I’m a planner; I like to know when and where I need to be and what I’ll be doing well in advance. I’m even the type of person who makes plans to make a plan. Even setting up a birthday party with the intention to talk about the family plans for Christmas at some point. Who does that?! Well, as much as I love a good plan there are times when I throw caution to the wind and say, “that sounds fun.” Like a ramen eating contest at a local festival in town.
A few months ago I met Johnny at the local farmer’s market selling Vatsana’s Hot Sauce. Which by the way is amazing! I’m a huge foodie so of course, I added them on Instagram to keep up with all the recipes and any updates on their products. Fast forward to the last month and I see they are sponsoring someone for the Asian Market Festival’s spicy ramen eating contest. I thought, well that seems fun, and began to ask some questions about it. The following Saturday I see Johnny at the market and we talk about it a bit more. I still hadn’t committed to being their rep, but I really wanted to step up to the challenge. After some input from some friends on IG Vatsana became my sponsor and I was officially in the contest! Would my love for ramen get me W? Would I end up with what eating contests call a “reversal”? I didn’t know, but on August 28th, 2021 we would all find out. 1st place gets a trophy, crown, $150 gift card to Tamashi Ramen, $100 from KM Communities, and a Tamashi t-shirt. 2nd place gets a $50 Tamshi gift card & a t-shirt. The goal of course is to win it all, but at the very least don’t come in last.
Ramen is my go-to food. I frequent the local ramen shops, I make it at home, & if I have leftovers from any other type of dish I often wonder, “will it ramen?”. Maybe I should do a piece on that sometime… The possibilities could be endless.
Back to the contest. It was about a week before the actual contest when I confirmed that I’d represent Vatsana. I have never participated in an eating contest or even attempted an eating challenge at a restaurant so I needed to at least practice once to see what I could do. I made 5 bowls of spicy ramen noodles and let them cool down. I didn’t set myself up for success in my practice run, but I did pretty well consider the conditions. I let the noodles cool for too long and they dried out; like that almost molded into the shape of the bowl kind of dried out. I also hadn’t worked up an appetite and had been drinking a lot of water that day. I think I got too excited to test it out and tried too early in the day also. Excuses, excuses…am I right? 😂 I set the bowls out, grabbed one bottle of water, and started the timer. I got 3.5 bowls down in 7 minutes. So I could have done 4 in 10 minutes, but I did stop early because I realized it was a pretty terrible practice run. During the following week, I ate nothing but spicy foods. I upped the spice level to my meal prep for the week, red curry chicken, and if I at a restaurant I order something spicy and asked for higher heat levels (if that was an option). I know I can handle the heat. I have a pretty high tolerance for a central Oklahoma white girl. It’s the number of noodles that I’d be devouring in 10 minutes that concerned me.
Plan of action for the day of the competition. Breakfast — protein shake which is 60g of protein, 2 scoops of collagen, & 1 scoop of greens. Lunch—6oz salmon, a few broccoli florets, & a bit of salad. Stay active all day while hydrating of course because it’s August in Oklahoma. Stop all intake around 3 pm and continue working up an appetite. Basically, getting myself to that place of being so hungry that you eat your next meal extremely fast without thinking and end up over-consuming. Which is exactly what you need for an eating competition right?!
About 30 minutes before I had to report backstage I began to feel nervous. My friends began arriving ready to cheer me on and the excitement on their faces helped me chill out a bit. Chen told me to remember my health/safety was more important than winning. I appreciated the permission to quit if I felt like I was going to cross a line and get sick. Heading to the backstage area where I met the other contestants. One of which included the reigning champion of the Asian Night Market Festival’s eating contests, Tommy Nguyen. In 2018 he ate 4 large bowls of Pho. In 2019 he ate, I think, 20 egg rolls. I quickly learned I was up against some heavy hitters. there were 4 total eating competition alums in the 10 of us competing. I landed in a mindset to just do the best I could and whatever that was would be good enough.
Time for us to hit the stage. I was #5 sandwiched between a local news channel rep and an eating competition alum. The MC asked, “what made you want to compete this year?” To which I answered “ I love ramen, it’s kind of an obsession. I live by this motto to do the unexpected and challenge myself when I can, an eating contest seemed like a good challenge.”
As I take my seat and wait for the remaining 4 to be introduced I scan the audience and catch the people who came to not only watch a pretty legit competition but to cheer me on; I got all warm and fuzzy inside seeing about 20 friends. Little did I know how warm I’d feel after ingesting the spicy ramen. Our first bowl was in front of us. Noodles, a very spicy-looking broth, and a sprinkle of even more heat on top. These weren’t a standard bowl size, but the noodle amount looked to be a standard serving.
Our time begins and I pick up the bowl shoveling noodles in while attempting to drink the broth, I of course end up wearing some of that broth, and at first the heat doesn’t even phase me. My mouth doesn’t seem to be too bad, but as I go for the second bowl and the first one fully hits my stomach the heat sets it on fire.
I down the second bowl and realize my stomach is plotting a mutiny. I pause, assuming that giving myself some space between bowls would help. The MC tells us we are only 3 minutes in; I went from “10 minutes isn’t really that long” to “why is it taking so long”. In my practice run, I ate 3 bowls, but they were super dry and hard to chew and swallow. Thinking the broth would help and I could do more I gathered that I could eat maybe 5 bowls.
I grabbed my third bowl and halfway through I felt like I was going to have a reversal. I found myself looking away and caught one of my friends. Pretty sure I gave them the “I’m not okay” face to which they returned the “it’s okay to stop” face. I looked back at the bowls in front of me; ended up standing up thinking that would help; it didn’t. I sat back down and some new friends I met the night before while volunteering was helping bring out the ramen and would pause behind me to cheer me on; that helped me keep going too. The guy next to me looked like he was going to pass out. He was bright red coughing a bit and just powering through. I realized he was on his third bowl too and I didn’t want to come in last. So I sucked down what was left of my third bowl right before time ran out. We ended up tieing with three bowls. Of course, that paled in comparison to the winner and still undefeated reigning champion who ate ten bowls! A few managed two bowls, three others had 4, 5, & 6. Then there was someone with 9 bowls down. At the end of an eating contest, you sit for “judging” this time is used for a couple of things. One to see if anyone ends up with a reversal now that they’ve stopped eating and two would be if they needed to weigh or review the final bowls to determine a winner. They asked each of us how we were feeling; I replied with “I’m just trying not to puke”.
One of the contestants mentioned that they put Carolina reapers in the ramen to up the spice level. For context, Carolina reapers are at the top of the Scoville Scale. Hearing this I was surprised that only my hands and stomach seemed to be on fire, my mouth was fine. I don’t know if they really did use reapers, but if so that makes me super proud to have eaten 3 bowls of reaper ramen!
I managed to exit the stage get some “good jobs” from members of the crowd and meet up with my mom & friends. They asked me a lot of questions about the ramen and I kindly asked if we could talk about it later. I found myself needing a lot of breathing room and about 20 minutes after the contest I made friends with a nearby trash can. Believe me, that heat was worse coming back up.
All in all, I’m super glad that I did this and stepped out of my comfort zone to challenge myself. I actually don’t personally know anyone who has competed in an eating contest so that’s kind of cool addition to the list of things I’ve done. While I wouldn’t recommend adding an eating contest to your bucket list; I do always recommend doing the unexpected, being at least somewhat spontaneous, and challenging your comfort zones. Strive to be adventurous.