I met Taylor and Gavin Johnson outside the food stands. They had just taken a bite of one of the most popular treats at the rodeo — an Oreo, battered, deep-fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
“There were a couple other things I wanted to try,” says Gavin Johnson. “One time wouldn’t hurt, so….”
Taylor Johnson says one of her all-time favorite delicacies is the fried cookie dough.
“So imagine a cookie that just came out of the oven, but deep-fried,” she says. “That’s how it tastes. It was really good.”
The Johnsons say they like trying something new each year, and they don’t mean salad.
As I continued my search, I met Ralph Letourneau. He says he’s watching his weight, so I thought Letourneau may be able to point me to something that wasn’t deep-fried, but…
“I’m on a diet, but this is cheating,” says Letourneau. “And that’s ok, it’s a one-time thing.”
Letourneau had surrendered to a sugary Belgian waffle. He says he wouldn’t eat this stuff every day, but rodeo food brings back memories.
“For New Years, my father would make beignets,” he says. “So coming here and having beignets, he’s passed away, so that’s a fond memory.”
One stand in particular seemed to be foiling my attempts to find anything healthy. The longest line by far was outside a stand called Fried What. They fry everything you can imagine. There were about 30 people outside waiting to dig into the fried pickles, fried brownies and even fried ice cream.
The owner, Norma Bowers, gave me an inside look at her operation. It’s a small stand with a deep fryer, a fridge full of desserts, and two vats of batter — regular and red velvet. Bowers has been serving up treats at the Houston Rodeo for seven years. She says she tries to fry a new item each year.
“We have pecan pie, key lime pie, the peaches with ice cream, the brownie with ice cream, the s’more,” says Bower. “You’ve got a lot to choose from.”
Bowers says the job is more work than you might think.
“You see these little Oreos here have toothpicks in them?” she says. “I’ve been sticking toothpicks in Oreos since last October, and we have about 20,000 Oreos at the fair this year.”
Judging by the line outside Fried What, those Oreos won’t go to waste.
I met Cali Brown and her family on their way to the stand. I told Brown about my hunt for healthy Rodeo food, and she gave it to me straight.
“If you’re looking for healthy, you should just bring a salad or something,” says Brown.
The Browns were looking for fried pickles. Cali opted for another indulgence, the fried onion blossom.
“I don’t think that you’ve lived or you’ve been to the Rodeo unless you eat the deep-fried nonsense here,” she says.
As I ended my futile quest for healthy food, I found that there seems to be the consensus among Rodeo-goers. This is a time to relax, indulge and forget about counting calories. So you know what? I give up. You can find me at Fried What enjoying a red velvet Oreo.