I was surprised to walk into Tokio the other night for a bowl of tonkatsu ramen—very good, it was—and see a small purple sign for the restaurant’s five-and-a-half pound ramen challenge: Eat the equivalent of four servings in 22 minutes for free, or pay the restaurant 22 bucks.
A bit of Googling afterward turned up a video of two young men attempting, and failing, the challenge in August. A few seconds’ more Googling turned up a blog about a man trying to eat a gyoza the size of a turkey in Japan. At which point I was swallowed whole by the Maw of Search, and passed quickly into a food-challenge database which has entries like this: “Gersh Kuntzman has a report in the NY Daily News about this attempt at the 30-pound burrito at Don Chingon in Brooklyn” and “Kobayashi wins Taco Trough Takedown.”
Takeru Kobayshi, you may remember, is the wiry Japanese competitor who frequently crushed it at the Coney Island hot dog competition and can be seen eating 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes in a video in which, at the end, he is rocking on his feet and retching. You can also watch him compete against Internet meme-rodent Tiny Hamster, one of the only examples I found of champion eaters actually poking fun at themselves. Kobayashi fell from grace after leaving a sanctioning organization called Major League Eating. The League champion is now someone named Matt “the Megatoad” Stonie, who just introduced his own logo on Facebook. A few peristaltic clicks more found me reading an article on Quartz that compared competitive eating to the multitasking, quick-decision skills of elite athletes, quoting champ Stonie: “You’ve got to pick up the hot dog, and while you’re eating the hot dog part you’re dunking the bun, then you take the bun out, you squeeze it down and you eat it. You’re doing maybe two or three things simultaneously.”
This is multitasking the way that walking and chewing gum at the same time is multitasking. The Quartz article suggested that competitive eaters would therefore make good corporate hires.
At which point, 15 minutes after watching the Tokio video, I was done, having just gagged on the dumbest idea I have encountered outside the presidential debates. A challenge to eat a five-and-a-half-pound bowl of ramen may be supremely idiotic, but the Web has become the all-you-can eat contest that none of us, ever, can win. I closed nine Chrome windows and contemplated a stroll down the road for coffee and a koiugn amman at Moxie.