Last weekend, I was sent to cover the Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship, held on the last day of Nisei Week, which celebrates Japanese-American culture in L.A.
Not only did I cover the event, I competed in it.
Even now, I'm still gagging. Any hint of steamed dough — or, for that matter, anything containing calories — has triggered that reflex.
I was up against the No. 1– and No. 2–ranked competitive eaters in Major League Eating (an actual federation), Matt "Megatoad" Stonie and Joey "Jaws" Chestnut. Stonie, by the way, is 5-foot-8 and the weight of a kettle bell. He said at the event, without a hint of irony: “I could have played basketball or football, but this is something unique.”
The event had a pro wrestling vibe, except instead of guys doing pile drivers they ingested 15 pounds of food. The MC, an Australian named Sam Barclay, told me that, with gyoza, there's not a lot of strategy. Just shove as much of it into your face as possible. “They're athletes just like the great Olympians are athletes," Barclay said. "Joey Chestnut is similar to Usain Bolt. The world record for the 100 meters is 9.58. I would say Chestnut is like coming in at 8 seconds.”
When the time came to start the contest, Barclay announced my name in dramatic fashion. I looked over at No. 2–ranked Chestnut. We locked eyes.
I asked my fellow competitor, Leslie Ryder, who's ranked No. 35 on the MLE circuit, why she got into this. “I thought, I can do that and not throw up,” she said.
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The bell rang and it was mayhem.
I was focused, up to four gyoza, in the zone. Then I glanced over my shoulder.
These eaters were inhaling gyoza as though the gyoza were air and they were in an oxygen-depleted spaceship plummeting back to Earth and the only thing that could save them was gyoza.
I looked at Stonie. He ate 343 gyoza. Chestnut came in second, with 339. I had eight.