Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Recently, I posted my 200th blog entry. Not sure when exactly, but I'll commemorate it now with a tale of three challenges. That's right. One day in LA brought me to successfully tangling with three challenges in four hours.
My tale begins on a random day in February 2012. After visiting relatives in the Los Angeles area, I headed downtown for the Stray Cat Cafe. This small restaurant features an incredibly spicy cheesesteak challenge. Finish it in 10 minutes and it's free! The Spicialist hammered it in about 3 minutes, and he dared me to go and try my hand at it.
It's not the biggest 10" sandwich in the world. I'd estimate it at 2 lbs, but it's the habanero sauce and scotch bonnet peppers that'll get ya. Water is allowed and I suggest you make use of it. The burn creeps in and doesn't really let go. My finish in 6 minutes couldn't have come a moment too soon. OUCH.
They give you vanilla ice cream to help soothe the fire in your mouth. Ironically, the sensation of my tongue and lips burning like lava has remained burned in my memory. Wish I chugged Pepto Bismol beforehand.
My head ablaze, I staggered out of the cafe and hobbled back to my car to get some Pepto Bismol in my system. It was really too late. My stomach was churning like an old car's motor. Standing and walking were chores. Somehow I made it. After resting a few minutes, I walked about one mile into the heart of Little Tokyo.
The next stop was a little Japanese restaurant called Wakasaya. Right there in the window, they advertised their challenge. Free, the sign said, if you could eat it in 15 minutes.
Meet the Bikkuri Don. This is a massive bowl of rice and raw fish, accompanied by a generous helping of miso soup. Miso hungry? Sorry for the pun, but this is a tough challenge. I went after it mostly because I was really craving the taste of sushi.
It's at least 5 lbs of food. 15 minutes may seem like plenty, but it really is not. Rice is a difficult food to eat quickly. And, most of this bowl IS rice. There's just a thin layer of delicious seafood on top.
You're probably thinking I took a risk by attempting this 5 lb bowl so soon after the cheesesteak. And indeed, you are correct. The cheesesteak wasn't huge, but it was still at least 2 lbs. Throw on the ice cream and other liquids consumed, and you have a decent sum already in my stomach.
To make matters worse, the peppers in my stomach started acting up as soon as I began attacking the rice bowl. There was a battle in there. My fight was valiant. Every bite of rice a struggle, lots of water for the assist, and lots of indecision as my stomach rumbled.
There was no confidence in me as I pushed closer and closer to the finish. It was a buzzer beater, the win credited at 14:47. Wow. That was close. Next time I'll be conservative about stacking two (short-time) challenges so close together. My marathon eating needs longer time limits.
My stomach felt heavy right after, but it was mostly the water I took in. The sensation evaporated in about an hour. I spent a little more time looking at shops in Little Tokyo before going back to my car.
The last stop of the day was about five miles away. It was across surface streets, and with predictable LA traffic took nearly forty-five minutes. Thankfully, parking was easy at this last venture. Scenery change was interesting as I went from a mostly affluent Asian part of town to a less affluent Hispanic part of town. The history-geography-economics teacher in me made lots of mental notes. Buildings and streets seemed rundown, but it still felt like a happy place.
This last eatery was called Mom's Tamales. It wasn't situated in a shopping mall or corner office building. Instead, it looked like part of an old home. The iron door didn't look inviting but the inside told a different story. It was a very cozy little place to eat.
For the last challenge of the day, I would be taking on the restaurant's signature dish of tamales. That's 12 tamales of your choice, accompanied by a side of rice or beans, and 32 ounces of drink. That's a grand total of 7 lbs, inside a time limit of one hour (fail and you'll pay about $35). The long time limit gave me a sense of confidence.
For my challenge, I split the tamales: 4 chicken, 4 ground beef, 4 pineapple. They had other choices but I chose to place it safe. Pineapple sounded intriguing, offering the closest thing to a dessert option all day. I chose beans since the Bikkuri Don provided me with so much rice earlier on.
They only brought out half the challenge at a time. The kitchen was busy at that hour. They also feared that my food would get cold and unpalatable over time. My drink of choice was Coke... and with that the clock started.
