iFest: Eat This. Don't Eat That.

Categories: On the Menu

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
This year's International Festival is a whirlwind of sights, smells and sounds, most of those emanating from the massive food court that's sprung up on the lawn around the reflecting pool at City Hall. As iFest grows, so -- it seems -- does the variety of food offered each year. So much so, in fact, that the lines between events like the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo or the State Fair and the iFest have become entirely blurred. Yes, there is "international" cuisine offered here. But there are also hot beef sundaes and deep-fried Oreos.

Where has our old-fashioned iFest gone?

With that in mind, there are ways to eat well at iFest this weekend without completely blowing your entire paycheck or your daily caloric intake, while getting some of that international flair at the same time.

To start with, do not -- I repeat, do not -- make the mistake I did and purchase a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I know it sounds tempting. If all were right with this world and prayers were answered, the deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich would taste like the fusion of a funnel cake and all your childhood dreams. But it does not.

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That's not to say it tastes bad, mind you. It's filled with crunchy peanut butter (the best!), which provides a welcome textural contrast to the soft fried bread and even softer grape jelly. It's not overly sweet once you scrape off the pound or so of powdered sugar that liberally coats the top. And -- arteries be damned -- it tastes pretty good. Just like you'd imagine a deep-fried PB&J to taste, really.

But the sheer amount of grease that quickly soaks through the paper boat it's served in should give you pause. And if that doesn't, the impending stomach cramps will. Within only minutes of eating just a few bites of the monstrosity, I felt a gall bladder attack set in with a vicious intensity. It seems I underestimated exactly how much fat just those few bites contained. The cramps, combined with the grease that coated my mouth for hours no matter how much water I drank, and the price -- six coupons (which equals $6.66 in real money...and I'm not kidding), made me regret the decision almost immediately.

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On the other hand, there are plenty of food stalls with delicious, healthy and inexpensive foods for sale. And since there are so many of them to try, the best route is to purchase a sample from stands that offer them. Sample portions are only two coupons (or $2.22) and usually quite enough for one person, such as the tasty vegetarian samosa with cranberry chutney seen above, from Holy Cow Higher Taste. Some stands, like Jamaican Cuisine, even offer regular-sized portions for two tickets, like the portable and delicious beef pocket pies. You can get three samples from three different food stands and have a vibrant multi-ethnic feast for the same price (and fewer calories) than the ill-advised sandwich. Don't give in to your inner child...this time.

And a final word to the wise: If possible, take your own bottled water. It's hot and humid out there, there's a lot to do, iFest is even bigger than ever and you'll need to stay hydrated. There aren't any water fountains and the Sparkletts water that's for sale comes at three coupons (or $3.33) a bottle. That's a rip-off, plain and simple. Damn the man; take a CamelBack.

For more food photos from iFest, check out our slideshow.


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