An excerpt from our newest VivaLAfoodies Contributor: Luis “Louis” Castro
Orochon Ramen in Little Tokyo is situated on the third floor of (what I imagine) a building that would fit in perfectly in modern day Tokyo. Banners, neon lights, and other advertisements catch your eye as you enter the plaza from the street. Besides hosting an assortment of restaurants ranging from sushi and Ramen (duh), to Japanese baked goods and a truly authentic Japanese mini-mart, which is complete with cute animal caricatures and rice cookers prominently displayed in the front windows.
Little did I know that these bright, colorful, even pleasant surroundings would be the scene for one of greatest battles/triumphs of my life. I was there to take on what is arguably one of the hottest soups on earth: the Orochon Special Number Two.
I have never really been a fan of spicy foods. In fact, most of my mother’s cooking is too spicy for me to really enjoy. (Please don’t tell her!). But I was intrigued and decided to put all fears of spicy food aside and take on my first food challenge. So, why did I decide to take on the Orochon Special Number Two? It is because my palate or stomach never turns down a challenge!
I first heard of the challenge through my friend, Rene, who put it to me like this, “Dude, I’ve been training for the Special Number Two! It’s this really spicy soup in Little Tokyo! I saw it on Man v. Food!” My first question was, “ What the hell is Man v. Food”? (I haven’t had cable since I was nineteen, though it did sound reminiscent of the three main themes in literature, was this a fourth to explore?) Rene went on to explain the whole premise of the show, which I surmised as a jovial glutton taking on food challenges–kind of sounds like me. While a normal person may be taken aback and/or disgusted by such a thing, I was deeply intrigued.For you see, I am not the average person as my whole life revolves around food. And if you think about it, this might apply to you.
Luciano Pavarotti once said “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” I guess it is a gradient of how nice you think eating is. The Special Number Two, as challenging as it proved, was no exception to how truly nice it is to stop and eat and enjoy.
The Special Number Two took more than attention though, it took all of my physical and emotional strength.
Right before ordering the Number 2, I asked our petite Japanese waitress if it really was as hot as everyone claimed it was. With a smile, her answer was, “Oh yes. Very hot, Almost die.” Rene and I giggled at her response; but cried when the validity of her words was searing our mouths, esophagus‘, and stomachs a short 6 minutes later an eighth of the way into a 72 ounce bowl of molten chili broth.
Tears streamed down my face as I dug deeper and deeper into my own personal hell served in a bone white bowl. Rene, sitting across from me, kept mumbling something about his stomach lining scarring. My concentration never wavered and my throat never stopped swallowing. Until, my bowl was empty and victory was mine in less than twenty minutes. Rene, gave up soon after, with only about fifteen percent left in his bowl. I had beaten the Orochon Special Number Two Challenge in less than thirty minutes and earned my picture on their Wall of Bravery. Of twenty thousand that have tried, I was number two hundred and one to finish. Maybe I will climb Mount Everest now.
The next day at work, I told everyone and within a week friend and foodie, Adam Rubenstein decided to take on the firey Orochon. He will pick up and provide his thoughts on the trials and tribulations of the “Special #2” in a subsequent post.