Skip to Content

Carnival and Event Food

Carnivals, fairs, circuses, theme parks, seaside boardwalks, and sporting events offer the standard fare of hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, pizza, sandwiches, cakes, cookies, candies, and ice cream, as well as varied ethnic foods, but they also sell specialized foods to their visitors that tend to be festive, visually impressive, fun to eat, and usually on the fattening side.

Most regional special events feature vendors selling local favorites—burritos at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, crab cakes at the Maryland State Fair, flapjacks at Michigan’s Wolverine Lumberjack Festival—yet certain foods can be found at events all over the United States:

  • Corn Dogs: hot dogs dipped into a corn-based batter and deep-fried. Most corn dogs are served on sticks to make them easy to eat with one hand. The thick batter obviates the need for a bun. Varieties at carnivals and fairs may be foot-long or longer.
  • Funnel Cakes: originally associated with Pennsylvania but popular throughout the United States, the funnel cake is made by dripping a long stream of unleavened batter through a narrow funnel into hot oil, quickly producing a crunchy and visually impressive confection. Funnel cakes are typically served covered with powdered sugar.
  • Churros: Extruded cylinders of deep-fried dough, originally of Spanish origin, typically with a ridged surface, covered in sugar.
  • Fried Dough: Popular at fairs in various forms and under various names: Elephant Ears (also Oliphaunt Ears), Flying Saucers, Doughboys. Usually made with a yeast dough that has been allowed to partially rise; frequently covered with powdered sugar.
  • Fry Bread: Associated with Native American cooking, similar to fried dough but usually made with baking powder and fried into large flat platters that may then be covered with a variety of sweet or savory ingredients.
  • Curly Fries: these use special cutters to cut individual potatoes, often including their peels, into long continuous strings that are fried golden brown.
  • “Australian Style” Batter-Fried Potatoes: covered in cheese sauce. Cheese Fries are similar. Not a diet dish.
  • Bloomin’ Onion: another snack associated with Australia, a large, deep fried onion sliced so the final product looks like a flower in bloom.
  • Corn on the Cob: often enjoyed boiled or roasted with butter and salt for a relatively healthy snack, the corn may also be battered fried.
  • Cotton Candy: a popular food at fairs and seaside resorts for more than 100 years, cotton candy is made using a special machine that spins sugar, with added food coloring, into thin wisps; the machine operator collects the wisps onto a paper cone and presents the buyer with a seemingly huge confection that is mostly air. Watching the production of cotton candy is almost as entertaining as eating it.
  • Candy Apples: apples covered with a hardened sugar syrup, usually served with a stick.
  • Caramel Apples: similar to candy apples, but covered with a sticky caramel coating which may then be covered with nuts.
  • Popcorn: sold in large cardboard cups or crinkly bags, typically covered in melted butter. Some varieties may have flavored or sweet coatings.
  • Snow Cones: simple cold treats created by dripping flavored syrup over shaved ice. Served in a paper cone.
  • Soft Pretzels: originally a German recipe once associated with street food in both Philadelphia (where it is enjoyed with plain yellow mustard) and New York City (where purists shun any topping). The soft pretzel may be dipped in large chunks of salt before being consumed.
  • Roasted Nuts: Available either in traditional salted varieties, or roasted with a sugary coating.
  • Cheese Curds: Small curds of cheddar cheese, coated in a thick batter and deep fried.
  • Cinnamon rolls: a puffy yeast roll, baked with a topping of sugar and cinnamon. Often sold at concessions at shopping malls.
  • Fried Turkey Legs: Whole turkey legs, spiced, dredged in flour or batter and deep fried; an extremely large snack that will never fail to attract notice.
  • S,mores: Marshmallow and chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers.
  • Scotch Eggs: A peeled hard boiled egg, wrapped in sausage meat, coated in bread crumbs and deep fried.
  • Smoothies: A thick, usually fruit flavored cold beverage, often non-dairy, often containing bananas for consistency and as a flavor base. Perceived as a healthier alternative to sweet snacks.
  • Fried Candy Bars and Cakes: yes, nearly anything yummy and sweet may be made even more appealing by coating it in batter and deep-frying it. Deep-fried Snickers bars are a widely enjoyed favorite, as are batter-fried Twinkies (a popular snack cake). In 2006, an entrepreneur even popularized a fried fair snack produced from a batter soaked in Coca-Cola.

At fairs and carnivals, sporting events, exhibitions and circuses, even foods commonly sold elsewhere—candies, soft drinks, cookies, pop corn, sandwiches and hot dogs—are frequently offered in large portions or oversized containers.