Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Asians in Philly

Hand drawn noodles with roasted duck from Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House in Philadelphia.

Moving from a predominately Asian neighborhood in California to one in Philadelphia with much fewer Asians was one of my greatest concerns in my recent relocation. The reason isn't so much because of the change in demographics but because of the availability of authentic cuisine. There was never a scarcity of good Korean BBQ, Chinese dim sum, great pho, Thai curry or Japanese sushi bars in Orange County. I had the luxury of being able to go out at 3a and grab some spicy Korean soft tofu and green tea boba.

So when searching for all you can sushi on yelp left only a handful of results in a city as densely populated as Philadelphia, I really wasn't expecting much. The search results for Korean BBQ or pho weren't very promising either. It seems like the best reviewed Chinese place in the city was P.F. Chang's China Bistro.

This lead to an expeditionary journey through the neighborhoods of Philly to see if such a thing as authentic Asian food actually existed. This process began somewhat dismally. I engaged in an entertaining game of counting to see how many Asians I could spot while walking around the city. It was exciting to see if I could attain a higher score each day and when I reached double digits in my count I gained a sense of hope.

I was advised that all the really good Asian food was concentrated in the city's Chinatown and along Washington Ave. in South Philadelphia. In walking around the blocks of Chinatown my count quickly crossed into the triple digits and was soon overwhelmed by the density of Asians in this place. There was a well reviewed noodle house nearby and eating there made me forget I was in the middle of the capital for cheese steaks and hoagies. The dense, savory flavor of the duck broth I ordered  was greatly welcomed and I consciously paced myself to slowly enjoy the hot duck broth in the chilly Philadelphia evening I ate it in. 

Since then, I've found decent Vietnamese food and Asian markets. My search for sushi, Thai and Korean BBQ still continues, though my original pessimism has greatly abated. It turns out, my original theory that good Asian food can only be found in densely populated Asian neighborhoods is mostly true and fortunately there are some in Philadelphia.

Also there's a Morimoto down the street, maybe I can get a table for next month. 



Sunday, July 29, 2012

Craving

French onion soup with black coffee at Spring Garden Cafe in Philadelphia, PA.

Ever since my move to Philadelphia, I've experienced a strange mix of hot, humid days and very stormy days. During an exploration of a local neighborhood near the art museums, a sudden rainstorm ushered my girlfriend and I into a random market with a small restaurant section in the back. Because of the sudden rain, I was craving something warm and ended up with the house french onion soup and a black coffee. It was perfect.

This craving led me to try several other french onion soups at various levels of sobriety in different eateries across Philadelphia. I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with this dish but there has been a constant craving for it since. Unfortunately, the ones I've tried following the original have failed to capture the magic of the first one at that cafe.

This feeling somewhat embodies how I've felt about competitive eating lately. It seems like a dying passion, that the magic I remember from first involving myself in the many facets of the activity have waned. The victories from the past feel like a faded glory and I've had other endeavors to distract me.

It's no surprise that I've been in a bit of a slump lately. Despite doing a few contests, challenges and consistently posting to youtube, I felt that I really haven't given it my all since losing at tater tots last month and probably even before that. Crif Dogs felt half-hearted to me, that despite being the most serious competition of my eating career, the effort I put into it at the day of the event felt like a fraction of what I put into training for it.

The results speak for themselves.

From my personal training metrics, my capacity is down to about 70% of what it was a year ago, nearly back down to where I was after I first started competitively eating. And from watching myself eat, my technique has been pretty sloppy too. This is not a good way to start after moving to a place with a higher frequency of eating contests and a very strong field of competitive eaters to fill the tables.

Though at the very least there is some inspiration. After some philosophical conversations with Kobayashi and a couple eaters I greatly admire, I've come to realize that I need to treat competitive eating as a true discipline. It isn't just about entertaining the people watching you but improving yourself after every event and sticking to a plan for improvement. Everything else is simply ancillary.

I suppose that I now feel a some what rekindled passion for competitive eating and that finally settling in at my new place in Philadelphia should lend some consistency to my training again. Hopefully this will translate into wins at the competition table and better eating challenge videos for youtube. Perhaps it isn't just the french onion soup I've been craving.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Anatomy of a Hot Dog Eating Contest

Practice tray of hot dogs at home.

I enjoy hot dogs. My favorite is the 1/4 lb Costco hot dog with deli mustard, sauerkraut and a drink for $1.50. It's a fantastic deal.

