I Tried Eating 8 Pounds of Ramen in One Sitting Because I Have Free Will

A 23-year-old girl, eight pounds of ramen, and a dream.

Megamori Tsukemen Ramen from Tabetomo
Photo:

Alexandra Domrongchai

To me, the most impressive thing someone can do is eat a large plate of something. There's something beautiful about the combination of physical and mental skills required: the ability to consume large quantities of food quickly, without becoming sick, due to the high level of discipline over mind and stomach. Hence my lifelong fascination with competitive eating, also known as speed eating, a sport in which people eat large quantities of food in a short period of time. Its history can be traced back to the early 20th century, and the sport is now supported by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), which was established in 1997 to promote competitive eating events throughout the world. 

The popularity of competitive eating has continued to grow in recent years, with increased visibility of professional eaters competing at events, on social media, and even on television (partially thanks to Man v. Food). 

As someone with a somewhat high regard of myself and my abilities, I thought signing up for an eating competition would be just what I needed to prove to the world what I've always suspected: I'm worth something. Plus, over the past few months, I'd seen more and more competitive eating videos on TikTok, my response to which was always, inexplicably, "Oh, I can probably do that."

This could be my chance, my niche. I could be a food writer who also competitively eats. I could fill that very-needed niche everyone always gabs about wishing there were — a competitive-food-eating writer. 

Choosing the Challenge

It wasn’t easy finding the right competition to fulfill my self-imposed prophecy. At the time, I imagined a hot dog eating competition, where I could eat heaps of damp hot dogs as my arm cramped, dipping as many as I could into glasses of water. Or perhaps I could  push my body to its limits doing a spicy wing challenge — something I felt confident I could execute without any indicator other than my Thai grandma training me young to eat spicy foods, saying that it wasn’t truly a meal unless I was drenched in sweat.

After a quick Google search, I set my heart on a five-pound curry eating challenge, something that felt comfortable and safe. And at only $25, it felt like a steal – a true low-cost, high-reward situation. As I began wrapping my head around eating five pounds of curry, I couldn’t help but dwell on that price tag: $25. For five pounds of curry. $25 … for five pounds of curry. That’s an unreal deal, right? For over five portions of curry, at $25 dollars, that’s $5 worth of curry per portion. I thought to myself, Did I just hack meal prepping? As a society, why are we not exploring this opportunity? No one is talking enough about the great deal people are getting in these challenges. 

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It occurred to me that I could forgo the challenge and just order it all to go, securing meal prep for the week. Next article: The secret bang-for-your-buck deal everyone is too afraid to use.

As disciplined as ever, I shifted my mind back to preparing for the challenge.

I jotted down the number to make my appointment – I mean, reservation for my date with destiny. The phone rang, and a polite woman picked up the phone. Gathering myself, unprepared and unscripted, I asked if I could make a reservation to eat the five pounds of curry. After a brief pause, she answered with the most heartbreaking news that I have ever heard: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

My face beet red, I mustered the strength to say it again. “Can I make a reservation to eat five pounds of curry, you know, for the challenge?” Swiftly, she hung up. How could this random website online lie to me? The rejection was brutal, but I had to endure. 

After sitting with the defeat for a moment, I returned to Google. 

Given that the competitive eating scene is saturated with gigantic burgers and the longest hot dogs I have ever seen, I won’t lie, I got a bit nervous. As a beginner, and hopefully a long-term competitive eater at the start of a budding career, I decided that first I would dip my toes into something a bit more personalized to me.

After hours of uncertain searching, I found the Megamori Tsukemen challenge at Tabetomo, a restaurant that has the largest bowl of tsukemen ramen in New York City, weighing in at about eight pounds to be eaten in half an hour. The grand prize: a free meal (is it?), a t-shirt, and your photograph on the wall of fame. 

I wasted no time. I immediately called the restaurant, but this time, I came prepared. This time, I would play it cool. I would casually ask about the very casual ramen challenge that I just so casually was interested in doing. 

The line rang once before a kind voice appeared on the other end. We exchanged niceties before I said, “I saw online that you all might have some kind of ramen challenge … is that right?” The voice on the other line responded beautifully with, “Oh, yes! We have the Megamori Tsukemen ramen challenge” – music to my ears. They didn’t take reservations, but I told them to expect me, and that I was looking forward to it. 

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For dinner that night, I had some Cup Noodles. I gave myself an internal motivational speech about how this would be my version of the Couch to 5k. I would go from Cup Noodles to eight pounds of ramen. The name Domrongchai would be synonymous with victory. 

The Night Before

The night before my challenge, I began to plan … and all I knew is that I needed lettuce. Because if I know anything about competitive eating – and let me assure you, I barely do – it’s that the best competitors eat enormous amounts of lettuce hours before their challenges, as it expands their stomach without making them full. If I wanted to do this right, I’d have to train like the best. 

