Thursday, December 1, 2011

Competitive eating

Our first stop in Coney Island was Nathan's hot dog establishment. This is partly because it is the first building we saw as we exited the subway. But also because it is truly a mecca for hot dog lovers. They don't mess about with papaya juice either.

Every year Nathan's hosts a hot dog eating competition. Here's the wall of fame,which is half a block wide.
 The 'international' is a nice touch. Eating competitions seem to me to be a uniquely American occupation. There's a show TLOML and I love called Man Vs Food where this unsurprisingly rotund man called Adam Richman - a hero of TLOML's - travels the US taking on all those food challenges.

You know, challenges like 'Fat Andy's pizza challenge' where the person who can eat a 12 lb pizza in less than an hour wins $500 and the dubious honour of having their photo on Fat Andy's 'wall of pain'. (No-one has won this one yet). Or the San Francisco Creamery's Kitchen Sink Challenge: a 2 gallon sundae which includes 8 scoops of ice cream, 8 toppings and 8 servings of whipped cream. If you eat it in an hour, you earn a place on the Wall of Fame and free icecream for a year. Before Richman, only 4 people had ever succeeded. Richman nailed it in 45 minutes, despite the fact that, as regular viewers know, dairy is his Achilles heel.

TLOML talks proudly of his glory days eating with his buddy JG, who once took down 78 pieces of sushi in a Washington, DC restaurant (TLOML only managed 50 or so). They were apparently in training for weeks, eating 30 or 40 pieces at a time before going to lie on a grassy knoll nearby to recover. If the Senator they worked for hadn't left under a sex scandal cloud I suspect they would have been dismissed for doing nothing but eat and then digest all summer long. And I bet that innocent sushi place doesn't offer 'all you can eat' anymore.

So far, so American. For the first few decades, Americans ruled at Nathan's hot dog eating competition too.

Then along came the Japanese. Suddenly Jay Green's 13 dogs doesn't look so impressive, does it?
In fact, for almost a decade Japanese competitive eaters dominated at the Nathan's competition. And these were not big burly dudes either.

TLOML theorises that there's an actual competitive eating institute in Japan where people train. Certainly a fair amount of strategy seems to go into it. Kobayashi does a stretch as he eats, apparently known as the 'Kobayashi Shake', to squish the food down inside him. He also dips his hot dog buns in water before eating them, which he calls the Solomon Method. He is apparently a national legend in Japan.

But don't be downhearted, America. Joey Chestnut bounced onto the scene and won at Nathan's the last few years. He's currently ranked first in the world at eating a lot, according to the International Federation of Competitive Eating. And yes, the IFCE is headquartered in... the US.


  1. I got hungry reading this. No joke.

  2. Ha! I remember those days on the Hill and JG, too. Brings back great memories of bringing up your TLOML.

  3. He may have more elevated tastes these days - I think he'd take a dozen quality pieces of sashimi over 50 pieces from an 'all you can eat' - but he but was still pretty enthusiastic about the Nathan's hot dog!