Damn, was this food good. I'd pay to take this challenge again. The taste and texture of the masa was out of this world. It was like Baby Bear's porridge. Everything was just right! The filling was great too.
I finished the first half of the challenge in 15 minutes. It seemed crazy fast, considering what was already in my stomach. Unfortunately, the waiting game set in and the second half of the challenge became very hard.
It took 20 minutes for the second batch to arrive. Though the cooking time didn't count against me, the damage was done. Getting my brain and body to restart was not easy. My stomach teetered near capacity as I fought to finish the last 6. The pineapple tamales were very sweet but not very enjoyable.
Finishing the cup of soda was the hardest part of all. Sip by sip... finish it I did. And the challenge was over at 46 minutes. I became the second tamale champion and (at that moment) set a record time. If memory serves right, Kevin Ross set a really good time for this challenge later on.
The owner of Mom's Tamales was very kind and generous. We took photographs, discussed the quality of the food, and I received a beautiful black T-shirt proclaiming my victory. He asked me not to tell any of my friends about his challenge.
What a day. It's not easy to come up with a final opinion, but it was certainly over the top. Dramatic. And above all else, fun. Now let us never speak of it again.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Originally, this blog post was going to describe a few challenges I completed in January. A conversation with a friend today changed my mind.
Chick-Fil-A at the La Habra Marketplace holds its chicken nugget eating contest three times per year. The next contest is sometime in May. I've won the local championship four times running, eventually doubling the house record from 106 to 212 nuggets. That's nearly 8 lbs of greasy, salty chicken.
Compared to most eating contests in the US, the format of this one is unique. It's two drawn-out hours of consumption. You get twenty nuggets to start, and ten more every time you clean your plate. It's about endurance and resillience as much as it is eating.
Along the way, I've gotten past some formidable talent. That led me to wonder who might challenge me in the next contest. If there's going to be a contest, you might as well use it to prove something. Breaking my own record has become unimaginative. Local competitors, like Johnnie Excel and The Spicialist, have shown little taste for the grease and salt.
That's when the idea hit me. Maybe it's time to provide an opponent with the incentive to provide competiton. Talking it over with The Spicialist, I came up with the idea of offering an independent eater reimbursed travel costs and a small cash prize - say $150 or so - if they come to the next nugget contest and defeat me.
It's a bold idea. I hope someone takes it seriously. Though the offering isn't excessive, it's more than what many challenges or contests pay. Ideally, I'd want to face someone that's never competed with me, or whom I've never beaten in competition.
Stephanie Torres could head the list of favored opponents, but technically we can't compete against each other since the contest features separate gender divisions. Maybe the restaurant would be willing to make an exception. Given our history, it would be an interesting confrontation. Our capacities over the long haul are similar. I snuck past her in the Lone Butte 30 minute Heavyweight Burger Championship last Summer, but she's defeated me in every short game contest we've had.
The list of independent eaters I've never defeated is quite long. The most interesting candidates, to my mind, would be "Furious" Pete Czerwinski or Randy Santel.
Many people have asked me if I could beat "Furious" Pete in a contest (call it the YouTube effect. Normally I wouldn't put myself in his league). He's fast as hell, but I think I'd have a shot in a longer contest or in a contest featuring disgusting foods. Since I don't think Pete would come on "Wreckless Eating" and throw down with live superworms, two hours of nuggets might be the equalizer. This is a rather small venue for him though.
The other golden candidate would be Randy Santel. I would lean toward Randy because both he and I started in competitive eating via restaurant challenges. Regardless of our other endeavors, we remain challenge specialists. We've never faced off in a contest and never met in real life. I believe the confrontation would be epic. Legendary. The four-time champ against Atlas and Zeus, with everything on the line.
Of course, these are all pipe dreams. The great likelihood is that this entire blog post will be ignored. I'll go back to writing about other challenges and restaurants I've visited, and life will go on. Sometimes, you have to let an idea express itself. Go big or go home.
If any eater (anyone at all) wants to pursue this concept, you can contact me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or directly through this blog. There are certain legal components that I'd be responsible for, and I accept that. Let's see if we can't make the next nugget contest exciting.