BEIJING – China crowned its first ever hot dog-eating champion this weekend. Top prize at stake? Saying “bun voyage” with an expense-paid trip to New York City, where the winner can compete at next month’s marquee competitive eating event, Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
The competition, which was held at a mall where one of Nathan’s four Beijing restaurants is located, drew about a hundred curious onlookers who braved the sweltering summer heat to see what the hubbub was about. Perhaps equally curious were the 12 eaters who qualified for the event, some of whom seemed a bit overwhelmed, or maybe awestruck by the carnival-like proceedings.
That China’s first-ever group of competitive eaters were on unfamiliar ground became quickly apparent when the event’s emcee quizzed 31-year old instant crowd favorite (on account of his girth), Lu Mingkui, how he had prepared that morning for the event. The jovial Qingdao native, who at 6'4” towered over his competitors, responded sheepishly that he had eaten breakfast shortly before.
Nobody ever said Rome would be built in a day.
The 10-minute hotdog eating showcase was eventually won by Hong Kong-native Chris Lam, 32, a self-confessed competitive eating fanatic who is also a member of a competitive eating club back home aptly called the “Eatcredibles.” Lam gobbled down 16 hotdogs in ten minutes.
Lam’s experience in competitive eating – his list of accomplishments include milestones like eating 44 German sausages in eight minutes and 25 sushi piece in two minutes – was immediately on display when he shot ahead of the greener competition by employing a “dunking” technique used by veteran competitive eaters.
Just minutes into the competition, some of Lam’s fellow masticators simply put down their hotdogs and watched him in awe--all to the chagrin of Mike Antoloni, a Major League Eating representative whose attempts to hector the competitors to resume eating were largely in vain.
To say that many of the competitors were not up to the gastronomic task that day would be generous. One competitor only managed three dogs while most others braved through six or seven before deciding to pack it in and watch the veteran eaters compete.
The unrelenting summer sun also took a toll on the competitors, some of whom complained about a lack of appetite. It was a sentiment echoed by many spectators, who hid under umbrellas throughout the festivities. One mother attempting to enliven her listless son with a promise of a hotdog was simply told “it’s too hot to eat!”
One man who did resume eating, though was Lu. He stomached 13 dogs before calling it a day. The mountain of a man will join Lam at the Coney Island event next month and was thrilled by the opportunity to travel to New York to compete for the $20,000 grand prize.
“I’m glad that competitive eating has given me the chance to not only go to New York, but to compete at Nathan’s as well,” he said. “I’m very excited to compete!”
Though the two will be at the same table with the finest competitive eaters on the planet, neither stands much of a chance against the likes of professional eaters like Joey Chestnut, a four-time champion of the Nathan’s competition. Chestnut travelled to Beijing last week to promote the sport and to put on a hot dog eating display.
Chestnut, who holds the record with a jaw-dropping 68 hot dogs – or close to seven hot dogs per minute – did not live up to his ambitious goal of eating 50 hot dogs in five minutes, but he nevertheless wowed the crowd by polishing off 39.
Chestnut for his part was excited by the enthusiasm of the crowd and competitors and was bullish on the potential of the sport’s growth in China. “I’m impressed. A lot of them seem really serious, some of them seem a bit hesitant, a bit little nervous to compete.”
“I can’t wait to get back to China. I’ve been talking to the organizers of this contest and I’m hoping to be back in Beijing as soon as maybe August for another contest and to have me maybe compete against Chinese.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Antoloni of Major League Eating, who noted, “I don’t think there is any doubt that there is going to be a Chinese champion that contends for Joey’s mustard belt, sooner rather than later… China is the future of competitive eating I feel.” Antolini also hinted that competitive eating events catering to Chinese tastes like egg rolls or dumplings could be on the horizon.
The collective results from this first batch of competitive eaters were certainly not spectacular when compared to the dog eating dominance on display in America, but with development one can see China’s eaters going from wurst to first in a hurry.