My friend Nicky stands in front of the colorful Big E sign at the entrance and says, “Ah fried food, do you smell it? I’m ready to gain a good ten pounds today.”
The Big E is located in West Springfield, Massachusetts; it’s billed as New England’s largest multi-state fair and is home to two hundred of New England’s craziest food vendors. Attendance over seventeen days will reach nearly 1.5 million. I like to think of it as a fair on steroids. No other fair has anything on this one. On this October night, Nicky and I are here to stuff our faces.
The long lines snake from the food vendors and hungry visitors are sandwiched together as they wait to order. Social distancing who? You never know what crazy foods to expect here, but a bacon-wrapped dilly dog, pickle pizza, and Bloody Mary grilled cheese are all on the menu.
We walk up and down the endless lanes of food vendors, my mind spinning with all of the food options. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been this indecisive in my whole life. Tempura fried pickles, deep-fried taco, clam chowder, donut burger, blueberry shortcake, BBQ sundae—the list is endless. We circle around a good two or three more times, the gravel pavement below our feet, screaming kids running between the food lines. We stop to grab a frozen strawberry margarita from Xena’s Pub. The strong taste of tequila and strawberry syrup burns the back of my throat.
Our next stop is Bear’s Smokehouse; Nicky orders a London broil steak sandwich. As we wait for the sandwich, the smoke from the grill fogs my eyes, almost making them burn while the smell from the peppers and onions permeated my nose. The sandwich was massive. I couldn’t hold it in my small hands as the melted cheese and shaved steak overflowed off the side of the roll.
“Crunchy Balls of Goodness.”
As Nicky stuffs her face with her sandwich, we make our way through the aisles and browse a little more. Suffering sensory overload, I find the food vendor CHOMPERS which on the sign says, “Crunchy balls of goodness.” The menu is fairly small, consisting of four different options. My eye automatically gravitates towards the taco described as “Crunchy balls of SEASONED BEEF & CHEDDAR CHEESE coated in a crispy tri-color tortilla shell served with salsa and sour cream.” Taco and fried? I was sold. The food truck is a small silver stand with red and yellow accents, and cutouts of the little balls of heaven were stuck to the metal sides. I wait with the others who were ready to chomp down on the CHOMPERS like I was.
“Taco Chompers coming right up,” the cashier says, plopping them onto the metal counter. I run toward the counter and snatch them, small drops of hot oil leaking onto my finger through the paper tray. I was about to be in fried food heaven. The crunch from the fried shell and the melted cheese all spill out at once. Definitely exceeded my expectations.
We sit at the food court area, both of us rubbing and patting our stomachs. “We should walk around a little so we can work out some of our food before eating again,” Nicky says. We walk through the ride section where we come across one called SPEED. Unlucky New Englanders sit in a carriage at the bottom of a pole and are circled around and flipped. My head spins as I watch it tumble and spin. Next, we stop by the Ring of Fire and we stare at each other. The circle-shaped ride is bright red and has a cart with twelve rows seating two occupants. The ride goes around the entire shape of the circle, turning the people fully upside down once at the top and then swinging around again. Crunchy balls of seasoned beef swirl in my stomach as I watch the ride circle around and around and around.
We walk through the section with quirky little shops. One was selling dog collars, while another one was advertising a top-notch peeler for fruits and vegetables. Artists paint superheroes and cartoon characters on the faces of little kids and a few adults. “Mommy, I’m Spider-Man now!” a little boy says as he runs up to his mom, the red, blue, and black web painted perfectly across his small face. A woman in a blue and gold kurta applies intricate flowers and petals onto the hands of the customers, the dye hardening on the hands as the henna is done up to the wrist.
“Do you hear that? Someone’s singing,” Nicky says as we follow the music to the western corner of the fair to a small silver platform known as “The E Stage.” Ashley Jordan, a young blonde country folk singer and songwriter from Harvard, MA, plays an acoustic guitar and sings a cover of “Boondocks” by Little Big Town. She is surrounded by her band: a woman with a tambourine and another with a violin. Two men stand behind Ashley, one on the drums, the other on the bass guitar. She stomps as she strums the guitar, and her band harmonizes along with her. She steps back from her microphone, looks to her band, then makes eye contact with the audience and smiles.
There are countless people carrying white Styrofoam plates filled with a golden, crispy fried onion. Dessert! A blooming onion. People wrap around the red and silver food truck. The smell of grease and fresh onions hit me like a hammer in the High Striker game as people wait to order. The wait was ten minutes to order it and then another twenty minutes for them to fry and plate it. A couple walks down the aisle smiling at each other as they hold their pumpkin beer with a cinnamon rim. A family of three waits to get their tempura-fried veggies, their son sipping frozen lemonade in his stroller. I thought about how amazing the food was this time, incomparable to any other year I’ve been here. I was definitely going to miss getting drunk off frozen margaritas and getting stuffed by the fair food until I waddle down the aisle. I was going to miss the bustle of seeing thousands of people, especially after COVID. It was a breath of fresh air… well, fried food air. 2022 seemed so close but so far away. How was I supposed to live without cream puffs and chompers for a whole year? That thought seemed unattainable at the moment. “NEXT person for a blooming onion.” I take the plate, the golden onion was glistening with oil on the crust, the black specks from the seasoning spread all throughout the batter. The chipotle ranch pairs exquisitely with the crunchy onion strand. The heat burned my taste buds off, but that did not faze me. I am blooming just like this onion.
Until next year Big E, can’t wait to see you again.
Farzana Lachhman is a Staff Writer for the Blue Muse Magazine
Header Photo Credit: Farzana Lachhman