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

Monday, May 14, 2012

Big Plans

Amaebi and large Asahi at Rokuan in Chino Hills, CA.

As I sat at a sushi bar, enjoying a modest but flavorful portion of amaebi and the $2.50 large Asahi they had on special, I thought about the big plans I had for the coming months. This year has been uneventful as far as eating competitions go. I've only participated in a few, low-profile events, devoid of any real motivation to actually try and give it my best.

With a third of the year already passed, I am pleased to finally have some eating competitions worth training for again. This coming weekend I'll be doing hamburgers in San Diego. The hamburger eating contest hosted by Dash Burger is a repeat of a competition I had with Tom Gilbert and Stephanie Torres over a year ago. I have good memories about that event, it was one of my first contests, and only the second time I competed against Stephanie and Tom. I'm not sure if it will be as intense as last time, but with Tom's record of 18.5 burgers in 10 minutes to shoot for and a few hundred bucks on the line, I probably won't be showing up to this one hung over.

Though the event I'm really excited about  is the inaugural Crif Dog Classic in Brooklyn, New York on the Fourth of July. It's not everyday you get to be at the beginning of a burgeoning  eating competition. Takeru Kobayashi invited me to compete against him again and other top independent competitive eaters including Tom and Stephanie in another 10 minute eating contest. I feel fortunate in having the opportunity to develop my eating skills against some of the same people that I competed against from the start. The line up also includes Dave Goldstein and Brad Sciullo, two very strong eaters that I competed against in tacos at Huntington Beach last year.



With this kind of competition, I truly have the incentive to practice and improve my performance metrics. Despite the disgusting feeling I'll surely have from salt laden hot dog practice runs, I feel deeply invigorated to perform well and push my limits as an eater. And regardless of how the contest turns out, I'm looking forward to the trip to New York and spending time with some of my favorite eaters.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On The Tonight Show

Me and the denim clad legend of late night himself, Jay Leno.

Jerry Seinfeld and Robin Williams both received their start on The Tonight Show. I'm no comedian however, so when I was asked to perform the mayonnaise eating bit from my youtube channel on the show, I knew that the appearance wouldn't be a big deal or provide a real platform for me to advance from. Still, the offer to come on the show and be rewarded for something I did for free on the internet sounded like fun. I've also been a fan of Leno since I was a kid.

The production team from The Tonight Show tentatively scheduled me for an early April appearance on the Meal or No Meal segment for the show. A couple weeks before the taping, I worked out the logistics with the producers of how to take the jar of mayonnaise eating video and condense it to a short, 15 second format that was appropriate for a live audience. They wanted the demonstration to have the same disgusting impact as my youtube video and didn't really want to emphasize the amount of mayonnaise I would eat or how fast I would be doing it. This resulted in going with a squeezable 22 oz bottle and spraying the mayonnaise into my mouth for show.

The idea worked well during rehearsal. We used vanilla pudding to practice with and it took about 20 seconds or so to spray the majority of the bottle's contents into my mouth. During the taping however, I instinctively resorted to consuming the mayonnaise as I would in competition. I brought the bottle very close to me and consistently swallowed as I crushed the bottle to effectively push the contents into my mouth. This resulted in a much faster time than during the rehearsal and despite defying the plan I had with the producer, I believe that it still had the impact of generating looks of disgust among the audience members and probably to anyone else who decided to tune into NBC at 11:40 PM.

Ironically, the only part I didn't enjoy of the experience was the mayonnaise eating since it wasn't really in the mood to eat plain mayo at the time. It was interesting to walk around back stage and see how the show is filmed live in person. Also the production team was generously accommodating to me and Jay Leno was a very nice guy in person. Maybe I'll return one day as a legitimately famous person and not just as a novelty from youtube.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eating Well

Halibut carpaccio at Oki Doki in Tustin, CA.

Since it's been slow for competitive eating events during the winter months, I find myself taking more time to enjoy food in smaller portions and at a much slower pace. There is such a pleasure derived from carefully analyzing each bite you take to discover all the nuances of flavor in the food you are enjoying. Tastes that you really can't enjoy when swallowing pounds of soggy hamburgers and corn dogs.

Though I don't really consider myself a foodie. I lack the discerning quality that elite yelpers possess. The quality that tells them when they are eating superior versions of food they have sampled elsewhere. Truthfully, I take as much enjoyment eating a carefully prepared plate of fresh halibut carpaccio at a nice restaurant as I do scarfing down fast food from Del Taco. So I won't bother rating the places I visit because attempting to assign some sort of numeric scale to the restaurants would be arbitrary at best. So rather, I'll surmise eating experiences that I have enjoyed on this blog.

