From the beginning of time, man has been finding innovative ways to overcome challenges. We have seen some amazing things – feats of extreme athleticism, extraordinary acts of human will – and more recently, it’s all about Man vs. Food.
In the spirit of will and determination, the I Ate My Way Through team have put our bellies and mouths on the line to bring you the low down on eating challenges in Sydney, and we give you our suggestions on what you can do to hold triumphant over these seemingly overwhelming tests of food.
Palace Hotel Hot Chilli Challenge
Buy a Nachos and Corona, and you’ll get the option to take the Hot Chilli Challenge at the Palace Hotel. The challenge is to eat 4 Jolokia paste-filled tortellinis in under 3 minutes. No water allowed!
I like my chilli, but this was rough. The Jolokia paste completely fills the crispy, deep-fried tortellini, and explodes into your mouth on the first bite. You first taste the fragrant, floral flavour of the chilli, but then the heat just builds. It builds to a crazy, unbelievable slap-your-thigh-and-cry sort of amounts. The hotel says that they haven’t had anyone not finish the challenge, but it was pretty gnarly. I brought two male friends with me who both tried a tortellini each, and they were too reduced to hand-shaking-face-burning pain.
With chilli, there are a few things that will help you: fat, and cold. The fat binds to the capsaicin – the chemical that makes your mouth burn and is in copious amounts in certain chillies – and stops it from irritating your mouth. The cold numbs your lips and tongue, and helps prevent or get rid of the burning sensation as well.
Also, your body actually can get desensitised to capsaicin – the irritation that you feel is not actually a physiological reaction, it’s a neurological one. Which means that after a while, your body tells your brain’s pain receptors to disregard the capsaicin, and allows you to eat larger amounts of chilli! I’ve found that eating chilli in varying amounts through the week before the challenge helps immensely.
What you win:
A voucher for a free Corona and nachos for your next visit!
The Palace Hotel Sydney
730-742 George St, Haymarket NSW 2000, Australia
Phone: +61 2 9212 2111
Huong Xua Pho challenge
Fellow I Ate My Way Through contributor Dave took on the pho challenge, and had this to say:
Huong Xua has been around for as long as I can remember and for me has always been the place to go for the best Pho Ga (Chicken Pho) in town. It has always been a family owned restaurant and with James taking the lead on operations in the last few years you can really see how he has lifted the family business to a whole new level – all while maintaining the high standards of food that Huong Xua is known for. Before I get into the Huong Xua Pho Challenge I just have to put this out there: BEST spring rolls in Sydney (except for my mum’s). The mix of ground meats, carrots and mushroom wrapped in crispy rice paper is the food of the Gods! I love spring rolls in general and eat them anytime/anywhere I get a chance – so trust me when I say this… Huong Xua spring rolls are amazing and I would push my best friend’s girlfriend into the dirt to get another plate of them.
But onto the pho challenge:
The Huong Xua Pho Challenge is to finish a 2.5 Kilogram bowl of pho in less than 11 minutes. The breakdown of what you’ll be faced with consists of the following:
- 500g of noodles
- 500g of meat (rare beef, tendons, meat balls and tripe)
- 1½kg of broth
It doesn’t sound too bad right? After seeing some of the stupidly big pho challenges overseas, James specifically designed this challenge to be somewhat “do-able” whilst not being a complete waste of food for those who cannot finish it in time. Best of all this challenge only costs $17 which is a bargain for what you are getting anyway.
The pho itself is fantastic – any pho expert will tell you that a good pho is judged on its broth. Needless to say the broth has a great balance between the herbs and beef bones which are simmered together for hours upon hours to bring out the flavours that have made Huong Xua so successful over the years.
1 minute: The bowl isn’t the size of a bath tub so initially I felt that I could do it with relative ease. That was until I started eating and it just seemed like the noodles and broth would never end!
5 minutes: About here is where I had to take my jacket off as the heat was getting to me – not chilli, but rather thermo heat. Don’t forget that you are essentially eating a bowl of hot noodle soup so don’t be surprised if your body gets a little hot. I can see I’ve made a dent in the noodles and soup but I’ve got to pick up the pace.
