Monday, March 4, 2013

Pho Eating Contest at the Tet Festival

It’s safe to say that February was the busiest month of the year thus far. From the UNCC homecoming basketball game and alumni event (February 2nd) to a fashion show (February 28th) and everything in between.

It has become painfully obvious, for someone who is obsessed with Charlotte, that I have barely scratched the surface on discovering this amazing city. Amazing things are happening right here in our backyard. For example, did you know that there’s a secret dinning society? Or that there’s a restaurant crawl called Dishcrawl that goes on eating adventures one neighborhood at a time? Or that CPCC has a restaurant and, once in a blue moon, hosts a 3-course lunch for $12?!

Have you noticed how all the happenings that I’m drawn to are food related?

It’s safe to say that I’m a bit of a foodie and have surrounded myself with like minded (stomached?!) folks. One of those folks is Keia, who is always hungry (like me) and whose adventures I follow via Twitter, Instagram, and her blog.

The first time we met was at the Tet (New Year’s) Festival at the St. Joseph's Vietnamese Catholic Church after a failed attempt at meeting up for the CPCC lunch (seats for this event fill up quickly!). I had no clue what to expect. Little did I know how big the event was going to be! There was loud music, dancing, and of course, food! A long row of tables, running along one side of the tent, filled with Vietnamese delicacies I have never seen before. I’m obsessed with Vietnamese food but must confess that I never get out of my comfort zone. This was my chance!

I have another confession to make. I judge people based on their willingness to share their food. I knew Keia and I were going to be great friends when she suggested that we each get something to share, doubling our opportunity to try different things, and having no concern over the other person’s “kooties.”

Bahn Tom // Chao

Che Nhan Hnuc

Keia got shrimp fritters (Bahn Tom) and Che Nhan Nhuc, a jelly like dessert. I purchased Chao, a Vietnamese rice porridge with liver and blood sausage. It was all simply delicious and unlike anything that I’ve ever had. We talked about food, writing, and the projects that we’re working on.

There must have been something in the blood sausage because I don’t remember what happened next but somehow I was sitting down with an event organizer, writing a check for $30, signing a waiver, and entering the Pho Eating Contest.

There was no time to get nervous! The nine pound bowls of steaming Pho were brought out on trays, condiments and eating utensils were laid out, a bottle of water and a to-go container. The contestants were announced and we each took our place on the makeshift stage. Hundreds of people with their cameras surrounded us. Eight minutes on the clock. And…go!

“What did I get myself into?!” // “Eh, it’s just a bowl of Pho, I got this!” // pinky out, eating Pho like a lady

Eight minutes is longer than one might think, especially when it’s your fourth time eating Pho that week. Regardless, it was delicious. The adrenalin of being in front of that many people was slightly nauseating. Realizing that the owner of my favorite Vietnamese restaurant was in the audience was terrifying, I wanted to make him proud.

view from the stage // post-Pho
post-Pho photo credit: Keia Mastrianni

Photo credit: Danielle Brodie

In the end, I ate a little under two pounds of Pho. Not bad for someone who just ate two fried eggs and bacon for breakfast at noon and not long after that enjoyed a delicious Vietnamese lunch. I “won” for having the most Pho left in my bowl but lost the actual contest. It’s really how you look at it. The guy that won the contest is a professional competitive eater so none of us stood a chance anyways. He terrified the audience by digging his hands into the bowl of Pho and stuffing his face with noodles and using the to-go container (instead of chopsticks and spoon) to scoop the liquid and pour it down his throat. It was equally as terrifying to shake his hand to congratulate him after his win.

winner winner, Pho dinner

It was an absolute pleasure meeting Keia and going on our first (and hopefully one of many more) foodventure. Check out her lovely blog and read her experience of Tet. P.S. All dish name research credit goes to her.

Have you ever participated in an eating contest? What’s your favorite Vietnamese dish?


  1. The CPCC lunches are awesome! Definitely do one when you have the chance.

    1. Have you been?! We have yet to get a reservation!