A Cinco de Mayo eating contest has high stakes for one hungry participant.
Here’s a confession: My stainless-steel pots are permanently stained, mostly from failed attempts to cook rice. While my appetite knows no bounds, my proficiency at cooking stops—then bursts into flames and causes the whole building to evacuate—at Stovetop stuffing. Luckily, my roommate is a masterful cook and, for a small fee, supplies me with meals.
But when he left town for a week, I found myself deliriously checking the refrigerator, hoping a pot roast would magically appear. On the verge of reverting to my undergraduate days of Chef Boyardee, I realized it was Cinco de Mayo.
This means not only free chips and salsa, but also rituals of cultural import—like North Bowl’s taco-eating contest. I could binge for an hour and be full for a week—like an anaconda, or Kate Moss.
I forced my friend to take me to North Bowl promptly at 7 p.m., paranoid the sign-up sheet would be full. Fortunately, there were two sheets—one for beef-eaters and one for vegetarians—and both were empty. I signed the carnivorous list and spat on the other.
North Bowl’s decor was supplemented with Mexican flag-themed streamers, piñatas and balloons. While the decorations were loud, the crowd was sparse, and there were no free chips and salsa in sight. We decided to barhop until 9, when North Bowl’s festivities would begin.
On the way out, I overheard somebody point out the mariachi band crammed in a parked van in the lot. As I passed by, I threw a seductive stare their way in case any of them were cute.
Down the street, a crowd spilled out of Cantina Dos Segundos. There was a 30-minute wait, so we stood at the bar and tried the Cinco de Mayo special: a shot of tequila and a can of Cervez Tecate, aka Mexican pee, for $5.
When we were seated, the chips and salsa proved a godsend. I ate until I finally needed to wash it down with a drink. My friend pressured me into tequila shots. “Jose Cuervo,” he ordered for me. The tattooed waittress shot us a look of indignation. “You’re at a tequila bar. I won’t let you order Jose Cuervo.” She came back with a tequila I had never heard of, but it went down smoother than the pee.
By 9, we were on our way back to North Bowl, a few pounds heavier. The venue was full, and, unfortunately, so was I. I feared my chances of winning the contest were shot like an innocent bystander in Tijuana.
But I never back down on a challenge, especially one that includes sour cream.
“I should make myself throw up so I have more room for tacos,” I said to my friend.
“Don’t you be wastin’ that good tequila I paid money for,” he said with a glare.
As the round started, I nervously took my seat among the other gluttons. After looking into my heart—and my extensive history of binge eating until I throw up in my mouth—I found my moxie. The commentator came by for final words, I menacingly growled into the mic, and we’re off!
I bit into my first beef taco and devoured it within seconds. I could do this all day, I thought, though I only had three minutes.
After a minute and a half, my stomach was filling up and my jaws slowing down. While I had only eaten six, others were still going strong. Not only could I not win the contest, but with all this unfinished food, I feared I’d be hungry later in the week.
Instinctively, I took a napkin and started loading tacos into my man-bag.
“Hey, he’s cheating!” somebody shouted from the crowd. “No I ain’t!” I screamed with my mouth full of beef as I stuffed more tacos into my Ben Sherman.
“Leave the tacos on the table, cheater!” the commentator commanded. I relented and put the napkin of tacos where everybody could see it. The competition was over.
“Dude, you really sucked,” the commentator said as he passed by. I fled the table in shame—but not without taking my bundle.
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