with side-show attractions is what I’ve read about in slightly-problematic children’s books. Up until I saw these tents, I honestly, truly, hand-on-heart believed them to be something that had died out with the arrival of political correctness. As far as I know, “freak shows*” are not a thing in Europe – certainly, they’re not a thing in Ireland – so I probably stood and stared for far longer than is strictly polite when I realised what exactly I was looking at.

188837_10150096872323751_2103534_n

What.

185869_10150096872498751_3758788_n

On.

190611_10150096872773751_6308969_n

Earth.

I moved from tent to tent, astonished, as people queued up, paid, and wandered inside as if this were a perfectly normal activity for a sunny afternoon. The curiosity burned inside of me as I tried to decide whether it was ethically justifiable to pay to see “wild little aboriginies” or a “snake child” if you suspected they might only be animatronic dolls. They couldn’t possibly be real people… Right? In the end, my conscience won out of over my curiosity and I left the area of colourful tents feeling an uncomfortable mixture of intrigue and disgust.

We reached the rides (by far the least interesting part of the entire fair), cast an eye over the monster trucks (of course), and then I looked to my left and saw it, shining like a beacon of hope in this desolate land.

The holy grail. The most “American” thing I have ever seen in my entire life.

184826_10150096869243751_4278942_n

Deep-Fried Butter.

Obviously, it had to be done.

After weighing up the pros and cons of the menu (Pro: curiosity would be satisfied. Con: swift and premature death from coronary artery disease), we queued up and ordered two deep-fried butters and two deep-fried oreos. A short but surprising conversation with the nice man at the window proved unexpectedly illuminating when he told us that deep-fried butter was his bestseller. In fact, his nephew had given up his high-paying job in IT to run a deep-fried butter stall because it was more profitable. Both impressed and appalled, we retreated to a quiet spot with our deep-fried cholesterol grenades and examined them closely. In my excitement, I didn’t bother to focus my camera and as a result the photos are a blurry mess, but this is what they looked like on the outside.

imageedit_5_6444052174

I wolfed mine down in quick succession and then remembered I had meant to take a photo for posterity, so I asked Scrubs to take a bite out of each and then allow me to photograph them.

…Which he did, because he has the patience of a saint.

185732_10150096873498751_2379644_n

The one on top is the deep-fried butter, while the other is the deep-fried oreo. If you’re shaking your head in disgust right now or making an extremely unimpressed face, I can only say that you know not what you do. Much as I would like to scoff at the very idea of deep-fried butter, the unfortunate and inconvenient truth is that it was absolutely delicious. As best I can tell, they roll a knob of butter in sugar and cinnamon before freezing it, and then deep-fry the frozen blob of unhealthiness to create something that looks truly rank but tastes like melted heaven.

The deep-fried oreo, by comparison, tasted dry and bland.

Tired out from feeling like time-travellers exploring a strange land, we stopped for some candy floss on our way back to the real world. We also stopped to marvel at sandcastles, sculptures made from butter, stitched fabric and wonderful quilts. We eyed the funnel cakes and corn dogs suspiciously, and finally made it back to the car. We left the car park feeling the aftereffects of profound culture shock.

If you have the opportunity to visit this wormhole in the fabric of time, please go. It is unlike anything else you will ever experience. Wave a tiny American flag. Marvel at the sideshow stalls. Eat some deep-fried butter.

… and then maybe get your cholesterol checked, because I did and it was sky high.

Some say I still have high cholesterol** to this day.

 

 

*Apparently the use of the word ‘freak’ is considered correct now?

**I actually do although I don’t think I can honestly still blame the deep-fried butter….

43 thoughts on “Freaks and Fried Butter in Florida, USA

  1. LOL. As a Floridian, I enjoyed your post. I didn’t even know freak shows were still around. I remember them when I was growing up in Pennsylvania. Sad about the animals though. They don’t belong in cages. I wonder if PETA knows about them. Not sure about the freaks (I heard they came from Europe.) Haha

    1. Get yourself to the state fair! It’s … I mean I know I just wrote a whole post about it, but … it’s really beyond words.

