Culinary Adventures at the Alameda County Fair | News

Every day is a fun day at the Alameda County Fair. For me, Thursday afternoons are special because the fair offers bargains on food at many of the stalls. For $2, you can snack on a cup of mac cheese, lick a Dole Whip or eat a full-size steamed bao bun.

Stories abound about the introduction of foods such as hamburgers and cotton candy at fairs.

But long before food took center stage, the first county fairs in the early 19th century were agricultural affairs where farmers held sheep-shearing competitions and exchanged innovations. The tradition runs deep at Pleasanton Fair with pig races, livestock fairs and horse racing. But there are drone shows, FMX motocross, concerts and so much more to see, touch and taste.

In the food court, the fair hosts 80 mega vendors located from the Grandstand and Courtyard to the Agventure Park, Main Carnival, and Kids Park area. At the fair, some people eat what is familiar at home or restaurants and others come to try.

At the first $2 Fair Food Bites on Thursday, June 23, accompanied by a heat wave and plenty of water, I discovered interesting food served at new stalls and classics presented in new ways.

Hard to find some fair food elsewhere.

Take the Dole Whip soft, a Disneyland staple. In Pleasanton you can enjoy strawberry and pineapple Dole Whip and two clowns watching you on stilts. Given that soft serve isn’t one of my top culinary temptations, I loved the smaller $2 Thursday portion and Dole Whip, a smooth, cool, and fruity treat.

Of course, one of the main attractions of the fair is indulging in some calorie-dense foods like funnel cakes or fried cheesecake. I am seriously pursuing this perspective.

Having discovered the Sweet Cheeks kiosk shortly after my arrival, I decided to have dessert first and mentioned it to the server, Zane Bradbury. I soon find out that his parents, Jackie and Brian, have been bringing Sweet Cheeks to the show for 40 years. With this background, Bradbury said to me firmly: “After all, you can’t go to the fair without fried food.”

I agree with him most of the time. Dine healthy at the fair with many options from vegetarian teriyaki dishes to salads at Greek Slick Restaurant. Since I eat salad a lot, I have been affected by my cravings.

After looking forward to their Thursdays $2, Fried Oreo cookie, I ordered the full size Fried Cookie Dough on a stick. Once I got into the real soft center and tasted the chocolate chips, I was satisfied and shared the rest.

Next, Hog Daddy’s near Grandstand, where pork is the star, and Thursday special is $2 pork kebabs. But I got distracted by the new show Truman Fries. Although I invoked Truman’s saying, “The responsibility stops here,” I knew nothing of his food inclinations.

Due to the “nuclear” mass of the jalapeño and the bulky portion, the dish has aroused Truman’s historical significance. A mix of french fries and heavy jalapeño nachos, the shareable dish features fresh, delicious pulled pork from Hog Daddy’s—an item now stocked in a memory stick.

New food kiosks in the fairgrounds

For a change of pace, I visited a nearby vendor for the first time, Piggly’s Seafood who on Thursday offered a $2 sample of fried fish. I tried oysters on a stick, which is a new offering at the fair. Curious about where the oysters came from. “With oysters arriving daily, today we are introducing Royal Amethyst from Humboldt Bay,” said site manager Charity Rocha.

I asked Rocha about her first experience at the show. “It’s a beautiful fairground with beautiful trees and shade, which is very beautiful on hot days,” she said. Visitors ate Piggly lobster nachos and grilled oysters over mesquite on shaded tables in front of the amphitheater.

The crust on the fried oysters on a stick was not greasy, and the sprinkling of onions and peppers on top brought even more fresh crunch. I asked Rochini Solano, a first-time oyster eater, for Piggly’s version. Solano, one of the show’s interns, said, “After seeing the texture of oysters, I never wanted to eat them. It’s prepared this way, and it’s so delicious.”

Another new seller is Bunbao, a Fremont food truck that offers a variety of steam-filled bao buns. I couldn’t resist the $2 special Thursday bun, which is a regular sized steamed vegan bun. Packed with bok choy, mushrooms and seasoned with ginger and garlic, the bun was restaurant quality.

Fascinated by the delicate bao dough, I asked server Jésus Zuniga about the method of preparation. “Dough and filling are prepared and steamed daily in Fremont’s central kitchen, which also prepares cakes for delivery and catering. It only takes a minute to heat up here,” Zuniga said.

