Eat, Drink, and Be Stuffed

A while back the Old Homestead Steak House, a restaurant in New York City frequented by people who have more money than frying pans, added a $41 hamburger to the menu. And no, I didn't leave out the decimal point. The burgers are made of Kobe beef, which comes from Japanese cattle that are massaged daily and hand-fed 1,000-yen bills. They're filled with herb butter -- the burgers, not the bills, served on a special roll, and are garnished with exotic mushrooms, microgreens, and a letter of authenticity from the chef promising that he wasn't laughing when he cooked it. Not too hard, anyway. This Foofie Mac was such a hit that they've followed it up with a gourmet hot dog, which is also made of Kobe beef. Hey, they had to figure out something to do with the Kobe cow's lips and tail, didn't they? This wondrous wiener comes nestled in a brioche bun with a dollop of truffle-infused mustard, and is yours for a bargain basement $19. Pass the sauerkraut confit, will you?

Contrast this with Nathan's Famous in Coney Island, where they recently held their annual hot dog eating contest. The dogs are cheaper, the appetites are bigger, and the only things being massaged are the contestants' distended stomachs afterwards. The winner, for the third year in a row, was Takeru Kobayashi, a young Japanese man. It was an empty win -- if you'll pardon the expression -- because he lamed out by only downing 44 hot dogs in 12 minutes. Hey, last year he chowed down 51 in the same amount of time. He shouldn't feel too badly though, he still ate 10 times as many as ex-football player William "The Refrigerator" Perry, who should be ashamed of himself for letting a guy who weighs about a third as much out-eat him like that.

Maybe Perry didn't like the hot dogs, though when you're stuffing them down your throat at the rate of one every 16 seconds like Kobayashi did I'm not sure taste is important. Slideability is. Maybe Perry would do better if next year they move the contest to the Old Homestead Steak House. I know I would. There's no question I'd be more inspired knowing I'm trying to stuff down $978.50 worth of hot dogs in 12 minutes.

Eating contests have become very popular. Where they were once relegated to the pie-eating contest at the county fair, Our Gang comedies, and any dinner table that had at least two pre-adolescent boys sitting around it, they're now featured on Fox, ESPN, and the Food Network. There's an organization dedicated to promoting it called the International Federation of Competitive Eating, and stars like Kobayashi. Don't be surprised if people like him start picking up endorsement deals from Alka-Seltzer, Sansabelt elastic waist slacks, and the company that makes the barf bags you see in every airplane seat pocket even though you've never heard of anyone actually using one. Look for competitive eating to become an Olympic event, taking a place of honor next to the thrilling triathlon of trampoline, synchronized diving, and (yawn) badminton.

Think about it, wouldn't you love to see someone eating 38 hard-boiled eggs in 10 minutes? How about 21 cannolis in six minutes? Or maybe you'd prefer 21 matzo balls in 5 minutes and 25 seconds like Eric Booker did at the sixth annual matzo ball eating contest at Ben's Kosher Deli in New York City. For one thing, there wouldn't be a problem with judging scandals -- you either suck 'em down and keep 'em down or you don't. And it would be an event we could all relate to, unlike those where you have to train hard, be in shape, and actually exercise.

The upcoming Los Angeles Tofu Festival, a get together that says "California" even more than candidate-financed governor recall campaigns, could be considered an Olympic trial. Not only will there be tofu tacos, tofu jerky, and a Sidewalk Chalk Tofu Art contest -- whatever that is -- there will be the obligatory tofu eating contest. We can only hope it's better than the one they've held at Minnesota's Carleton College the last five years -- they don't go for quantity, they go for speed. This year's winner downed a single block of tofu in 34 seconds. Yes, only one block. Of course they elected a Tofu Princess, held a tofu toss, and gave students credit towards graduating if they traded their beer bongs for tofu. Beat that, Los Angeles.

It's not surprising they're celebrating tofu. Well, not in L.A. anyway. It's made from soy which is very versatile stuff. Besides tofu, it's the starting point for soy sauce, soy milk, soy ink, soy candles, and Soyrizo, which is fake Mexican chorizo for people who are more concerned about health than taste. Oh yeah, and soy foam insulation. That's right, a company in Illinois has released a product which, when sprayed between wall studs, expands to 100 times its volume. It's cheaper than standard spray insulation, comes from a renewable resource, and in a pinch you can chip off a chunk and carve a soy tiara so you can prance around the house in your underwear singing into a Soyrizo link while pretending you're the Tofu Princess.

Another thing they make from soy is soy hot dogs, but so far I haven't heard of anyone holding a soy hot dog eating contest, though it might be the next disgusting thing competitors have to eat on Fear Factor. One good thing you can say about them though is that they're cheap. Cheaper than $19 hot dogs from the Old Homestead Steak House anyway. Unless, of course, they're made from Kobe tofu.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

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