Thursday, September 1, 2011


I’m sure we did it all wrong in Minneapolis.  We should have gone across the river to Saint Paul, to the International Marketplace, a “Hmong barbecue paradise” according to Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, writing in the Minnesota Monthly.  There we might have had chicken wings stuffed with noodles, papaya salad with fish sauce, larb, black rice, mustard flowers, lemongrass sausages, and so on.  But we didn’t.

And we might certainly have gone to some well-thought-of, high-end places like Lucia's, Piccolo, Heartland, or La Belle Vie.  Heartland features bison ribeye, and Piccolo offers scrambled brown eggs with pickled pig’s feet.  We were sorry to miss them, but we did, because of a combination of sloth and distraction.

We did at least manage to eat walleye, which is the celebrated local freshwater fish, and when breaded and fried in butter it was very good indeed, but then, when fried in butter, what isn’t?  

And we did have some excellent tapas at a Spanish restaurant named Solera: a mass of small plates that included their own dry cured duck breast, “beluga” lentils, rabbit with red beans and chorizo, grilled octopus with poached fingerling potatoes.  We were certainly sorry we’d be gone by the time of Solara’s “wine and swine” night a few days later.  The waiter, who obviously appreciated our appreciation, offered us a 25% discount, and that was a great offer, but it really was a long way to go back from Los Angeles.

However, our foodie adventures took a very specific turn because we were in town at the same time as the Minnesota State Fair.  I’ve been to American county fairs, but this was my first State Fair with all the higher status and expectations that implies. If you want to see many, many pigs, geese, rabbits, chickens, cows, all raised by local kids: this is the place.  If you want all the milk you can drink for just a dollar: ditto.  If you want to see “the miracle of life” – that’s pigs, cows and sheep giving birth in a hot sweaty barn while people sit on bleachers, gawking and cheering them on – then it’s the place for that too.  I really didn’t want to see this at all, but many others obviously did.

In the food line there was a lot of the usual deep fried this and deep fried that, various things on a stick – cheese, hotdogs, pork chops – but we were looking for more local fare.  Given the large local Scandinavian population we were delighted to have the Swedish potato sausage – there’s pork in there too - seen below though rather obscured by mustard and sauerkraut.

And we were very glad to be able to try the lefse which is a Scandinavian pancake made from potatoes and flour.  We had it plain with butter, wanting to get the taste of the thing itself, but I can’t help thinking it would have been better with blueberries, which was another option.

Potatoes were in abundance, and we were certainly tempted by the tornado potatoes on sale, but we decided you could have too much of a good thing, and we saved ourselves for the (OK, deeply inauthentic, non-local) Australian battered potatoes.  I am something of an Australia-phile but I’d never thought they could come up with something like this:  huge flat slices of potatoes, maybe an eight of an inch thick, battered, deep friend and then doused with liquid cheese and ranch dressing.  You could feel the sin, you could feel the arteries hardening, and you know I thought, hell, it’s worth it.

We were certainly keen to try one particular local delicacy: Minnesota cheese curds, often the basis for poutine, but here battered and deep fried.  They’re supposed to squeak against your teeth as you eat them, and these certainly did, but I’m not sure that tooth-squeaking really added to the experience.  They tasted great though.

And finally we went into the arts and craft building.  There were many finely knitted sweaters and portraits done in seeds (one featuring the host and hostess of What Not To Wear) but it was the food that really caught the eye: jams, preserves, cupcakes, cookies, breads.

Now it so happened that the previous day I had been to the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis (it's about the history of the flour industry - yes, yes, I lead a very exciting life), and I’d seen a wonderful display of fake food including bread (that’s it above) and now behind glass at the fair was the real thing. It was hard to say which looked more authentic.  But it all looked pretty appetizing.

I can’t absolutely swear that there was no walleye to be had at the fair but I certainly didn’t see any.  I did however see lots of people wearing hats, or actually more like a headband, in the shape of a walleye. I really did want one, but I suspected that the locals could already tell just by looking at me that I wasn’t one of their own, and wearing a walleye would have been a kind of blasphemy.  I would never wish to blaspheme in Minnesota.


  1. All the milk you can drink for a dollar? Good god! You're in the midwest now. Amazing.