Sometimes victory can be so sweet.
After years of making indulgent confections, Central Market Partner Norma Garza and her family finally came out on top at the State Fair of Texas’ 14th Annual Big Tex Choice Awards. Using a delicious recipe from her late mother’s cookbook, Garza and her family won for its riff on Mexican rice pudding.
Called Arroz con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice), the delightful festival fare is a cinnamon-spiced rice ball that’s battered and dipped into crispy, puffed-rice cereal. The ball is then deep fried into a crunchy sphere and topped with powdered cinnamon and vanilla, drizzled with caramel sauce and served with a Texas-sized scoop of vanilla ice cream. This inventive dessert, which was one of five finalists in the “Sweet” category, wowed judges with its flavor and texture, winning them first place in the “Best Taste – Sweet” category.
“The state fair is part of my family, it’s our second home,” said Garza, the gift coordinator at the Lovers Lane Central Market in Dallas. “When we heard the judges ooh and aah I knew we had it. To win was such a joy and the whole family was filled with pride.”
The journey to the top started in 1984, when Garza’s parents, who operated Mexican restaurants, got their first booth at the fair. Back then they were the first to serve steak fajitas, introducing the Tex-Mex staple to the fairgrounds. Since then, the family has grown to operate multiple booths at the fair where they sell nachos, gorditas, pizza, and chili. They’ll also serve the award-winning Arroz con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice) at this year’s fair, which runs through Oct. 21 in Dallas.
The Big Tex Choice Awards launched in 2005 and names winners in three categories: Best Taste – Savory, Best Taste – Sweet, and Most Creative. Garza and her family started to enter the competition in 2011. Their previous entries into the Big Tex Choice Awards include rice chicken balls with avocado sauce, chocolate tres leches with peaches and strawberries, and fried brownies. Each year, the Garza’s get together in early January to brainstorm ideas, looking at family recipes and start thinking of creative ways to turn them into yummy goodies.
“We go through mom’s cookbook for inspiration,” Garza said. “With her recipes, we broke ground here. We helped bring the Tex-Mex culture to the fair. Now, whatever we make we always stay with the culture.”
Each year, her mother’s spirit drives their creativity and that’s why the award means so much to the family. And she’s sure her mom would’ve had a boisterous reaction to the win.
“They’re all special recipes but we always remember the arroz con leche she made on cold days,” said Garza. “She would definitely give it a thumbs up, that was her thing. And there would be a lot of screaming and hollering, and probably a loud grito, too.”