Monday, August 24, 2015


I went to an eating contest at the weekend; as a spectator, not a competitor, obviously. It was my first time.  I’ve always found the idea of competitive eating simultaneously compelling and offensive, and I’m sure you don’t need me to point out the many glaring moral and aesthetic objections.

This was a slightly specialized event.  It was Nisei week in LA, a festival of many things Japanese, and so around Little Tokyo there were exhibitions of bonsai and calligraphy and dolls, and the food to be eaten in the contest was gyoza, also known as pot stickers, though I gather connoisseurs make a distinction between the two things. 

In fact the contest turned out to be a slightly bigger deal than I’d imagined.  To give the official title it was the Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship, and I did recognize one of the contestants, or at least his name – Joey Chestnut - who I seemed to recall winning various Nathan’s Hot-dog eating contests on Coney Island.  

A little research shows that in recent times he’s lost out to Matt “The Megatoad” Stonie, and he too was also on the bill.  A quality field.

Contestants had ten minutes to eat as many gyoza as they could, which in some ways doesn’t seem very long: probably there’s a health and safety issue.  And I’d assumed there’d be some “technique” on display, some special tricks of the trade for getting the food down rapidly, but at least to the untutored eye, it seemed that once the contest started they were all doing pretty much the same thing, just taking handfuls of gyoza and shoving them in their mouth.

Watching people stuff themselves with food isn’t one of the world’s greatest pleasures, and certainly some of the contestants didn’t look like they were having the very best time – there was a lot of grimacing – but nobody collapsed and nobody threw up, for which I was essentially grateful, though obviously it would have added to the spectacle.

While the contest was actually going on it was also impossible to tell who was in the lead or how much had been eaten – there was no score card, and all the  totting up was done at the end.

Anyway, to cut a short story even shorter, Stonie just sneaked a win – he ate 343 gyoza compared with Chestnut’s 339 – each of these numbers being more or less twice the number eaten by the nearest competitors - Miki Sudo came third with 178.  (FYI - each gyoza contains 30 calories).  

The prize money wasn’t exactly princely, first prize was $2000, but I gather there’s a professional circuit with sponsorship and TV coverage and contracts, and there’s even a governing body called Major League Eating, though I’m still in the dark about how the finances work.

The fellow above, at the front, with the agonized expression, is one Matt Ralston, who (if I heard the MC correctly) was a “ringer” writing a piece for the LA Weekly, and he really wasn’t trying.  He ate a mere eight.

Afterwards, drifting into the nearest Little Tokyo supermarket there was a very sweet Japanese lady cooking up Day-Lee gyoza and offering free samples.  These were hot and crispy – the ones at the eating contest were just boiled and obviously cold and perhaps a bit wet which would have helped them slide down more easily.  So inevitably I bought a bag of frozen pork gyoza and took them home and cooked a batch.  Nine gyoza for two of us.   It was plenty, though I could probably have eaten more.

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