My mother prides herself for being from the Hunan province in China, which is known for having food even spicier than Sichuan food. Everyone from this province loves their spice. Chairman Mao, who was born there, was said to even sprinkle chili powder on his watermelon.
I may not have been born in Hunan, but I’m proud to say that my mother brought me up well. My friends know that I literally dump cayenne powder onto just about every food I eat (or drink — I dump it into my smoothies as well). When most people are crying over their spicy food at Chinese, Indian, Thai or Mexican restaurants, I’m the one eating with a completely straight face.
So when I heard about El Pelon’s annual chili eating contest, I couldn’t resist signing up. Yes, I paid $30 to eat as many chilis as I possibly can. My competitive, type A nature and the proud Chinese in me told me that any price is worth it.
Plus, the winner gets a year full of free burritos. And if you live in Boston, you know that its one of the best things you can eat in the city.
So on the night of April 26, I, along with about 17 other brave souls, sat at a long table in the chilly spring air and looked apprehensively at the plates of chili peppers in front of us.
Plot twist: these green chilis weren’t even what we were eating. These were Thai chilis, which are crazy spicy, but nowhere near as spicy as the habaneros that we were going to eat.
According to the contest director, Thai chilis are 50,000-100,000 on the Scoville scale for spiciness. Habaneros are 100,000-500,000. And the ones we were eating in the contest were roasted for added spiciness.
The way the contest went, we had two minutes per round to eat a single pepper. As the rounds progressed, contestants could choose to up the number per round if they wanted to.
The first chili was actually quite good. It had kind of a buttery taste.
“Ok,” I thought, “I can do this.”
Then the number of chilis was increased. It went from one per round, to three, to five…
Someone dropped out around 12 chilis, but I was impressed by the number of people still going.
Some had strategies — some were squishing the peppers and some were swallowing them whole; most had completely blank stares on their faces, though one guy did make an alarming barfing noise.
“Don’t puke on me,” I told him half-jokingly.
I was determined. I’m not going to reveal my strategy, but my mouth didn’t really burn. “You’re doing a great job!” the contest director said enthusiastically.
At 15 chilis, I felt like a machine. Chili in, chili out, look impassive. In the back of my mind, I wondered if it was really healthy to be eating so many peppers.
18 chilis in, my stomach began to gurgle. My mouth began to burn — not when I ate the chili, but rather while I waited for the rest of the two minutes to pass.
“Show no weakness,” I told myself.
But I began to suck in my breath, trying to cool my tongue. I eyed the cup of horchata placed enticingly in front of me and wondered why I had even paid $30 to eat chilis in the first place.
22 chilis in, my stomach burned in a rather alarming way. I remembered that I had a morning flight to catch tomorrow and wondered if this was a bad idea.
“Next round: 5 chilis!” the contest director announced. I eyed my competitors and reassessed my priorities.
I wasn’t the first one to back out, and I knew that I would have to consume far, far more chilis that I probably wanted to in order to win. Still, I think my pride hurt a lot more than my mouth.
“I’m backing out!” I announced, and practically ran inside to chug my horchata.
Well, chug my horchata and an entire 4-serving bottle of almond milk.
— Nancy Chen (@nancylinchen) April 27, 2016
Nothing, however, could get rid of the burning in my stomach. I woke up at 2 am unable to sleep and drowsily Googled “what to do after chili eating contest” and the results that came up were alarming.
Basically I had done everything wrong. You’re supposed to eat a meal high in carbs and fat beforehand to help absorb the capsicum in the peppers and to eat something similarly high in carbs and fat afterward as well.
Answer: no. So I woefully went back to sleep.
I decided to go on a morning jog (because eating 22 chilis last night wasn’t enough apparently) and immediately regretted it.
Note to future self: don’t go on a 6am run the morning after the @ElPelonTaqueria chili eating contest BC you will puke everywhere
— Nancy Chen (@nancylinchen) April 27, 2016
Yup, morning-after puke isn’t so nice. Though at least I didn’t puke during the contest like some other contestants…
Will I be doing it again? Well, yes of course. Get ready El Pelon — I’m coming for ya again next year.