November 17, 2004

Takeru Kobayashi, a 26-year-old Japanese man and the world's undisputed and undefeated champ in hot-dog eating, rocked another American crowd at an eating contest in Tennessee this week, polishing off 69 hamburgers in eight minutes. A lot of people have heard of Kobayashi because of his success at the annual Nathan's hot dog eating contest in NYC's Coney Island--at about 130 pounds, he can easily put away 50-plus hot dogs in minutes.

Amazing, right? But check out Sonya Thomas, a very cute, very petite Korean American woman who is not only the world's competitive eating champ for women, but regularly beats out all the men, putting big dudes like the Refigerator Perry to shame. Thomas came in second to Kobayashi in the burger contest (at 46 burgers in eight minutes), and she's also won the International Federation of Competitive Eating's Thanksgiving Invitational, and contests in asparagus, chicken wings, fruitcake, and turducken. No joke.

I guess I look at competitive eating in half-fascination, half-disgust. It's truly a sickening show of excess, especially in a world of extreme haves and have-nots, and serious gross-out waste of food. But how, just how do they do it? And is excelling in competitive eating something Asian Americans should be proud about? I don't know, it never ceases to amaze me--as well as make me just a tiny bit proud--that "small" Asians like Thomas and Kobayashi can eat circles around their girthier competitors.

This New York Times article is a particularly amusing look at how a big white guy from Virginia attempts to beat Kobayashi at the Nathan's contest--even going so far as to play dirty and crank call Kobayashi in the middle of the night before the competition to screw up his sleep--but walked away shamed for sure. In the article, doctors posit that perhaps the secret behind competitive eating is being able to ignore signals to brain that they are full, or that, perhaps, "a gifted eater like Kobayashi may be able to naturally pass a certain amount of undigested food from his stomach into his intestine." Nice.




I've seen Kobayashi down those hotdogs on some Food Network show. He had this really interesting technique of not eating the buns and the hotdog at the same time, and soaking the buns in water before downing them.I once wanted to enter a pie-eating contest, and I don't recall why I didn't do it. But I could never rock a food-eating contest Kobayashi style. If I could eat that much and be that skinny? Damn.Not to be so girly about it, but I'm totally jealous.
I always wondered about the puke factor myself. Is there a minimum time limit after the contest ends for which the contestants must keep the food down before they barf it up? It's gotta come up at some point. So maybe that's the trick.Yeah, Kobayasahi has the special technique of breaking the dogs in half and then doing the buns. After he cleaned up at his first year at Nathan's all the other competitors started doing his method the next year... but it still didn't work for them.
I had a similar conversation about the puking factor, in discussing that TV show Fear Factor. Have you seen some of the things those people have to ingest in order to win prize money: bull testicles, brains, pig rectum, etc., etc. I once watched this girl pick up some African cave-dwelling spider thingy -- it had little pincers that pinched her lip when she tried to stick it in her mouth. As an Asian who is accustomed to eating things deemed "gross" (can you say "dinuguan?"), I for the life of me can't fathom eating "pig rectum."Anyhow...before I went off on a tangent...I think there is a certain amount of time that people have to keep the food "down." I've always wondered, too, whether or not someone like Kobayashi actually kept all that food in his stomach after being declared winner of (fill in the blank)-eating contests.That "full feeling" must be like post-Thanksgiving dinner times bazillion. Even loosening the belt and undoing that top button on your pants would offer no relief. Yikes!