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Six Ways to Prepare and Survive Your First Taco Eating Competition

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap] knew this day would come: When somebody would challenge me to defend my moniker of “El Tragón de Los Ángeles.” 

“Come on, do it!” Lucy of Pez Cantina pleaded, who with Trejo’s Tacos puts on a Taco Eating competition every year that has somehow existed under L.A.’s food media radar. I said no on two different occasions. Until Sunday morning, five days before the competition, at approximately 8:45 AM Pacific Standard time, Lucy wrote the magic words to me...“but you’re El Tragón! You gotta live up to your name; you’ll be the greatest Tragón of all time!!!” That did it. But for the next five days up until I stared down that first plate of chicken tinga tacos in front of me with a crowd of IG livers behind them, sitting shoulder to shoulder with seven other competitors, Danny Trejo pacing behind me, the only thought that rang through my head was, “What the fuck did I get myself into this time, pinche Tragón?”

And there I went. 

If you find yourself in this predicament, either because you were challenged to it or you wanted free tacos, or you’re out to prove your taco-loving dedication, here is everything you’ll go through and how you will survive it. It happens to the best of us, I think.

A plate of tacos ready to get eaten really quickly.
A plate of tacos ready to get eaten really quickly. Photo by Erwin Recinos for L.A. TACO.

Sign-up. You’re not down, foo

There are only a few people that enjoy competitive eating, and chances are, you’re not one of them. I sure as well am not. Somebody will pressure you, call in to question your sock height and your down-ness. They’ll come after your ego, your pride, and your panza. Once they succeed, they’ll celebrate with joy and leave you alone, wondering what to expect. Get ready to wonder, “How many tacos can I eat? What kind of tacos will there be? Who am I competing with? Your competitive side wakes up, you jump and the internet to prepare, and the next stage of panic ensues. 

Research “Taco Eating Contest” and proceed to freak out 

A few hours after I replied to Lucy’s message with “I’m down.” Her husband, Bret, head chef at Pez Cantina, reached out to confirm. I asked him who I was competing with, and he gave me two names, Joey Chestnut and Matt Stonie, who are both world record holders and competitive eating champs. 

Now, I don’t follow competitive eating. It was only after I Googled Joey, Matt, and taco-eating contests that I began to panic. Imagine my “cara de pendejo” face when I learned Chestnut set a record last year by eating 75 hot dogs, and Stonie set a record in 2016 by eating 103 tacos in 8 minutes. As you watch these eaters dunk their tacos and hot dogs into big-gulp-sized cups of water and shove them down their throats with their fingers, you realize you’re not ready for this. After a panicked tweet, Chestnut responded with, “Someone is fucking with you,” and sure enough, Bret was. Yet, those images of eating contests as you research days before the competition will haunt your every thought until the big day. 

Pez Cantina's and Trejos Tacos' taco eating competition in full swing
Pez Cantina's and Trejos Tacos' taco eating competition in full swing. Photo by Erwin Recinos for L.A. TACO.

Think about starving yourself to prepare, but then just eat normally until the big day 

As you research how to prepare for an eating contest, you’ll find a few different suggestions. They’ll tell you to eat big meals days before to expand your stomach. Others will tell you to fast days before to really build up that hunger. It’s all bullshit. Unless you’re a competitive eater that trains around the year for this, nothing you will do will really give you an extra edge. I ate normally every day until the day of the competition. On the day of, I only drank some coffee and water and kept my stomach empty. That’s about as best as you can do, and that will be all the help you need because you don’t want to eat as many tacos as possible on a full stomach. 

Eat a performance-enhancing edible or blaze it, then regret it an hour later

So I cheated. Is it cheating, though, to consume an edible, smoke a joint, or try to give yourself a competitive munchies edge? I mean, you will be going against at least one competitive eater. There will always be one that trains for this. And I guarantee that you won’t be the only one getting high before the event. So let’s just say it’s part of the game. BUT, once you sit at the table, and you see the crowd in front of you, everyone coming by with their phones to your faces before the tacos arrive, the only thing Mary Jane will be boosting is your anxiety. The munchies will disappear, nervousness will kick in, and a mini-trip will ensue. I sat there like Princess Leia pleading to my inner-hunger,  “I need you now panza, you’re my only hope?” It was just like those dreams where you’re flying high, and next thing you know, you can’t get any air, and you’re only a foot off the ground until you fall face-first into a plate of tacos and wake up. Twenty-five milligrams and a keefed-up blunt never let me down so bad. 

 

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Forget everything and just have fun eating as many tacos as you can 

So you’re sitting there, an empty stomach full of butterflies. You look to your right and see two competitors wearing gloves. You see a wall of amateur paparazzi in front of you and a plate full of tacos underneath your face. Take some deep breaths, a sip of water, and just stare at those tacos. At this point, your hunger has ditched you, and nothing you just went through the last five days is going to make a difference. At some point, you just have to realize, as one other nervous competitor screamed out minutes before the clock started, “Why the fuck are we so nervous? It’s just tacos!” And he was right, don’t overthink it, get in there, get dirty, and have fun. It’ll be one of the greatest experiences you’ll ever have. 

Danny Trejo hosting the taco eating competition.
Danny Trejo hosting the taco eating competition. Photo by Erwin Recinos for L.A. TACO.

I’ll leave you with one amateur pro-tip I learned about four tacos into my first plate: don’t waste time chewing, take large but manageable bites and wash them down with sips of water and let your stomach of steel do the work.

Recovery

Time is up! They’re counting the tacos, you either placed or you didn’t, but your digestive system could give a flying taco. You’ll feel like an alien baby wants to pop out of your chest. Get up and walk and rub your belly from your chest down to your belly button as if you’re helping the last tacos lodged in your throat find their way down. Get home, take your dog for a walk; pacing around is good. You’ll need to keep moving because sitting down will feel like you're trying to fold a full fifty-pound bag of rice. You just can’t do it. Pull up a comfy chair after you’re tired of walking, a recliner preferably, because lying down will be uncomfortable. And most importantly, avoid constipation the following day by drinking plenty of fresh fibrous green juice. Don’t forget to tell your partner or spouse thank you for loving you and putting up your taco-eating ass. 

In case you’re wondering, I ate 26 tacos in 8 minutes, the second most.

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