Eating as a sport, when you think about it, is rather against the ethos of being a foodie. In competitive eating, you have to eat vast quantities within in a short span of time. To be at the top of one’s game, the “athelete” should ideally have the ability to unhinge one’s jaw and ingest competing foodstuff, preferably without the impediment of chewing, or touching the sides of one’s throat. In doing so, one doesn’t really taste what one is consuming. Quantity over quality.
Foodies in general, love eating (often vast quantities) over a more leisurely pace, preferably over several hours, savouring every mouthful, indulging in the act of mastication. Or quality over/and quantity, if you prefer. Given the opposing viewpoints, you would assume that there aren’t that many foodies who are into competitive eating.
Which is all the stranger that Conor (Hold the Beef), Apex (Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse), Matt (Abstract Gourmet) and I collectively threw the book and common sense out the window last Wednesday night and participated in What the Pho’s Jumbo Pho eating competition held as part of Eat Drink Perth 2011.
When I arrived at the restaurant, Conor and Apex had already been seated at our table along with Conor’s housemate and friends who were there to provide moral support. The restaurant was already busy with more would be contestants streaming in. The atmosphere was lively, festive, with a touch of nervous edge. Looking around us, we were astounded by the size of the regulation servings, still, we were confident that we would prevail.
Before our waitress, took our order, we had to sign a disclaimer and agree to the competition conditions. It was then we discovered that the entire contents of the bowl, including the broth had to be consumed within 20 minutes! Very much doubting our ability to succeed, we went ahead anyway. Unfortunately for Conor, there was an additional complication. After some negotiating with our waitress and the lady proprietress, she was able to procure a non-regulation portion with chicken & pork broth and chicken meat.
The time set, we dug in to these massive bowls of pho, but not before pausing for the requisite photos and candid shots. There was talk of strategies and methods between mouthfuls, but it mostly degenerated to shovelling large mouthfuls of pho and not trying not to get your tongue or lips burnt off. As the minutes counted down, we realised the enormity of the task before us, and one by one, threw up the white flag of surrender.
In the final reckoning, we decided that Conor did the best between us, with me a close second and Apex trailing in third. As we sat rubbing our distended bellies, Matt arrived and we rejoiced that perhaps one of us would wrest victory from the gargantuan pho.
When his bowl was set on the table, Matt attacked it with gusto, chomping moutful after large mouthful, working himself into a sweat. Even at one point, ditching the chopsticks in favour of slupring straight from the bowl. Alas, despite his valiant effort, he too was finally defeated by the pho and burnt his tongue in the process.
Those to attempted the challenge were legion, but like us, most fell, cut down by the gigantic, piping hot bowls. There were hushed whispers between tables that each bowl weighed in at almost a kilo of noodles, meat, sprouts and broth. Amongst the corpses of engorged defeated, there were three who were victorious and there was much rejoicing and jubilation.
While the overall atmosphere was fun and festive, at the end of the day, I like to taste my food, rather than gorging in excess, In the future, I’ll leave the competitive eating to the young-uns.
What the Pho runs the competition every Wednesday in March between 6.30pm and 7.30pm. Competitors must consume the entire contents of the bowl within 20 minutes and there is a $20 penalty for non-completion. “Regulation” pho is beef only with a healthy topping of mung bean sprouts and sliced red chilli.