The halibut carpaccio I described was from Oki Doki in Tustin, Ca. I randomly went there with my girlfriend and a few others one night in search for unique Japanese food near by. There is something to be said about how good company and drink make dining experiences better. Although we had to wait an hour to be seated, I had a generally positive experience at this restaurant. This was partially due to the fact that we finished two 64oz pitchers of Kirin lager, but also because the courses of grilled meats and seafood were very delicious. The items I enjoyed there included the grilled squid, liver yakitori and the halibut carpaccio.

Green tea mousse cake paired with Louis Jadot pinot noir 2009. 

Some items that were only decent tasting included the octopus salad and generic vanilla and green tea mochi for dessert. They weren't awful, just not very memorable. The Kirin served in one of those platsic pitchers with the cooling device in the center on the other-hand was great. There's a certain magic to cold beer, though I should be giving Kirin as much credit as the restaurant for serving it that way. This place was good for yakitori and beer and not so good for service.

I also had a fruitless hunt for a green tea cheesecake recently. In contacting the local gourmet Asian bakeries, it turned out that no one sells proper green tea cheese cake in Orange County any more. So we settled for a fluffy green tea mousse cake with red beans that my friend found at a local Korean market. It paired nicely with my favorite pinot noir for some after dinner drinks and dessert.

It's pleasant to go to sleep not feeling stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey. In regularly consuming large amounts of food, it's refreshing to rediscover modest portions of well made food again. It's like the opposite of binging to just eat slowly, considering how things taste in your mouth. And I find it silly that this concept seems so alien to me. Especially after a terrible experience eating sodium laden chicken for half an hour last weekend, I guess it's no surprise that I'm finding so much pleasure in eating how you're not suppose to in competition, slowly and in small amounts. Unlike contests, when you eat well with others, everyone wins.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Year later

This isn't eating.

Eating is an action performed to acquire nutritional sustenance. We eat for the sake of our survival. No, what I do on the stage with others, in front of an audience or a camera isn't eating. I don't do it for the sake of sustenance and, with the amount of choking I've experienced, it is certainly not conducive to my survival.

What I do is more like quickly packing luggage, taking as much stuff as I can and trying to rapidly stuff it into a bag without the bag bursting or throwing up in front of the other bags. The real objective is to pack in as much stuff as possible, not to eat. Eating is what David Hassellhoff does with cheeseburgers while laying on the floor.


And why I do it really comes down to a basic proposition that I thought of after my first contest: So I get rewarded to consume large quantities of food in a short period of time? Ok, sign me up. This is something that I have learned in the past year that I've engaged in this activity, and taking some time to reflect on my eating career, I've come to notice a few trends.

The most significant of which is the reason why I do this in the first place. After making some decent extra income from events, I've become more objective with the competitive eating events I choose to participate in. It simply comes down to a matter of deciding whether or not the incentive to do an event is worth the time and discomfort.

It's not for the love of food as some have suggested. I never walk away from a contest thinking about how enjoyable the soggy food I just packed in was. And on the rare occasion when I actually enjoy the taste of a challenge, it becomes disappointing because it's over much too quickly. No, I'd rather eat slowly and really enjoy the meal with the company of others and a few drinks.

The other trend I've noticed is that competitive eating doesn't have the same allure that it once had for me. Maybe there is a slump that eaters experience in their sophomore year of actively engaging in competition. Perhaps there is, I really haven't felt the magic in a while and it's just not as exciting anymore. The erection I once had for food and competition has grown flaccid.

Penis dessert challenge in San Diego

Regardless, as long as there is an incentive to participate in competition and challenges I will continue to competitively eat. I still enjoy the aspect of improving my technique and capacity and truly feel that I have so much more to learn and improve on.

With 2012 already here, I plan to re-position my online content to be a bit more purposeful. I feel cross posting what I put on youtube with my blog content then linking it to facebook is very redundant. I plan on writing more frequently with more succinct blog entries reflecting on my current endeavors with photographs and opinions. I won't bother summarizing what I post about on youtube since the videos pretty much speak for themselves. Though I will continue posting as I have, hopefully increasing the frequency of uploads as I get more subscribers.

As for facebook, well, that will go on as normal. Just tagging your check ins, posting my current activities and commenting on how adorable that picture you posted of your new puppy is. Also the new timeline format sucks, please stop using that abomination.

Lastly, I've met some very interesting people over the past year. People who have strong opinions regarding competitive eating, who are outspoken regarding competition, the people they associate with in the competitive eating community and the current state of the eating game in general. It's been a few months, but I finally got around to editing a few interviews I did with competitive eaters from the West Coast Hot Dog Eating Championship reflecting such opinions.

Here is part 1:




And part 2:




Also thanks to everyone who's stuck around with me over the past year. I truly appreciate the support in growing my youtube subscriber base and the encouraging words in general. I hope to bring more to the table over the next year.