      1. I hope you tried the fried pickles. On a serious note, I AM concerned about how they are keeping/treating the animals on display. It took a long time to realize how badly animals, especially elephants, have been mistreated by circuses.

        1. No I did not. What am I, a masochist? Yes the animals worried me too. I didn’t go into it in the post because it was too sad, but they had a bear in a cage as well, and a sea lion sunning himself beside a plastic pool… It was bizarre. The whole place sort of felt like stepping back in time though. Hopefully these days that side of things is a little bit more tightly regulated.

    1. They’re all like that?! Really?? I did, but as someone who had never seen anything like it it was…. something!

      I’ve been to Florida, LA, Boston, NY, Las Vegas and San Diego… America is an incredibly varied place. I’ve never been to another state fair though!

  2. Four words:

    Deep fried mars bar.

    There is nothing better than that deep fried in the world. Problem is, you can only eat one, because the second will kill you stone dead…

  3. Oh come on! Now I have an irrational craving for lasagna on a stick! In all seriousness, it looks like a great time, Quinn. I may have to take it in myself.

  4. I heartily approve of food on a stick and the deep frying of fat. Also giraffes are cool. Was the carrot on a stick? Because that would be all kinds of ironic.

  5. I want to say something but I am at a loss for words. I still can’t get over the donut burger, let alone absorb the rest of that post.

    It’s funny to me, being from Canada, how different our two countries are sometimes.

  6. BRILLIANT post Quinn! I wanna go there. The photos you took were brilliant but as you said, some were disturbing. Do you regret not checking out at least one of the tastelessly labelled human (presumably) exhibits? What could it really be about? Surely not like the ‘freak shows’ of earlier times – please god, no!!!

    The food on a stick aspect was very funny and the description of the fried butter experiment, too.

    PS We call spun sugar Fairy Floss in Oz. It is the best ever name for it IMHO! 😃

  7. Omg this was hilarious!!!!! My mum has told me that freak shows used to come around with the circus here and that was the first place she seen someone with dwarfism, they paraded him around and made him sit on upside down pint glass for a stool!!! I thought she joking!!!!! I want to go to a state fair it sounds like an eye opener…they might steal me for the freak show though haha! Deep fried butter and anything on a stick lol!!
    Apparently deep fried Mars Bar is a thing here is Scotland…can’t say I’ve tried it or know anyone who has…maybe I will! Great post Quinn, love your travel adventures! Xo

  8. Hah! So apparently we didn’t freak you out enough or clog your arteries enough to stay far away and never return? Or apparently we turned you into a freak and didn’t clog your arteries enough for you to return, probably converting you to “Freaky Blood-curdling American”? 😀

    https://youtu.be/t-rQTrj6JmM

    1. I’m unlikely to return during the reign of Donald Trump, but I do love America. It’s so incredibly varied and the people are always wonderful!

      1. For the most part — relative of course to the “cultural region” one visits — Americans are moderate, kind, and halfway intelligent. 😉 It’s those few (on both extreme ends of the spectrum, like tRump) that give us a horrible wrap. Ugh.

        So four, possibly eight years, Quinn is a very long time to come see us weirdos ya know! 😛

          1. Impeachment: you and me both! 😮

            Of the last several Presidents, going back to JFK, even George W. spoke and articulated his speeches slightly above a 10th-grade level! tRump has one of the smallest vocabularies I have heard since my kids watched PBS Teletubbies!*

            *If you don’t know who the Teletubbies are let me know. 😛

  9. I remember going into one of those “freakshow” kind of tents at the fair when I was in high school. Honestly, at this point, I can’t remember which sort of person I was going in to see, but I want to say it was something akin to the snake girl. I don’t know if she was really deformed in some way or if it was fake. I just remember leaving her little tent feeling horrible for her.

    1. She was a real person? I couldn’t make up my mind… On one hand, if that’s their job that they choose to do, wouldn’t they want people to go in? On the other hand, if they’re truly unusual, isn’t it exploitation? Are they people in body paint and latex prosthetics or real people with medical conditions? Even if they’re people in body paint, isn’t it marginalising people who actually have medical conditions? I just couldn’t figure it out at all. You are the first person I’ve spoken to who has actually been inside one of the tents!