The most popular choices, added Zuniga, are barbecue buns or beef jalapeño.

By this time, I was thirsty. Although there were many lemonades, coffee drinks, beer, soft drinks, vodka and other cocktails, as well as a Wine Slush bar, I headed to Boba King.

Typical for a fair walk around I found the Boba King opposite the main carnival and right next to the pirate ship.

Boba King is new to the show although boba – also known as bubble tea – gained popularity in the 1980s and is widely available. I tasted my Thursday Banana Bowl $2 and decided I also needed a full-size Mango Madness Slushie with a blast of mango boba. The drink was cool, fruity and fun with a blast of mango boba.

But I thought the boba were the tapioca pearls, and I took a quick tutorial from Sean Rocha, the kiosk manager: “We make the boba pearls ourselves from ‘raw’ tapioca that we boil, cook and then mix with a botanical honey syrup that darkens the exploded or ‘pop’ boba pearls we buy filled with with juice.”

He added that Thai milk tea is a crowd favorite, along with peach tea and mango slaw.

Speaking of bubbles, I found another new food stall, Bubble Waffle, with a display of the same name. Baking mold gives pancakes a “bubble” pop in the dough.

Waffles are served as cone to hold strawberries or bananas and various toppings or as pops served with mini waffles and fruit—or, to be fair, fillings of Oreos, Nutella, or s’mores.

fair favorites

Mac and cheese is a longtime favorite of all Americans. However, at another Hog Daddy stall called Mac Shack, I spied a banner for fried cheese balls and immediately thought of tasting an arancini in Italy.

These fried balls of rice and cheese are addictive. The fried mac and cheese balls with ancho-chipotle sauce scooped on top sounded interesting, but I skipped the fried ration and also declined the Thursday $2 special for a cup of regular macaroni and cheese.

Coming to the 50th state, I stopped at the Ricardos Hawaiian Feast for a last taste of the fair.

Lots of people were talking about Hawaiian dishes, and I learned that Thursday’s $2 offering was a slice of pineapple on a stick, a refreshing choice as the afternoon heat intensified.

Their signature offering is the Hawaiian Mowie Bowls. Stacked in a scoop of pineapple, the shrimp moy bowl was filled with roasted pineapple, and a bountiful portion of grilled shrimp, rice and cole slaw.

Since the hot day kept visitors indoors and wasn’t overly busy, I asked owner Riccardo Tapia and his wife Mariana of Bakersfield about their experience at the Pleasanton Gallery.

“We’ve been in the same place for five years and have regular customers. Some come early for breakfast Moco Loco with eggs and rice and homemade hamburger patty with gravy. We love this location at the show, and the people are friendly,” said Mariana Tapia.

Mariana Peña Colada brought a virgin from the far side of the stall and noticed you could buy shots of liquor at the nearby Farmhouse Bar. I continued to sip the mango madness.

Favorites at other old-fashioned stalls are giant turkey legs, funnel cakes with many toppings, and Italian, Greek and Mexican food. Don’t forget the corn dogs. I was happy to hold a special $2 Thursday cocktail-sized “puppy” corn compared to its big 18-inch sibling.

My friends highly recommended the gyros this year, but I will be saving them for another time. The craze for nice food I missed was the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. A more modern trend of all things bacon-wrapped, hot Cheetos were all over the place, crushed as a topping or ingredient or laid whole as a topping on pizza, nachos, or corn on the cob.

The fair opens two additional food shows on Thursdays, this week and the following (June 30 and July 7) until 5 p.m., another 10 days of fun overall. Armed with a plan to eat lightly beforehand and hope for cooler weather, I’ll check out more fair attractions and shop before I bite into a gyro, sample a slice of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos pizza and eat a fried Oreo cookie for dessert.

Looking for fair food

The Alameda County Fair website features a food search page to help attendees locate their favorite eats around the Pleasanton fairgrounds. Go to https://annual.alamedacountyfair.com/fair-food/.

The gallery is open for its third week from now until next Thursday, except for the regular closing day on Tuesday. The gallery opens at reduced hours on Mondays the 4th of July, from 11am to 8pm, with parking lots closed at 3pm and gates closing at 4pm

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