8 minutes: I can feel the fatigue in my jaw – time is against me and I know I need to chew faster but I can feel my jaw resisting. The broth has cooled down to a level where I can really start to slurp it down. I look over to my friend Mick – he doesn’t look good – I yell at him to continue eating! I pop a couple pieces of crunchy spring rolls into my mouth to change up the texture and flavours going into my mouth… I think it worked.
10 minutes: I’ve chipped the broth down to about half way and at a guess there about 10-20% of noodles and meat to go. I’m full of noodles, meat and broth – like a giant pho-filled piñata swaying in the breeze. James encourages us to go for it one more time so I slam another mouthful of noodles and meat into my mouth and chew as fast as I can whilst I wonder if it’s possible to pull a jaw muscle.
11 minutes: I’m done and dusted. Mick can barely breathe – poor guy didn’t have lunch (pfft eating noob – you must always have a good lunch before a night of eating). I think I got about 60-70% of the way through the challenge – most of what’s left is broth and a handful of stray noodles.
Looking back I’d say I found the hardest part was being able to eat/chew fast enough as well as being able to drink all the broth. Given another 5 -10 minutes I’m sure that bowl would have been empty but speed will be your greatest friend here.
Here are a few tips to help you prepare for the Pho Challenge:
- Do not skip any meals on the day.
- Dealing with the heat is part of the challenge and because the soup retains heat, you want to try and bring down the amount as soon as possible. James says a lot of people get stuck on the heat.
- Drink soup as you eat the solids as the volume of soup will become an issue later on if you don’t start early.
- For the diehard challengers, the ultimate tip that James gave us from people who have completed the challenge is to expand their stomaches by water loading (drinking heaps of water after they eat). If you do this over the duration of a week you can significantly increase the capacity of food your stomach can hold before feeling full.
What you win:
If you can complete the challenge you get the pho for free AND you get to take the giant pho bowl home with you – that has got to be the best trophy ever!
Huong Xua Vietnamese Restaurant
4/219 Canley Vale Rd Canley Heights, NSW 2166
Phone: 02 8764 4117
The Norfolk Macho Nachos
As part of their Mexican Independence Day celebrations, The Norfolk organised a Macho Nacho eating challenge. Tortilla chips are piled high with a beef or vegetarian sauce, guacamole, fresh habaneros and Jolokia extract. You have to finish the plate of nachos. First one to finish, wins!
They make you sign a waiver when you sign up, which in itself is incredibly intimidating. But I’m happy to report that the anticipation, in this case, was more intimidating than the actual chilli bit of the challenge. The nachos themselves were actually quite delicious. The chilli actually was balanced with the rest of the nacho, cheese, sauce and guacamole, and I found it quite enjoyable to eat. The hardest part of the challenge was the speed eating component – I guess I like chewing more than I thought I did!
Like all the other chilli challenges, I would suggest either drinking milk directly before the challenge, or sucking on ice cubes. As far as the speed eating goes, having a strategy on how to quickly break down tortilla chips – pointy crispy edges can be hard to swallow whole – would really help the process.
What you win:
A $50 voucher to the Norfolk, a tiny trophy, a bottle of tequila and bragging rights!
305 Cleveland St Redfern, NSW
Phone:02 9699 3177
Mad Mex 1kg Burrito
Beginning in May 2001, Mad Mex have been celebrating Cinco de Mayo annually by holding a 1kg burrito challenge – a mammoth burrito stuffed with beans, rice, meat, cheese, lettuce, salsa, and sauce. The rules are simple, there aren’t any restrictions on toppings, as long as the burrito weighs 1kg at the end of the line. Finish it in store in a single sitting, and bring your receipt and wrapper to the counter, and you’ve beaten it! No time limit.
The part that really gets to you is the rice, and the beans. It fills you up fast, and because you’ll need to chew your way through it, it slows you down as well, making this harder. I easily got to the halfway point, three quarters would be rough, and that last quarter would be the struggle.
In all, it was one of the easier to beat challenges – in 2014, they gave away 17,000 masks Australia-wide.
Given that this isn’t a speed eating challenge, it IS a lot easier than some of the others. I would say to go hungry, but not to have starved yourself the whole day. Also, because you get to pick your toppings I would suggest choosing the fresher tasting ingredients, because it’ll help keep you motivated to keep eating. I had the Pork Al Pastor as my choice of meat – a mixture of seasoned pork meat with bits of pineapple through it – and the hits of sweet mixed with the savoury really helped me get through it all.
