Friday, July 29, 2011

Big Fun

"Things are bigger this year."

Those are the words that I kept hearing while walking around the California State Fair in Sacramento last weekend. It seems like an established tradition in the area to not only visit the fair every summer but to compare this year's offerings to those of prior fairs. Apparently, things were bigger this year. Big is good.

We are Americans after all. It's inherent for us to take our big salaries, buy a surplus of over sized goods at Costco and load them into our big cars. And before you assume that this will be some sort of scathing critique of wanton excess in our daily American lifestyle, just stop yourself from getting on that train of thought heading towards negativity city. I'm a competitive eater, I don't only support excess, I embrace it with loving arms. Like I stated earlier, big is good.

And I like fairs. I like how we currently have them popping up all around us like glorious, musical, deep fried temples where we dutifully pay homage to the gods of excess. Bacchus would be appeased. In Sacramento, there were numerous examples of how things were bigger this year. From the 500 horse power world's largest shopping cart to the enormous stuffed prizes people were carrying around, things certainly lived up to my expectations of this epic fair. Also, the selection and availability of food at the California State Fair was nothing short of massive. They even introduced the world's largest corn dog this year.

For me, this theme of big fun culminated into a corn dog eating contest. On this trip, Milo Franks sponsored another one of their corn dog eating contests offering a total purse of $2,800. With first place receiving $2,000 of that purse, this prize money was bigger than any prize they had offered before. The sponsors were no strangers to having an eating contest. This would be the third time they hosted this event and they were very organized in sorting out the logistics of the contest. Milo Franks had card counters prepared, news and media in attendance and lots of corn dogs ready. They also held two qualifiers before the finals last Saturday.

I was hoping that the prize money would attract some very notable eaters to compete with. Perhaps some guys from the East Coast would show up to help widen the breadth of competitors that I have eaten against. Unfortunately, no one bothered to make the trip. At least there were some decent local guys to compete against. There was also the matter of the current record of 15 corn dogs in seven minutes set by Matt Stonie, back in his independent days, that I could contend with. Though the format changed a little, time was increased to eight minutes. That meant I needed to eat at least an average of 2.14 corn dogs per minute or 17.14 corn dogs in 8 minutes to comparatively exceed his record.

On the day of the finals, I felt prepared to take on some corn dogs. Despite tearing my lip the prior night from biting into it during my qualifier, I felt adequately ready for the contest. Back stage, before we were called out to compete, I had a genuine WTF moment when I saw this guy holding a leaky bag of ice on top of his head, drenching the majority of his torso with cold water. My brain ached from try to figure out the reasoning behind this. There was also a guy with a cool rainbow hat along with a couple really big guys and the rest of the eaters. We were quite the motley crew on that stage.

As the corn dogs came out, I thought of the qualifier and how I would handle the corn dogs this time around. Concerns cropped up about how many bites 
I would take before I swallowed water and what I would do if my lip started bleeding again. Probably just keep going I thought. My mind went blank as the contest started and I was cramming corn dogs into my mouth before I realized it. I quickly gained control of my form and got into a steady rhythm. It was my real weakness during the qualifier.

Like the evening before, the corn dogs were delicious. There's something special about freshly hand battered and deep fried corn dogs at a fair. They're completely unlike those frozen turds of processed ingredients that you find at your local grocer. The organizers also had enough sense to not waste any condiments this time around, keeping the table nice and simple. There was only water, corn dogs and napkins.

During the event, I was so focused on preserving form that I had completely lost count of how many I had eaten. There was a growing pile of sticks on my plate, but I had no way of quickly knowing what my total was. It turned out that my counter didn't know either. It seemed like he was randomly flipping the cards behind me for my count. I caught him a couple times missing a flip when I had finished a corn dog. It's good that you end up with a bunch of sticks after eating corn dogs, I was able rely on them to be my count at the end of the contest.

The downside to this was that I didn't know if I was in the lead or not. $2,000 generates a lot of anxiety during a contest when you don't know whether or not you'd be taking it home. The announcer wasn't any more help since he was reading the totals from the counters to give the audience updates about our progress. With about two minutes left, I noticed a slowdown with the eaters around me. People seemed to be getting full. This was a good thing since I was no where near my capacity and was able to just kept plowing through the corn dogs that were brought out.