For competition however, I can't think of hot dogs the same way. As I've mentioned before, there is no taste in competition, just procedure and logistics. I'm not savoring a condiment laden bargain from Costco, but rather efficiently storing bundles of meat and soggy bread in my stomach as fast as possible.

This blog post is my analysis of this process, a sort of mental masturbation of numbers and logistics to benefit myself as well anyone else preparing to participate in hot dog eating competitions this summer.

Hot Dogs

For competition, the biggest consideration are the hot dogs themselves. For the sake of accuracy, practice should be done with the same hot dogs used in competition. Even subtle differences between them become of greater consequence as more are consumed. For example, bun length hot dogs can vary in weight from 45g to 75g. The 20g discrepancy can quickly add up, with nearly a pound in difference after consuming 20 hot dogs.

The type of casing should also be considered, as hot dogs with natural casings tend to be easier to swallow than ones using traditional casings. The composition of the fillings, using different proportions of random meat bits, fat, salt and spices can really affect the texture as well. So that technique should be developed after being accustomed to the type of hot dogs used in the contest. I tend to have the most difficulty with swallowing ones with a surprising texture.

Dunking

Dunking the hot dog buns in liquid while consuming the hot dog is a common practice during competition. It can help save time from having to drink in between consuming the bun and hot dog. This method also compresses the bread so that you're swallowing less air. There are arguments for both dunking and not dunking but I believe that both are viable techniques and it really comes down to your personal preference and objectively what allows you to consume more. Just look at your own performance metrics with either technique and stick to what works best.

Even though I now mimic Kobayashi's very effective hot dog splitting and dunking technique, I've seen guys like Tom Gilbert put them away with no problem to win events while eating the bun and hot dog together. Even my personal best during competition was with the no dunking method during a chili dog eating contest in Las Vegas where it was impossible to do so.

The weight of the liquid being consumed should also be considered. Whatever liquid the bun absorbs during dunking is a detriment towards your total capacity but aids in swallowing. Since a gallon of water weighs approximately 8 pounds, eaters should avoid over soaking their bun than what is necessary to help them swallow.

Counting

There is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to counting how many hot dogs one can eat. As with other contest foods, simply stating that you ate a specific amount is not a very empirical method of measuring actual consumption. Factors such as the weight of the hot dog, bun and amount of debris are not factored in. Also, changing the weight of a hot dog can drastically alter the count. It would be more accurate to state how many pounds of hot dogs you ate rather than the number.

The general consensus on the weight of hot dogs used during competition is a 57g hot dog and 42g bun. This is the most common weight for bun length hot dogs from several  manufacturers and leads to a somewhat elegant approximation of 100g (~99g) for each count during competition. Here is an analysis of weight, excluding liquids, for every 10 hot dogs eaten:

Count - kg - lb
10 - 1kg - 2.21lb
20 - 2kg - 4.41lb
30 - 3kg - 6.62lb
40 - 4kg - 8.82lb
50 - 5kg - 11.03lb
60 - 6kg - 13.23lb
70 - 7kg - 15.44lb
80 - 8kg -17.64lb

Considering this data, if an eater ate 30 hot dogs along with half a gallon (4lbs) of fluid from dunking and drinking, they would be consuming a total of 10.62 pounds. Whereas if the eater ate 40 hot dogs but only consumed a quarter gallon (2lbs) of fluid, the total weight of consumption would be 10.82 pounds, nearly the same as an eater that consumed 30 hot dogs and half a gallon of fluid. Since you are not given credit for any fluids consumed, it only makes sense to minimize liquid consumption, drinking only what is necessary to aid in swallowing the hot dogs.

Conclusion

This ultimately becomes a balance of technique and capacity. If you still have room for more hot dogs when time runs out, you should focus on honing your technique since they are not getting to your stomach efficiently. And if you are full before time runs out, don't worry about dunking or how you eat your hot dogs as much as getting your stomach accustomed to consuming more food. You ought to modify your practice sessions to address your weakness as an eater.

Lastly, I think always finishing what you prepared for practice helps a lot. It makes no sense to prepare more hot dogs than you can eat. Any seasoned competitive eater should have a good idea of what their limitations are and ought to push themselves to finish everything even if it's past the time limit. Eating all of your hot dogs is a good stretch and prepares one to be comfortable with holding so many in their stomach. Hopefully you can turn that hard work into a win.


And....

In case you don't know what I'm preparing for, it's the Crif Dog Classic:

www.crifdogclassic.com