What you win:
A Mad Mex Wrestling mask to take home, as well as the bragging rights!
Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill
241 Crown St Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
Phone: 02 9331 7788
Kingsley’s Game of T-Bones Challenge
Kingsley’s is a steakhouse that is absolutely unapologetic about being a steakhouse. Sometimes, steakhouses feel the need to cater for everyone, and try and bulk up their non-steak a la carte menu with not quite impressive items. At Kingsley’s though, the non-steak menu is short and sweet, and the focus – rightly so – is on their impressive range of cuts and types of beef. Their menu also hasn’t changed in forever, and they are staunchly sticking to their traditions.
The Challenge: Every year in October, Kingsley’s hold their Game of T-bones challenge, where brave eaters have to finish a 1kg T-bone steak, with sauce and side. It costs $59.90 to attempt, but there isn’t any time limit, and you can take as long as you’d like to finish your meal. You can totally request the steak any other time of the year, but the challenge only runs in the month of October.
Difficulty: The hulking steak comes out and looks incredibly daunting, but it actually was the easiest one of the lot! The steak was nicely seasoned and delicious, and there was enough jus and fluffy potato to moisten each mouthful. I’m not usually a fan of T-bone steaks because there’s not very much fat on them and the heat retention in the bone often means that the meat gets overcooked, but this was a perfect medium rare – just as I requested – and had a good amount of fat around the meat. Very tasty.
What you win: The GLORY!!! Well, your name on next year’s plaque – huge metal plaque – and a commemorative T-shirt!
If you’re not quite up for the huge T-bone, Kingsley’s also offer a other lovely cuts. For example, the Havericks Dry Aged Beef on the Bone, $49.90, is dry aged for over a month in a 24% humidity dry age room located in the steakhouse. The result is a lovely marbled beefy cut, with a rich, deep flavour and a tender meat.
The desserts also stand up to the taste test.
The Chocolate Fondant has a nice brownie-like crust over the top, and a lovely ooze in the centre. I particularly liked the Strawberry Cheesecake, with a tangy, fruity flavour to cut through the richness of the cheesecake, laced with amaretto for a little luxury. A great way to end the meal.
Preparation: As with all the mass eating challenges, you can employ strategies like water stomach stretching and all that, but really, this was a walk in the park, so I don’t think you really need to do very much in preparation. Just go hungry!
Kingsley’s Australian Steakhouse
29a King St
Sydney, NSW 02000
Phone: 02 9295 5080
Cafe New York Grill’s Rib Challenge
Conveniently located near Chatswood station, Cafe New York Grill serves up a hearty meat and burger filled menu, in a two level dining area with a lovely atmosphere. With their new menu, they have introduced a rib challenge – seems easy? Well…
The Challenge: Finish TWO racks of ribs with chips (pictured above) in one hour. Just ONE HOUR.
Difficulty: Oh my lord was this difficult. Dave and I had two strategies – mine was to take all the meat off the bone in order to make eating quicker and to cool off the meat, and Dave’s was to eat as quickly as possible, to make that 20 minutes before your brain registers that it is full, and down Cola in hopes that the acidity in the soft drink will cut through the meat sweats and allow him to eat more.
Dave powers through the first rack with chips, and confidently orders the second rack. I start slowing down during the first half of the first rack, and I knew, just knew that I was going to fail this challenge. But it’s okay, Dave is still going strong!
He starts off on the second rack, and it’s there that he starts slowing down. But it’s okay, we have 30 minutes to go, and we are hoping that he can pick off the plate into a steady finish. Well, no such luck unfortunately, because with 15 minutes to go, Dave calls it, and we’ve both failed the challenge.
We are in good company though – out of everyone who has taken the challenge, only ONE guy has finished it successfully. When you drop by, have a look at the wall of shame – it’s hilarious.
What you win: It’s really simple – if you win, you get the whole meal for free. If you lost, you forfeit $84, which is a steal for that amount of food.
Preparation: I’m not quite sure what you could do to prepare for this whopping meal, to be honest. The water stretching method should help – drinking lots of water in the couple of weeks leading up to the challenge in order to stretch out your stomach – but even then, I’m not sure how much that’ll help you. Good luck.
Cafe New York Grill
426 Victoria Ave
Chatswood, NSW 02067
Phone: 02 9411 1617