THE CHALLENGE: Eat a 10-pound bowl of pho within 45-minutes.
THE PLACE: Saigon Restaurant on University Ave., in St. Paul
THE PRIZE: Eternal glorification (and a T-shirt) as being a “Pho-King”!!
“Free t-shirt and a free meal!” These are the words only college students would do anything for, and they did. After a discussion on Facebook, over 30 college students agreed to take on Saigon’s 10lb Pho Challenge together.
Head honcho of this event was Nancy Duong a college student of the University of MN, who heard about it from friends and decided to gather a group of willing challengers. Aside from the friendships involved, Nancy also wanted to be Saigon’s first female 10lb Pho Challenge Winner!
As you entered Saigon at 3pm, you found yourself walking into a large group of excited young college students eagerly waiting in line to be seated, giving each other high-fives and hugs to long times friends, shaking hands of new friends and even finally being able to meet Facebook friends in person for the first time.
When asked what their strategies were going to be to win the competition, Timmy Nguyen says that he’s been munching on small snacks throughout the day and to “just swallow and not chew.”
Sitting next to Timmy was Jennifer Nguyen with head phones on and looked to be about 14 years old, yay-high and as thick as a twig also just came out just to support, shared that her strategy would be to “eat on beat,” listening to her IPod.
Also competing was boyfriend/girlfriend couple who attends the University of Minnesota, Allan Ng studying Economics and Lucy Feang majoring in Pre-Med. In preparations of this competition, they spent the week practicing eating pho ordering two big bowls each, finishing them and realizing they were still hungry.
The room starts to settle down as owner of Saigon Lisa Bui finally enters the room to go over the rules:
1. You order which type of Pho you want
2. When you receive your 10lb bowl of Pho, go ahead and flavor it to your liking
3. Then the timer begins. In 45minutes, you must finish both the noodles and the meat. You do not have to finish the broth.
Winners receive a one-of-a-kind Saigon t-shirt (“I AM THE PHO-KING”) and a free meal. Losers have to pay for the $15 10lb bowl of Pho.
With amazement, as the massive bowls are carried out to the contestants, you see eyes start to widen realizing that these are definitely not your regular bowls of Pho, which Bui estimates to be between 1lb-2lbs.
As the 10lb bowls were placed in front of contestants, hands start to reach in and out and around the table to grab the fish sauce, hoisin sauce, squeezing in lime– anything to bring the broth to their individual likings.
As the timer begins, chopsticks take their mark and attack the noodles digging into the bowls. Heavy thick smog of air follows along as the chopsticks lift from the bowls and head towards hungry mouths showing the audience just how hot the bowl of Pho still was.
With contestants trying their best to cool down the intensity of the heat, one contestant starts to toss his cup of ice into his bowl. This helped at the time, but soon the noodles started to soak up the liquid and his noodles started to expand making it even harder to attack. This didn’t happen to just him though. As times started to tick away, the noodles started to expand and broth seemed to disappear in everyone’s bowl.
Another strategy that competitors tried was wrapping large amounts of noodle together with chopsticks and laying them across the top of their bowls. The purpose of this was to keep the noodles from soaking up the broth and cooling down the noodles. There were some true pho-strategists at work here!
About 15 minutes into the competition, one contestant gives up and slaps down a $20 bill on the table.
The competition starts to heat up getting onlookers in the restaurant to see what all the hype was all about.
“This is crazy! Who would do this to themselves!?? …I’m going to have to get all my friends out here to try this too,” says Chieng Thao of St. Paul, chuckling and starting to text his friends.
At one table, you start to hear cheering, “You can do it! You’re almost done!” With his girlfriend by his side and 25 minutes into the competition, Dennis Le of Bloomington is farther along than any of his 29 competitors. For the past few months, Le has been on a diet, but in preparation for this competition he’s been running all week. The broth in his bowl is now a misty white glow with green onions floating around, though there are still a few strands of noodle left, Le finishes saying “I’ll never do this again, I’m going to stick to just eating my moms’ pho from now on.” But also shared that it was also his first time at Saigon and the Pho was as good as everyone said it’d be.
Looking around the room again at all the contestants now at 35 minutes in, eyes are starting to droop, cheeks are rosy, and there is hardly any strength left at all.
Some contestants even gave up at this point and have started to compare how bloated their stomachs have become and taking photos to share the proof of their attempt at the 10lb bowl, posting images on their Facebook accounts through their phones. Next to this group were other contestants who were now using spoons to try and finish up.
The noodles had become so soft that they started to break up into smaller pieces and had to be eaten with only the spoon.
With just minutes left in the competition, Franklin Li, a junior at the U studying Bio Medical Engineering surprises everyone and finds him being cheered on like never before. Li who’s as thin as both his chopsticks put together is focused and takes his time chewing.
“For the first time, Frankie looks like he’s eating with hate! He loves food!” shares his friend LuiLui.
With his eyes starting to droop, shaky chopsticks and noodle filled cheeks, Li seemed as though he’d gag a few times but strongly pulls himself together to swallow every last piece of noodle there was in his mouth. Li finishes down to the last second, being the 2nd winner of the event for the day.
Cheers, laughter and sighs of relief are shared throughout the room as fast as phone cameras click away at the victorious eater-who quickly dashes to the restroom to “relieve himself.”
Friends of Li knew that he’d win because “growing up together, Frankie eats anything and everything you put in front of him!”
In the end, contestants shared that maybe there was no real set strategy, but to just focus, eat and not to think during the competition as to how you were going to attack the noodles. “I lost because I was thinking too hard,” shares one contestant.
Bui shares that this competition has gone on for the past four months and has had a total of over 52 competitors with 9 male winners and zero female winners. The prize for the first female winner would be a $100 gift certificate to Saigon, a t-shirt, and the title of being the Ultimate Female 10lb Pho Challenger.
The top record of the Pho Challenge is at 15 minutes and after the competition, the contestant begged for one of their famous banh mi sandwiches to go along with!
When asked why Bui started this competition, it was because costumers would come in asking for the extra large bowl of Pho and always leaving saying that the amount they received was still not enough. Bui was challenged to give her costumers what they wanted, now are you up to take on the 10lb Pho Challenge?
For more information, you can find Saigon on their Facebook along with photos of all their challengers.
Be a Facebook Fan at SAIGON RESTAURANT SAINT PAUL.