The emcee had to remind contestants not to touch the ramen — yet.
It’s spicy, he tells the crowd. Two packets of spice, to be clear. And the eight contestants couldn’t just eat the noodles. They’d have to finish the broth, too. The first one done had to flip over their cup to claim victory.
He gave the count — “one (pause), two (longer pause), THREE!” — and the contestants were off, spooning noodles into their mouths and gobbling broth. It was an intense minute as the emcee led the audience in chants of “chug” and “eat.” Then, Chris Christian threw back his head for a dramatic final swallow and slammed down his cup. He was met with more cheers and a high five from the emcee.
This was the first year the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival hosted a spicy ramen eating competition, an attempt to attract young people. And a glance around the group of mostly teens and 20-30 somethings suggested that the ploy was working.
The festival at Sloan’s Lake is in its 17th year. It’s a Pan-Asian celebration centered around dragon boat racing, a 2,000-year-old sport that was born in China. This year highlighted Cambodia, although multiple countries were represented.
“We are a traditional festival but we want to be hip and with the times,” festival operations manager Natalie Ta said, noting that spicy noodle eating had recently become a sensation on YouTube.
The cheering attracted a larger crowd to watch the remaining rounds. Christian stepped to the side with his girlfriend and fellow ramen eating competitor Lyndsey Wolfe to say hi to the other eaters — all mouths were slightly stained orange from the broth.
Christian broke down his successful strategy. First, he chugged the broth, getting that out of the way. Then, he poured in the provided water to cool down the noodles. Yes, he admittedly that he had to eat more with this game plan but it worked.
Christian and Wolfe were already planning on heading to the festival. When they saw the ramen contest, they immediately signed up.
The festival also featured dancing, music and performance art. It opened Saturday with a blessing of the dragon boats and an 80-foot dancing dragon that was held up by nine people. Several booths and food trucks offered culinary options from various Asian countries. One booth sold dragon’s breath, a nitrogen dessert that makes people look like they’re breathing smoke.
Multiple speakers reiterated that the festival intends to bring together the Asian community as well as educate the broader Colorado community. And Ta said it’s working. Although there’s still a ways to go, she said people come up to her now being able to distinguish between Vietnamese, Korean and Thai food versus lumping them all together as Asian.
“When I grew up, I grew up with people who didn’t look like me,” Ta said. “When I was able to go to the Dragon Boat festival, I was around people celebrating our culture.”
The festival, which is free, continues Sunday. The ramen eating contest will resume Sunday from 1:30-2:30 p.m. The boat racing starts at 8 a.m. and goes until 4:50 p.m.