I went downstairs to the bodega below my apartment, but they didn’t have any heads of lettuce. My romantic view of this challenge slowly fading, I settled for two containers of over-priced romaine leaves. I didn’t feel great about this, but I had to make do. 

After putting my lettuce package in the fridge, I took the walk of shame to my bed and lay awake thinking about tomorrow. Will I start with the noodles? Or do I go all in with the broth? After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, I decided it would be a game-time decision and drifted to sleep. 

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The Day Of

I woke up early and started on the lettuce. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe an inspirational training montage, like in the Rocky movies. Eating this lettuce was … not that. It was too much. It was too bland and tasted too much like lettuce. I thought I would be popping these leaves in my mouth like carrot sticks, but they were leafy and large and unsettling in my mouth.

I paused, staring at my large plate of lettuce and then at the counter. There was a brownie that I had purchased along with the lettuce. It came with two, one that I ate last night along with a bunch of chips to help expand my stomach – you know, for the challenge. I really wanted to eat the second one. I would have done anything to eat it. But then I looked back at my bowl of uneaten lettuce and remembered my purpose. To eat eight perfect little pounds of ramen. This moment reignited my motivation, as I moved back towards the lettuce. I stared at it for a few moments. I can’t do it

I know what you’re thinking: How am I supposed to eat eight pounds of ramen if I can’t even eat this lettuce? Well, I don’t have an answer for you, but call me after you’ve tried to eat chomp after chomp of raw, un-dressed lettuce. 

I went back to the fridge. 

I opened the fridge and stared for a few moments, feeling lost. That is, until I spotted the Olive Garden dressing sitting in the door compartment. I considered for a few moments the consequences of drenching my lettuce in Olive Garden dressing. It can’t really hurt the challenge, that bad, I thought. And before I knew it, my lettuce was covered in the liquid gold that is this dressing. I ate the entire thing. Maybe I lack the perseverance, the will power to push my body to its limits, I wondered. I was never an athlete; I never got the chance. 

As I finished eating all of the lettuce that my body could handle, I received a text from my friend who would be joining me for the challenge. Really, I just wanted someone there to take me to the hospital if needed. She offered to meet at 1 p.m., but I countered with 2 p.m., buying myself more time to eat lettuce and be anxious.

I blew dry my hair. Because what if, what if I completed it? What if they wanted to take my photo for the wall of fame?

Time moves fast. Before I knew it, it was time to get on the subway. I had my Glutenease, my eating pants, and a dream. I closed my eyes and thought about how hungry I was, how I really thought that the lettuce expanded my stomach, and how maybe, just maybe, I’d eat all eight pounds of ramen. Nobody on this train knows that I’m about to eat eight pounds of ramen.

I scrolled through a slew of good luck texts from friends who were equally excited, worried, and confused. Once at the restaurant, I grabbed a table facing the wall so no one could directly watch me. I took off my jacket and patiently waited for the waiter to ask me what I would like to order. 

As he approached me, my stomach twisting and turning, I asked, “ ... Can I do the ramen challenge?” He stared at me for a moment, looking at my friends and then back at me. “For you, or the table?” With a bit more confidence, I replied, “For me.” He nodded hesitantly and said it would take about 25 minutes to prepare. I nodded back, with a smile. 

As we waited, I started to get antsy. I called the waiter over again and asked how many people had finished this challenge. He hesitated before answering, with a sly smile, “Two people have finished it.” I felt worse. 

After 25 excruciatingly long minutes, a gigantic bowl of noodles appeared in front of me, covered in green onions. I audibly gasped, wondering, What have I done?  Moments later, another bowl appeared, just as large but this time filled to the brim with bean sprouts, pork belly, spinach, and a perfectly soft-boiled egg. 

My face felt heavy. But before I could process what was going on around me, my waiter took out a timer and mumbled: He put 35 minutes on the clock. I wondered to myself if they added the extra five minutes for pity. But I didn’t care. It was time.

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The Challenge

With two ginormous bowls of noodles and broth in front of me, I froze in fear, wondering where to start. My friend announced that 30 seconds had already passed, so I picked up my chopsticks and went straight for the noodles. 

After three solid mouthfuls of noodles, the monotony started to get to me. I went for the broth. I lifted the bowl and began chugging. I chugged for a few solid gulps until I thought to myself that this is wrong, I shouldn't be filling up on broth. I sat for a minute thinking about my next move. Five minutes passed.

I grabbed my chopsticks again and went in on the bean sprouts. I began to shovel them into my mouth. There were so many bean sprouts. For some reason, I hyper-fixated on them, lifting large, large scoops of sprouts with my chopsticks and actively working against myself to swallow. And they weren’t going down without a fight. 

