The World Gyoza Eating Championship returns to Little Tokyo on Saturday at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. One of Nisei Week’s more popular attractions, the contest will have 16 eaters from all over the world challenging last year’s record winner and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest champ Joey Chestnut to battle for the record of most "gyozas" — or dumplings — eaten in 10 minutes. Mary Bowers, a local architecture project planner, will be one of them.
Bowers’ first competition was a hot dog eating contest at a deli in Orange County in 2011. She ended up qualifying for a final that included some of the world’s best record holders. She did not do well.
“It was pretty much the equivalent of being drafted on to the junior varsity basketball team and then being told, ‘Oh by the way, you're going to play with Kobe and Shaq and Michael Jordan,’” said Bowers. “It was one of those fun, I’m-going-to-do-this spur of the moment things.”
Bowers has been participating in about half a dozen contests a year since then, wolfing down everything from brain tacos to hot dogs. This will be her fourth year competing at the Little Tokyo event. She set her personal record last year, eating 61 gyozas in 10 minutes. (Chestnut ate 384.)
She said that, except for hot dog competitions, men and women battle side by side.
“Right now, I think half the top 10 eaters in the world are female,” said Bowers. “So it's like the great equalizer of sports. It's pretty cool.”
How does she prepare off stage? According to Bowers, by eating healthier than most.
“I’ve become more conscious about what I eat and how it makes me feel outside of the contest environment,” she said. “So it's a lot of vegetables, a lot of high fiber foods. If I'm feeling low on energy, the carbs come in.”
Bowers realizes the concern that comes with the sport. She said that competitive eating is like watching the opposite of the Olympics.
“With the Olympics, you are watching somebody's workout routine. But to support the body through that extreme condition, a person has to consume a lot of calories,” Bowers said. “You're watching us eat. You're not watching the workout routine which I would say all of us have.”
She welcomes the conversations that competitive eating brings up.
“There's this open atmosphere for discussion about food and bodies and what's healthy and what's not healthy around competitive eating that I don't think exists in any other contests,” she said.
Beating Chestnut's record at the Gyoza Eating Championship may not be her main goal, but she's optimistic.
"I think I will be able to break through [my record] pretty easily this year," Bowers said. "We'll see by how much."
This article originally stated the contest was on Sunday. KPCC regrets the error.