  10. We have the Meadowlands State Fair in New Jersey every year as well. I love the rides because you really feel you’re one rusted bolt away from death, so it doesn’t matter if you’re on the freefall or the teacups, you feel that rush of adrenaline. Foot long bacon corn dogs are the best. And deep-fried Twinkies. And the orangeade. Zeppoles. Kielbasa. Oh and the games! The dart throw, water races, it’s all a thrill every summer.

  11. This post makes me sad. Yes, the fairs are literally the same in every state. Not a single difference in one of them, except the location and possibly the size. I love America, I really do. But geez, some of the stuff we have going on over here is just too much.

    The freakshow stuff is bogus. We had some tents like that at our fair a couple of years ago and it was laughable at best. I want to say we had the snake lady thing, it is just a person that works at the fair with their hand through a hole in the table with a snake sitting next to it. A way to take your dollar and laugh at you for believing you were going to see anything more than that.

    You should visit Texas next! 😉

  12. BWAHAHAHAAA! What a great write-up!

    My most fervent desire now is to contract Alzheimer’s Disease so I can go to there every day and feel your overwhelming amazement as a first time fair-goer every time.

    ‘MERICA!

    1. I’m not sure I was able to accurately express just how astonished I felt to be there… I promise it was almost indescribable. I did my best though!

  13. Sounds like the Virginia State Fair to me… I was never impressed with the deep fried oreos; maybe better with a glass of milk, but that seems to be asking too much. I am however, a huge fan of the fried chicken parfait. Not sure if it’s a only a VA thing, but they put mashed potatoes, fried chicken and barbecue sauce in an ice cream sundae cup. SO STINKIN’ DELICIOUS!!

    Side note: last state fair I went to, I got the pleasure of helping a lady chase down her runaway llama and load it into the back of her car. And no, I don’t mean a trailer. She literally transported 2 llamas in the backseat of her minivan!

      1. Just don’t get too close to the rear as they can kick the snot out of you, and stay away from their faces as they can spit quite the distance. You know when they’re about to shower you when their heads are as high as they can get it and their ears lay flat; in such a case, either step back a few paces or smack its face away (gently of course).

  14. Kudos! Not only did you engage in the most ‘Merican of American activities (state fair) – but you doubled down and did it in FLORIDA. You are scarred for life now, I’m amazed you made it out alive. 🙂 Luckily it sounds like San Diego also made it onto your itinerary, so you counterbalanced things somewhat.
    You need to come visit Seattle next. Easy location for an Ireland native to acclimate to – same weather, better coffee…

    1. I’m not sure about taking a holiday to find the same weather I’m trying desperately to escape but it does look like a nice place….! I may have escaped Florida alive but my arteries sustained considerable damage; every meal over there was a war of attrition with my own body.

      I did LOVE San Diego though….!

      1. San Diego is high on my list for “next place to live” contenders. La Jolla, Del Mar coastal ‘hoods especially. Only bad thing about San Diego is California state income taxes and lower-than-other-cities wages. There’s a saying that they can get away with paying less in San Diego because the weather’s so nice, people will put up with earning less. It’s called the “sunshine tax”.

        But yeah, visiting Seattle for you would be a roll of the dice weather wise (come in July or August for best results). The accents would change, you’d sit in more traffic, and you’d pay more for your day to day handcrafted artisanal hipster foodstuffs.

        On second thought, forget what I said. I’ll meet you in San Diego. 🙂

        1. Hahaha! I liked Carlsbad, it was quiet and chill and there were a lot of people with dogs (I have a theory that if a town has a lot of pet-owners it means the people there are nicer than average).

          I make my own handcrafted artisanal hipster foodstuffs so that’s fine. Or do cookies and brownies not count as hipster foodstuffs?

          1. In Seattle, cookies and brownies aren’t hipsterized until you add in exotic marijuana products of some kind. (It’s legal here, and available in a dizzying array of options. At least it’s legal for now / until Trump attacks…)

Leave a Reply