Ten more minutes passed. I realized that it had been 15 minutes since I started eating, and I’d spent the majority of my time on the bean sprouts. I unbuttoned my pants and put my chopsticks down. My friend suggested I take a sip of water, which I refused because for some reason I thought it would slow me down, as if the bean sprouts weren't sabotaging me already. 

After a confused stare, my friend said, “I think drinking the water will actually help. It’s what most competitive eaters use to make the food go down easier.” My eyes opened. They’re right, how could I be so naive? Of course water has to be the answer.

I took a sip of water and returned to the noodles with renewed zest. As it got harder to get the noodles down, I began shoveling large heaps of them into my mouth with sloppy gulps of water, which eliminated the need for chewing.

Ten more minutes passed. I started to slow down. Not slow down in a gradual, graceful sense but more in an I-can’t-put-anything-else-in-my-mouth-without-gagging sense. 

My revolutionary water trick was no longer working. That’s when the combination of sweat and chills started. I put my chopsticks down and stared at my stomach, then looked back at the two bowls in front of me. A wave of sadness followed. I still had way more than half to go, and I felt sick. It was at this moment that I reckoned with the possibility of not finishing this challenge, something that prior had not registered in my mind. 

I suppressed the negativity and went back in for the bean sprouts, something that at the moment, I believed would be where my time was best spent. After putting the chopsticks to my mouth I gagged uncontrollably. Oh no

I began to weigh my options. If I continued at the speed I was going, which I admit was comically slow, I would vomit. I would projectile vomit all over this lovely establishment. I took a few breaths and went back in for the most flavor-neutral item on the plate, the noodles. So I began slopping them down slowly, with even more water this time.

The clock read six minutes left to go. I felt beat, but I still wanted to give it my best shot. This is when the internal bargaining began. 

I told myself that all I had to do was eat one chopstick-full every minute, meaning six full bites. I agreed with myself that this felt fair, and I would still go down as an honorable contender, which really mattered to me because I needed eating a mountain of lettuce earlier to mean something. I grabbed a handful of bean sprouts and brought them to my mouth.

Except this time, my mouth froze and disconnected from my brain. I was unable to chew, nor swallow. I reached for my trusty glass of water and, still, nothing. I resumed bartering. But this time, I made a new, revised deal. I agreed to now eat three bites – one per every two minutes instead one per minute. This felt fair.

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I summoned a newfound energy and began chewing – a different kind of chewing than before. What should have been a ten second chew-and-swallow became an I-wish-I-had-a-mommy-bird-to-spit-this-into-my-mouth type bite. For a whole minute, I stayed frozen, with tears starting in my eyes. I bravely began to chew and eventually swallowed. 

After my three-minute bite, I sat there, thinking about the next one. Drenched in sweat, and stomach churning at the idea of another bite, I sat unmoving for about a minute and a half, thinking about the actions that led to this moment. 

I spotted the timer and hurriedly attempted another bite of noodles. Right before I could swallow, the timer went off. I lost. 

Waves of grief rushed over me. I immediately looked at my friends and asked them if I did well, and if they were proud of me. They told me that they were proud of me and that I did a really, really good job (they didn’t put too much effort in selling it). Eager for more affirmation, I asked the waiter if I did a good job. He gave me a smile dripping with pity and nodded, which at the time, was enough. He asked if I’d like to take the rest home, and even though I couldn’t imagine eating any more ramen, I agreed. 

The leftovers filled three very large containers. I recalled my original idea, that people should order these challenge-meals in lieu of meal prepping. It was a good idea. 

The Aftermath 

On the ride back to my apartment, my stomach bulged to a size yet unseen. I don’t normally sit on the subway, but that day, I sat. I sat and I thought about the day, and what went wrong. 

Maybe I should’ve prepped with a lettuce head instead of a container of romaine. Maybe I shouldn’t have put Olive Garden dressing on the lettuce. Maybe I should’ve played a loop of “Eye of the Tiger” on my AirPods while I was eating. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent the entire time on the bean sprouts. 

I reminded myself that there’s no use in thinking about the maybes, only thinking about the ways this has changed my worldview. 

Competitive eaters are the backbone of this country. They showcase the human body's ability to push physical limits, and the discipline and dedication it takes to train for such competitions is something that I value more than anything now. I trust each of them with my life, and it is my belief that this sport should be in the Olympics. 

The train ride home was transformative. I thought to myself, Maybe this isn’t it for me. Or, maybe, I’ll try again. And again, until I have it right. Or maybe I’m more of an appreciator than a competitor. Who knows? But for now, I’ve got a rock in my stomach the size of at least two, maybe three pounds of ramen. 

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