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The Deep Fried Twinkie

April 21, 2008

A few days ago, after years of trying, I finally got to sample my first ever deep-fried Twinkie (DFT). I won't go as far as to say that it was a religious experience, but it was otherworldly -- a bit like experiencing unusual performance art, which is why the DFT deserves a mention here.

Before I go on, I should probably take a moment to explain what a DFT is. It looks like a battered, deep-fried hot dog on a stick, but it's really a battered, deep-fried vanilla-cream-centered sponge finger cake on a stick. The regular, un-tampered-with Twinkies can be found at any American convenience store or gas station. They're tasty, and, need I say it, exceedingly trashy. The Surgeon General should probably insist that each pack be sold with a health warning on it, like cigarettes. But a marvelous transformation takes place when the confection is dipped in fish batter, frozen overnight and immersed in a vat of canola oil.

I heard about the deep-friend Twinkie stand at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk long long before I first visited the quaint Pacific town on the Northern California coast. Vegan and raw food afficionados I know in San Francisco spoke in almost hallowed terms about the stand -- how sampling its wares regularly converted people who would normally choose starvation over nibbling a Twinkie (or indeed any Hostess product) into DFT addicts.

When I went to Santa Cruz for the first time in 2003, I made a beeline for the Boardwalk, only to find the stand shut. I had to make do with some kettle corn. It was stale. I was disappointed. The same thing happened the second, third and fourth time I made the pilgrimage to Santa Cruz. Each time I got to the stand, even on a busy weekend in high summer, it was boarded up. One time, the cause was a malfuntioning fryer. Another time, I simply got there too late and business was done for the day. I started to think that the Boardwalk Gods were having a joke at my expense, perhaps because I was too chicken to go on any of the surrounding fairground rides.

Finally, a few days ago, while on a business trip to Santa Cruz, I managed to get to the Boardwalk when the stand was actually open. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn't dreaming. As I approached the stand, I half expected the guy at the counter to tell me that he'd had a rush on DFTs and was all out for the day. But he just took my order. I paid $3 for my DFT and wasted no time to taste what I had been waiting for all these years.

I was not disappointed. Food writer Melissa Clark did a pretty good job of describing the DFT experience in The New York Times in May 2002:

"Something magical occurs when the pastry hits the hot oil. The creamy white vegetable shortening filling liquefies, impregnating the sponge cake with its luscious vanilla flavor. . . The cake itself softens and warms, nearly melting, contrasting with the crisp, deep-fried crust in a buttery and suave way. The piece de resistance, however, is a ruby-hued berry sauce, adding a tart sophistication to all that airy sugary goodness."

Wanting to take a purist approach to my first DFT, I didn't try any sauce with mine. Next time, I may give the chocolate syrup a whirl. But the effect of the confection was almost immediate on my system. I don't know if I was feeling the effects of a sugar, fat and chemical high, but Santa Cruz seemed even sunnier and more colorful than usual that afternoon.

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