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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I Won!

What do you think of “competitive eating,” sporty reader? The Porkchop Express can't decide. Sure, gorging is great; and racing is ok. But the combination? Sounds rough, friend: a recipe for pain and bloat.

It also sounds like one of those “only in America” things: as in, only in America would someone be crazy enough to eat as many hotdogs as they could, as quickly as possible, not out of hunger or the threat of violence.

For the past few years, a guy named Takeru Kobayashi has ruled the most famous eating competition in the entire U.S. of A. I'm talking, of course, about the annual Nathan's Hotdog Eating Contest. Staged in Coney Island, Brooklyn every 4th of July, this gleeful rejoinder to moderation and common sense gives combatants 12 minutes to devour as many garlicky, all-beef Nathan's dogs (and buns!) as is superhumanly possible. And year after year tubbies get taken down by a 5-foot 8-inch 20-something kid from Japan.

Kobayashi san!
You know he's #1, competition is none

Nathan's 2006 contest ended much like battles 2000 thru 2005: with another Kobayashi victory. He downed a world-record 53 ¾ weiners in less time than it takes me to choose a breakfast cereal. And whose record did he beat? His own.

It's hard not to admire the guy's chops, even if he does just turn out to be one of those “T3” super robots sent back in time to destroy and/or save the earth. But that's one of the funny things about competitive eating. You never know who's gonna be the last one standing. Let me show you what I mean.
Take a look at the picture above. Now imagine them eating hotdogs side-by-side. Now look again. Now get ready to laugh. The pretty, petite woman ate a whopping 14 more hot dogs than the handsome, petite big fat bald guy; she finished in 3rd place this year with 37 consumed.

Her name? Sonya Thomas, a/k/a The Black Widow, and she also holds the International Federation of Competitive Eating records for (amongst other things) Vienna Sausage, Baked Beans, Chicken Wings, Hard Boiled Eggs, Fruitcakes, Hamburgers, Lobsters, Meatballs, Oysters, Pulled Pork, and Turducken. And, as chance would have it, tacos.

Surely you've heard? September 29, 2004, that forever-infamous date? “Taco Wednesday,” as I like to call it: the day Miss Thomas polished off 48 soft chicken tacos in 11 heart-pounding minutes at the Zocalo Restaurant in New York City.

Aside from the obvious, what struck me about this was the location: Zocalo Restaurant in New York City. Not Los Angeles, not San Francisco, not Mexico. NYC. And if you believe the hype, NY doesn't have great tacos... or does it?

Rumors have been circulating of a magical park on the southern skirts of Redhook, Brooklyn, nestled somewhere near soccer fields and swimming pools and docks and projects. So we went down to check it out, and found a veritable cornucopia, a culinary tour of Latin America at the unlikely intersection of Clinton & Bay.

The Red Hook Soccer Field scene really is something of a phenomenon: a close-knit community of tents set up every Saturday and Sunday, morning til evening. From the second week of April thru the third week of October, you can take your pick of papusas, huaraches, ceviches, plantains, grilled meats, savory beans, fresh fruit drinks. And it's as good as it sounds. The only hitch? Many have heard the rumors, but far fewer have summoned the courage to check it out.

Have no fear, good reader! For the next few, we'll be reporting back with the goods offered at this amazing little nexus. Soon, you too will be sampling deliciousness served up from Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic (just to name a few).

And the best part? No matter how much you eat, everyone's a winner!

Round one (tasty tacos and fruity goodness from Puebla) below.

Til Tuesday,

–J. Slab

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