FES­TI­VAL:

Ra­men eat­ing bowls over crowd»

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Danika Wor­thing­ton

“We are a tra­di­tional fes­ti­val, but we want to be hip and with the times.” Natalie Ta, fes­ti­val op­er­a­tions man­ager

The em­cee had to re­mind con­tes­tants not to touch the ra­men — yet.

It’s spicy, he told 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 atof­fered tract young peo­ple. And a glance around the group of mostly teens and 20- to 30some­things 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 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 to 2:30 p.m.

The boat rac­ing starts at 8 a.m. and goes un­til 4:50 p.m.

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