Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dumplings vs. Dragons

Which is a greater accomplishment? Consuming dozens of dumplings in two minutes, or racing a 40-foot boat across a lake?

On Sunday Adeet and I witnessed two very different competitions at Flushing Meadow Park as part of the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival: a dumpling eating contest and a boat race. We arrived just in time for the high noon dumpling-off. Emcees whipped up the crowd in both Cantonese and Mandarin, punctuating their Chinese with an occasional "Let's have a round of applause!" Sandy the Seagull, the Brooklyn Cyclones' mascot, did his part by soundlessly but enthusiastically hopping around the stage.

The contest was divided into heats, and men and women competed separately. Some women in the first round looked more like workers hurrying through a too-short lunch break than contenders for the dumpling purse (a $1,000 first prize). Others, though, demonstrated classic competitive eating strategy as they sprinkled their wontons with water, making them slippery enough to swallow without the inconvenience of chewing. The men ate ravenously, but their gusto didn't match the graphic gluttony of Nathan's Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. At Nathan's, contestants sent bits of bun flying, but I didn't see any dumpling debris here. Perhaps the dumplings' small size made the contest seem somewhat demure by comparison. 

After the men's first round, Adeet and I felt too hungry to watch other people eat. We went to the makeshift food court and bought a steamed pork bun, sticky rice wrapped in leaves, and noodles. We tried getting a bubble tea, but the vendor apologetically uttered a sentence I'd never heard before: "I'm out of bubbles." We settled for plain watermelon juice, which was delicious and refreshing, but I would have appreciated a discount for the lack of bubbles. The drink cost $5, the same price as all of our food. As we finished our lunch, we overheard an emcee announce the number of dumplings devoured by the men's winner: 66. The only thing Adeet and I had managed to finish in that time was our bun. 

Next we moved on to the boat races. No emcees stirred up the spectators, but a young boy standing near us did cheer on his father, who unfortunately finished second to last. Adeet and I didn't root for any one team but enjoyed watching the boats skim across the lake. Drummers in each boat kept rhythm, and rowers matched the tempo as they pushed their oars through the water. The narrow boats had little decoration except for the elaborately carved prows. As the boats glided past us after each match, we caught a close-up of the grinning dragon heads.

As we left the park, we passed a group of well-toned, muscled racers performing stretching and balance exercises. I wondered how the dumpling eaters had warmed up for their contest. However, I couldn't dismiss the dumplingvores' accomplishments, even if I questioned their training regimen. I knew I didn't have the stamina for dragon boats or dumplings.

The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival
Flushing Meadows Park • Queens, NY
photos by Adeet Deshmukh

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