When you’re driving in or near the east metro this time of the year, you’re likely to find signs announcing “booya,” a term used for both a festival and a food that have become a real tradition in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Booya the food has been described as a stew-like concoction of beef bones, chicken and various locally-grown root vegetables simmered for hours. The fall festival at which this regional dish is served is also called booya, and church groups, firefighters, and VFW members have found that it’s a dish they don’t have any trouble selling – by the bowlful or the bucketful. Perhaps this is why they cook it in Paul Bunyan-sized pots.
When Walter Books told the story of how the South St. Paul Booya Cook-off got started, he recalled a day some 30-odd years ago when he and a friend were talking about starting an event in their town. They settled on booya, and he said, “Let’s have a South Saint Paul booya cook-off.”
His friend said, “Let’s make it a competition for the whole county.” But that got Books thinking, why not go all the way and host the world championship cook-off? And that’s how the South Saint Paul World Championship Booya Cook-Off title originated back in 1982, though the name does seem a bit grandiose since the cooks are still all local. Books said that Green Bay did take issue with their use of the term “world championship” and challenged them to a cooking duel one day when the Vikings played the Packers. The duel never did take place, Books admitted.
What is Booya Anyway?
He also admitted that he has never learned how to make booya himself. But he’s expecting ten or eleven booya cooks to compete in this year’s cookoff, which makes it sound like there’d be no shortage of booya in South Saint Paul come Booya Sunday. But not everyone who came last year got the booya they were waiting for. North Saint Paul firefighters prepared a total of 510 gallons of booya in 2015 but sold out in less than an hour.
“Do you know the difference between booya and a bowl of soup or stew?” Books asked. “With booya, you’ve got meat hanging over the side.” The meat is simmered in large pots with dried beans – simmered long and slow until the meat falls off the bone. Then a variety of vegetables are added to those 40- to 80-gallon pots and the cooking continues for a few hours more. Recipes vary but typically include potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes and rutabagas. The spices used vary by cook as well, and the exact combination tends to be a well-kept secret.
Places to Booya
If you’ve never had booya, maybe this is the year to give it a try. Below is a list of some of the places where booya is for sale this fall in the Twin Cities. You’ve got more than a month of Sundays – and a couple of Saturdays – to get you some booya. Bring along a gallon-sized container if you’d like to take some home to freeze and enjoy later.
The times listed below are when selling begins; ending time can be unpredictable. Some places may run out within an hour or two, so if you’ve got your heart set on booya, don’t dilly dally.
September 18 Saint Jerome Catholic Church
380 East Roselawn Avenue, Maplewood, MN 55117
6 a.m. take out; 11:30 a.m. dine in
September 25 B-Dale Club
2100 North Dale Street, Roseville, MN 55113
10 a.m., dine in or take out
October 1 South Saint Paul’s World Championship Booya Contest
8th Avenue and Southview Boulevard, South Saint Paul, MN 55075 Noon, dine in or take out
October 2 North Saint Paul Fire Department
Casey Lake Park, 2045 County Road C, North Saint Paul, MN 55109 11 a.m., dine in or take out
October 2 Obb’s Sports Bar Annual Booya
1347 Burns Ave., St. Paul, MN 55106
Noon, dine in or take out
October 2 Roseville Firefighters Annual Booya Fundraiser
1145 Woodhill Drive, Roseville, MN 55113 (Roseville VFW building)
11 a.m., dine in or take out
October 9 Church of Saint Mary
261 East 8th Street, St Paul, MN 55101
8 a.m. take out; 11:30 dine in
October 15 American Legion Post 577
1129 Arcade St., Saint Paul, MN 55106
11 a.m., dine in or take out
By Anita Dualeh