There was some confusion at the end about the final counts however. My counter was reporting 13 on his sign which tied another guy at the opposite end of the stage. We ended up resorting to stick counting to figure out the actual totals and fortunately the evidence left after corn dog consumption proved my victory. I ended up winning with 18 corn dogs in 8 minutes. 2nd and 3rd had consumed 13 and 12 corn dogs.

Here's video of the event:

It was exhilarating to win the $2,000 and receive congratulations from rowdy audience members. I definitely had big fun at the fair. After a beer, I quickly rushed to the airport to make my flight back to Southern California. My only disappointment was that I was told by someone who competed against Matt Stonie at the last corn dog eating contest that the dogs they used were larger than the ones we ate. So I can't really claim that my 18 corn dog count was a new record even if the event organizers were telling people that it was. I guess not everything is bigger this time around.

We'll just have to resolve it whenever that rematch in the future happens. Hopefully, it will be over corn dogs.

California State Fair
1600 Exposition Blvd
Sacramento, CA  95815

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Best Ramen In Orange County Again

Over time, I find myself growing less fickle when it comes to choosing what food I eat. Apart from pickles, I take great enjoyment in consuming all types of food. From fine dining and my routine favorites to late night drunken fast food runs, I've really been enjoying what I eat. So when I found out that my favorite ramen place in Orange County was holding another eating contest, I became very excited.

Shin Sen Gumi in Fountain Valley, Ca would again hold another ramen eating contest using the same rules as last time. Participants are given 45 minutes to eat a bowl of ramen and as many additional orders of ramen as they can within the time limit. They earn a t-shirt for consuming at least seven extra orders of ramen and a $50 gift card for eating the highest total. I won the contest they hosted last Thanksgiving by eating 16 additional orders of ramen in 45 minutes.

My competitive eating buddy Frank also showed up for a big meal but was oblivious to the fact that there was a contest happening. I encouraged him to do his best regardless and try to beat the highest total so far, nine additional orders. Given my past performance, I was very confident that I could beat that total and worked on eating past the record I set last time.

Just like last time, the first bowl was the best tasting. The slices of pork and ramen complemented the strong dashi taste very well. Though I was there for business and would save savoring the tasty food after I won the gift card. I poured in my glass of ice to cool down the broth and went at the noodles. Fortunately, they were ready for me this time and the chef cooked my ramen ahead of time to ensure that I had a consistent supply. He served me two orders at a time and I made quick progress.

Frank ate his ramen efficiently with a fork, but being unprepared for the contest took it's toll. We both slowed down at around 20 minutes in and I felt fullness set in around my 11th order of ramen. By this time, all the ice I've been adding to cool down the noodles had significantly diluted the taste of the delicious broth. All I could taste were the noodles now.

As it came down to the final 10 minutes, things weren't looking good for beating my record. I was only at 13 orders and would need to eat three more to match my record. It was a strange emotion I felt at that point, I was amazed that I had eaten so many last time but disappointed that I couldn't do it again. I like to think that I've made some progress since November but I couldn't muster the eating tenacity needed to get past my record, a sense of complacency overwhelmed me. Frank had also stopped eating at this point, falling one order short of winning his t-shirt.

I was done. I reluctantly finished my 15th extra order of ramen and watched time run out. I was one short of tying my past performance but at least I had won the contest. As it turns out, the extra orders of noodles weighed half a pound each so eating over 8 pounds of ramen was at least a decent meal. I felt better after walking around when they had me take some pictures. Like I could have eaten a few more orders then, but unfortunately the contest was over. They gave us some complimentary green tea ice cream after which really helped balance the taste of the meal and numb the disappointment I felt from failing to beat myself.

In the future, I hope to eventually beat my record. Even if they don't have a contest, I'd like to just order ramen and test myself against my past performance. At least the $50 gift card I won could cover all that food. They still have the best ramen in Orange County after all.

Here's video of the contest:

Shin Sen Gumi
18315 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, Ca 92708
(714) 962-8952