Monday, September 23

Food Narrative: Yoshimaru Ramen Challenge

This post doesn't fully fall into review, as I barely had time to savour the food, since I was desperately trying to maintain my pride and save myself $40 for a single meal. This oddity was the Yoshimaru Ramen Challenge, in which you must finish a bowl of ramen in 15 minutes. Simple right?

Cuisine: Japanese
Price: $20 per person
Location: 31 Lorong Liput, Holland Village, 277742

I'm smiling at the absurdity of it all
My interest in Yoshimaru, a chain of Japanese ramen bars, was aroused when I saw a banner advertising an eating contest. Finish a bowl of ramen and you eat it for free. So a couple of weeks after seeing that poster I found myself in the restaurant signing a contract, which among other things required me not to sue if I ended up seriously hurt, or dead. The posters made the bowl of ramen seem tiny, but when the bowl I was served was anything but. It was wider than my chest (as you can see in the picture), filled with rich broth, lots of noodles, 6 pieces of fatty pork, 3 eggs (cut in half) and some seaweed. I had 15 minutes to eat it, all of it, every single drop of soup, and I couldn't spill anything. I thought it would take me an hour to eat the entire thing, simply to prevent myself throwing up. If I lost then I'd have to fork over $40 for the bowl. The pressure was on.

One of the staff brought a large LED clock and an air horn to start the challenge. She wished me good luck and then blew the horn.  I dug into the noodles. They had a good consistency and despite my mostly wheat free diet, I enjoyed them guilt free. Intermittently I would eat a piece of egg or pork. Frankly the pork wasn't that tasty, it was under seasoned and didn't taste particularly distinct from the soup. As the noodles, eggs and pork disappeared I was left with the enormity of the task, I had at least a litre worth of soup to drink. While I was eating solids I had been taking it slowly, my aim wasn't to complete the challenge quickly, it was to simply finish the meal. As I looked at the clock, around 8 minutes, I realised I didn't have the luxury of pacing myself. I had to drink and drink fast.

The soup portion was easily the most gruelling part. Unlike most ramen I've tried, the Yoshimaru ramen was extremely dense and rich. According to the menu, the soup is made from bone and marrow broth. Whatever they did, it was a unique taste but one I couldn't appreciate at the moment. While I was struggling through the gluttonous challenge, 2 women nearby acted as spectators. As I spooned down the soup as fast as I could, I felt my stomach expand past the comfortably full point. Unfortunately I was only half way done and I only had 4 minutes left. As I drank more and more, I felt worse and worse. Every spoon drank became a triumph of will. Eventually I got down to the dregs where some bits of noodle, sea weed and one egg half remained. At that point I felt close to throwing up because I couldn't stomach the fatty richness of the egg yolk. I decided to pour the remaining contents into my mouth and use my hands to funnel it in, chopsticks were too slow at this point!

The funnelling was a risky move, if I spilled a single drop or item of food, I would lose (not sure why they had such a stupid rule). As the remainder fell into my mouth I was instructed to chew and show and empty mouth, despite my dangerously large belly, I relished this part because I knew I had won. Somehow I had survived and finished in a timely 14:14!

I cried ;_;

After my achievement the table nearby clapped, I was awarded this lovely certificate and was told my picture would join those of the existing champions. On the outside I tried to remain happy and relaxed. On the inside I seriously thought I was going to throw up in the restaurant. Luckily a few burps left my digestive system less strained. Leaving the restaurant I noticed that the record holder for this challenge managed it in just over 5 minutes! I couldn't comprehend how such a thing was possible.

As I walked to the bus stop I wondered if it was worth it. It felt horrible, I was doubled over and wanted to be sick because I knew it would relieve the strain. But I didn't vomit. So was the challenge worth doing? Hell yes! Was the ramen actually good? That I can't answer. I liked the noodles, the soup was interesting but the pork was bland and the menu was full of gimmicky varieties of ramen which seemed a bit sacrilegious. Maybe next time I go I'll eat a human sized portion of ramen, and take more than 15 minutes to eat it all.