Booya season is here: We talk to a master of the mystery stew

South Saint Paul wants to make this much booya.

South Saint Paul wants to make this much booya.

South Saint Paul wants to make this much booya.
It sounds like something a frat boy would yell out after drinking from a beer bong, but a booya is much more than an exclamation of hard partying. Minnesotans can't claim many foods as their own (well, booya is shared with a small part of Wisconsin), but the dish does have its roots in our state. The word booya has a bit of a double meaning, referring to both the party and the stew that is served at it. Happening mainly in the St. Paul-East Metro region, booya is a gathering of folks, often held for fundraising purposes, that includes a giant pot--anywhere from 30 to 100 gallons-- filled with a stew that is slow-cooked with a medley of items--corn, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, lima beans, stew meat, an oxtail (if you have it, throw it in!)--seasoned with each chef's mystery spices, and served with crispy saltines. Since fall is the time for booya, we wanted to fill you in on few that are coming up--especially this weekend's World Championship Booya Cookoff on Saturday in South St. Paul. The Hot Dish spoke with the World Championship Booya Cookoff's founder, Walt Books, who gave us a schooling in all things booya.

How long have you been running the booya championship? I have been doing this since 1982, so about 28 years. The first year we had 12 cooks. This started as an endeavor to draw people into South St. Paul. It's a great city, and this is a one-of-a-kind happening. Back in 1988 I had calls from New York, Houston, and L.A. asking what it was all about and wanting recipes. The Washington Post wrote about it in 1984--I have the article under glass so we won't lose it. I want to start with booya and build from there, have South St. Paul steaks, fudge, popcorn--you name it. Think of it, Wall Drug started as just a drugstore, and then the idea spread and grew.

How much booya is typically served at your event? This year we will have about 420 gallons by six cooks.

What do you look for in a winning booya?
This year the Winter Carnival people are judging. Mostly, we look for booya judges that are not booya cooks. We like to find someone who has never eaten booya. The reason is that everyone who makes booya thinks theirs is the best, or their grandpa's is the best. This way, they are not comparing the contestants to what they've eaten before.

How long does booya cook?

Twelve to fourteen hours. The cooks start on Friday night and cook all night long. It's very labor oriented. Some have a few kanoopers! They are cooking and smelling their booya pots, making sure their dog is all right so it doesn't end up in someone's booya pot. I'm just kidding, you know.

Anything else you want to share?
I am 78 years old now, and I had hoped someday we would find a way to can and sell booya, but that didn't work. Next in line is to make South St. Paul the Booya Capital of the World. You can compare this event to the Super Bowl or to the Master's Golf Tournament--this is the Super Bowl of Booya and the Master's of Booya.

It's time to booya.

It's time to booya.

World Championship Booya Contest--part of the On the Road Again Celebration
Saturday, October 2
Booya starts at noon
Eighth Avenue and Southview Boulevard in South St. Paul, 651.271.0038

Here are a few more upcoming booyas:

Booya & Fall Festival
Saturday, October 2, noon to 4 p.m.
Beaver Creek Reserve
S1 County Highway K, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, 715.877.2212

Roseville Firefighters Annual Fundraiser
Sunday, October 3, starting at 10 a.m.
2701 Lexington Ave., Roseville, 651.792.7000

Obb's Bar's Fourth Annual Booya
Sunday, October 3, starting at noon, 651.271.0038 1347 Burns Ave, St. Paul

American Legion Post 577
Sunday, October 17, starting at noon (sign above reading the 16th and 17th is incorrect)
1129 Arcade St., St. Paul, 651.771.8778

The Church of Saint Agnes
Sunday, October 24, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., (takeout until 3 p.m. as supplies last)
548 Lafond Ave, St. Paul, 651.925.8800

St. Jerome Catholic Church Sunday, October 31, 7 a.m. till its gone 380 E. Roselawn Ave., St. Paul, 651.771.1209

We would love to know about any other booyas happening in the area. Please share them in comments.