Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Humongous Bowl of Hemingway

At 61 years of age, Ernest Hemingway went to the front entrance of his Idaho home, placed the barrel of a 12 gauge Boss shotgun into his mouth and ended himself.

I'm not sure why, but this was what I was thinking about during the last eating challenge I did in San Francisco, California. Maybe it was because it was a hot bowl of soup and consuming the searing liquid reminded me of placing dangerously painful objects into your mouth. Or maybe it was because I had just finished reading 'A Farewell To Arms' again. Probably both.

But before I get into the gory details of my recent challenge, I put together a special announcement video I made with my rabbit and a bottle of bubbly. Now available in high definition:

So in summary, I'm putting a bit more effort and polish into the content I publish. I'm somewhat of a tech nerd and it was only a matter of time before I went high definition. I sincerely hope that those of you who follow my eating exploits enjoy it.

Anyways, back to San Francisco. A small Vietnamese restaurant in the north side of town called Pho Garden advertises that they are the place where the pho eating challenge was born. They have a massive sign in the front proclaiming this and although I may be easily persuaded by advertising, I believe them. I mean it is a massive sign after all.

There are a few different pho eating challenges scattered through out California and out of all of them this is probably the best known. I'm guessing that's because it's the only one that gives you the humongous bowl to take home after you complete the challenge. Well at least that was the reason I was doing it.

You get an hour to finish two pounds of various beef cuts and two pounds of noodles. The ingredients swim in a savory beef broth that you don't have to consume to complete the challenge. As with most pho, the flavor of the broth is magical. There's something about boiling beef bones in a large pot for hours that's just unique. Campbell's should can this soup and call it 'Beef Noodle Soup' with a sticker on the can saying "Now with extra tripe!"

Having some experience with competitively eating pho from the challenge I completed at OB Noodle House, I knew I had to cool this bastard down from the beginning. They said it was okay for me to use ice, so I ordered a pitcher to dump in as I started. This helped immensely, as the addition of ice not only helped cool down the boiling hot broth but it also slowed down how much liquid the noodles would absorb. Even though it's only 2 pounds of noodles, they can easily absorb double their weight in hot liquid.

You're given a set of large chopsticks and a ladle to eat your pho with. The ladle came in handy with holding a lot of the noodles out of the broth and made them easy to pull into my mouth. Food is much easier to consume when you don't have to chew it.

After a few minutes of slurping up the hot soup, I realized that I didn't use enough ice. You'd think a pitcher would do the trick but not when you have a gallon of boiling hot broth. Not that the pho was scalding my mouth but it still definitely burned and I started feeling warm all over. Like when someone says they love you or when you have a stroke. The texture from the various meats weren't helping either, they mixed in with the noodles making it harder to swallow without chewing. Just random slices of meat, tendon and tripe tangled in a mess of noodles. The balls of beef floating around were a bit chewy as well.

This was about when I started thinking about Hemingway. I have developed a bad habit of going on mental tangents when doing eating challenges. I really like thinking about the author's intention and mind set when reading a novel and 'A Farewell To Arms' was no exception. It was pleasant to read an allegory about American tragedy set in a modern historical background. My mind went on like this for a while but at least I caught myself this time. The tiny digital clock on the table showed I was running out of time and I told myself, "You're either doing this the wrong way or the Hemingway!"

I went from the chew and swallow method and just concentrating on the swallowing part, it was going down quickly again. Near the end, I motioned to the waitress to strain out the remainder of the noodles and beef which caught her off guard because she didn't realize how close I was to finishing. She put the rest of my eating challenge in a smaller bowl and I pushed to beat the record of 15 minutes. With a guy on his lunch break cheering me on, I managed to swallow the last bit at 12 minutes and change. Though the clock doesn't record seconds so I ended up having an official time of 13 minutes.

Here's video of the challenge:

The best part, aside from the tasty meal, was getting to take home the massive bowl. They don't give you the one you ate from but a new one, nicely packed for transport.

I'm not sure what kind of food I want to eat from that bowl yet but I will definitely enjoy some massive meals from it. Doing another pho challenge was a pretty good idea and a surprisingly thought provoking one at at that. Is it something in the broth or is Hemingway just a damn good writer?

It's a shame he went out the way he did. But I suppose, in a way, I had my own mind blowing experience.

Check it out if you're in town:

Pho Garden
2109 Clement St
San Francisco, CA  94121
(415) 379-8677

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