The Search for Gluten-Free Fair Food
It’s that time of year again: Fair Time! Summer is still holding on, but Fall is slowly moving in, and counties and states across the U.S. are holding their annual fairs to celebrate agriculture, rural life, and the roots of many of our communities. If you’re new to living gluten-free, you may be wondering how to navigate your local fair – and particularly all the mouth-watering, unique fair food – when you need to avoid wheat, barley, and rye.
Fair food is a category all to itself. From funnel cakes to donut burgers to pork chops on a stick to fried Twinkies, everywhere you turn, there’s gluten. What’s a gluten-free-living fairgoer to do?
We were recently at the Alaska State Fair and thought it was the perfect opportunity to search for the answer to this question:
What can I eat at the fair when it needs to be gluten-free?
We’ve put together this handy guide to help you find gluten-free fair food that you can eat with confidence.
Suss Out the Gluten-Free Fare
Part of the answer to finding food that is safer to eat at a fair involves doing some research before fair day. Some fairs publish a food guide, either in print or online, which is a great place to start your search. The Alaska State Fair, for example, publishes a Food Guide on its website.
On this particular Food Guide, you can click the expanded search function and click a box for “gluten-free” and other food allergies and sensitivities. You can also specify the location of the booths, such as a specific trail or pathway, so they are easier to find. Even for booths that state they provide gluten-free food, it’s still important to ask questions to confirm once you’re there.
Look for the Signs
When you’re at the fair, you can also look for vendors that promote gluten-free fare with a sign on their booth. While most fair vendors – or concession stand vendors at big events – are unable to fully guarantee the gluten-free status of foods, some might display a gluten-free sign with good intentions. While some may have thought about how to modify their offerings to be gluten-free, they may not know how to properly prepare gluten-free foods. Seeing a gluten-free sign is only a first step.
Make Thoughtful Choices
If you’re looking for something sweet, traditional funnel cakes or elephant ears will most likely be off limits unless someone has experimented with a gluten-free version. But a candied apple, cotton candy, or classic macarons should be free of gluten. Burgers and hot dogs might not be okay, even without the bun because of potential cross-contact, but tacos on corn tortillas could be – or crab legs, potatoes, and corn on the cob. Going for a fried taco? Find out what else is fried in the same oil. If the hot oil is only used for corn tortillas, it should be fine.
Double-check the seasonings or go for unseasoned options like plain pork rinds or minimally seasoned items like kettle corn. Homemade fudge could be a good choice, but you should still check or ask for an ingredient list.
Sometimes, you can get a modification for a dish at a booth, particularly if you get there early before the lunch or dinner rush. A stuffed baked potato can be the perfect, hearty gluten-free meal, but its gluten-free status depends on the fillings. Ask if they can substitute shredded cheddar cheese for canned cheese sauce, especially if you cannot read the container for the cheese sauce. The potato, broccoli, plain sour cream, and butter are all naturally gluten-free.
Ask how the add-ons are stored and served to make sure utensils digging into gluten-containing foods aren’t then used immediately afterwards to scoop up gluten-free ones.
Ask the Right Questions
As always, asking questions that even someone unfamiliar with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity could understand is important to getting the information you need to determine what you can eat. BBQ ribs could be okay to eat depending on the recipe. A side of red beans and rice could be gluten-free as well – but make sure to ask. If you feel like a turkey leg or some turkey soup, ask about the seasoning and ingredients.
Here’s a quick list of the key questions that can help you make your decision:
- Do you have anything that’s gluten-free?
- Is there a gluten-free option for that?
- Could I substitute ______ for _______ to make it gluten-free?
Keep in mind, there are usually long lines at food booths, especially for the most popular fare. You want to quickly ask your questions. Depending on the answers, you may have to make a fast decision about what to order.
Trust Your Gut
Clearly, not everything at the fair will be safe for you to eat. Use your best judgment. When in doubt, move on to another booth. Only you can decide what seems safe for you. We recommend that you err on the side of caution.
Don’t forget to pack a few of your own packaged, gluten-free snacks that will hold up well in a bag or your pocket to munch on in between your hunt for the perfect gluten-free fair food. Good luck!!
What’s your favorite gluten-free fair food? Share your pictures with us on social media, and be sure to tag us!
The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.
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