Adventures in eating at The State Fair

Gator Joe shows off his delicious smoked alligator ribs

In keeping with the adventurous theme of this year’s fair, organizers invited Jungle George’s Exotic Meats to challenge your palate and allow you to taste something that I’ll wager you have not yet tried.

During the first few days, their offerings were sparse. Chef Joe McFaul aka Gator Joe, complained that their supplier was running low on bugs such as crickets, scorpions and mealworms, and all they had were some exotic kabobs. The alligator kabob was the best of the three, with great flavor and texture. The python was far too tough for me to enjoy, but jerky lovers should get a kick out of it. The frog legs were incredibly juicy and, as the old saying goes, tasted like chicken. For those of you who want to try these at home, the seasonings include Old Bay, lemon pepper and Joe’s secret marinade.
Gator, python and frog leg kabobs at the CA State Fair

Every few days, I would stop by and ask if they had anything new and they sadly shook their heads. By Saturday, enough was enough. Joe and his wife Stacy drove all the way to Los Angeles to the Exotic Meat Market to make sure their stand had enough crazy meats to satisfy hungry and curious fairgoers. On their trip to low-Cal, they hit the jackpot and we all get to benefit.

Their menu is now huge. Burgers include ostrich, buffalo, alligator, llama, venison, kangaroo and lion. They added crocodile kabobs, gator sausage, BBQ gator leg and smoked gator ribs. They also have a huge selection of bugs for snacking. Flavors of “Crick-ettes” include bacon and cheese, salt and vinegar and sour cream and onion. “Larvets” are worms coated in BBQ, Mexican spice and cheddar cheese. If you prefer sweet critters over savory, there are candied ants and scorpions. They also have crawdads and rocky mountain oysters.

Jungle George's display case is full of culinary crawlies

Which brings me to Jeremy. A local foodie, I frequently run into him on my culinary adventures when he is either hanging with his young family, cooking at the Sacramento Convention Center or enjoying local wine and beer. He had a big grin on his face. “I got a combo plate of balls and gator ribs!” In case you are not hip to the lingo, rocky mountain oysters are bull testicles. “Want one? I hear that the younger they are, the more tender and tasty the balls!” Snicker. While I am not a big meat eater, I will try anything once and bull nuts have been on my list for quite a while. They are incredible, like god’s perfect meatball, tender and full of flavor that resembles veal more than steak. The smoked alligator ribs were also amazing, tasting much like a smoked turkey leg but with more depth and a better texture from the striated tissue.

Today, I went back to try the lion. Lion meat is rarely found in the US and has prompted complaints and even death threats to those brave enough to sell it, despite it being farm raised, not culled from wild populations. I also heard somewhere that it is illegal to sell pure lion, but was unable to substantiate this rumor. The burger sold was a combination of lion and antelope, one of the best burgers I have ever had. The meat was clearly low in fat but still had great moisture and an ever-so-slightly gamey flavor. I have had antelope before, which was similar, so I can’t be sure which flavors were accredited to which animal. All I know is that I ate the king of beasts and I felt great.

Before the end of The Fair, I plan to go back and get a few different bugs and maybe a kangaroo burger. This booth is one of the clear stars of the show as they a bringing something different that fits the theme and, most importantly, is delicious. Jungle George can be found across from Building D near the Original Soft Taco stand (another of my Fair favorites).

Runner up to Jungle George is A Bite of Alaska, found in the cluster of food stands near the Kids Park. In addition to damn good Alaskan halibut and salmon, they have a few reindeer treats, including reindeer corndogs. If you love corndogs but want better tasting and healthier meat inside, definitely give this a try.

Honorable mention goes to the chocolate covered bacon stands that are located throughout the fair. This frozen treat is dark chocolate with a slab of surprisingly high quality bacon inside. Two perfect foods, finally brought together by the magic of the State Fair. Poppy, is there anything you can’t do?

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7 thoughts on “Adventures in eating at The State Fair”

  1. African lions have been listed as a vulnerable population since 2008
    ( http://www.earthsendangered.com/profile-11854.html ). Buying or selling any kind of lion meat just re-enforces illegal bush trade by creating a market which WILL lead to animal endangerment.

    Has anyone actually questioned where this lion meat comes from? Lion meat is not a USDA regulated meat. There was a similar situation in Arizona this year during the world cup:
    http://outofbounds.nbcsports.com/2010/06/turns-out-theres-something-fishy-about-this-lion-burger-meat.html.php

    So if you are waffling on trying it- skip it and go for the buffalo or venison!

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  2. I wasn’t going to comment on this post because I’m vegetarian and would avoid this stand at the fair anyway. But eating lion has to rank with swallowing goldfish and eating insects: there’s no good reason to do it unless you regard eating as a thrill or something you want to boast about to your friends on facebook or twitter. (just ate a lion burger today! delicious! nutritious! tastes like chickn!)

    (Ernest Hemingway said it tasted like veal, but I’m just going to take his word for it.)

    I’d also argue that if you want to eat in a environmentally sustainable way, eat at the bottom of the food chain, not at the top. It takes hundreds of pounds of meat to raise a lion to adulthood, which creates a huge carbon output. It’s estimated that over 50 percent of the carbon in the atmosphere comes from the raising of livestock for meat. It takes just a few gallons of water and compost to raise an organic tomato and similar vegetables, however. And on a hot summer day, I’ll take fresh corn on the cob and watermelon over a burger made from a carnivore of questionable origins.

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  3. Sundog – Me, too. 99% of the time, I don’t eat meat, for reasons of personal health, social justice and environmental degradation.

    I did, however, want to brag on Facebook that I just ate a lion.

    I also picked up some crickets and mealworms today. I prefer the worms.

    Honey, I asked where the lion meat came from. It came from an American farm.

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  4. I hope the crickets and worms were all cooked. Think of the agony and fear they must suffer as they go down a person’s throat live. Think of all the bacteria in a bug’s gut. The food poisoning! The horror!

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  5. I understand the lions are farm raised (straight from the good ol’ USA!) but seriously. Aside from the fact that the lion population is dwindling, where did they get their original lions from? And why not aid in raising the lion count instead of our already high calorie counts?

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