Video | Men vs Food: Hong Kong's toughest food and drink challenges put to the test

As deadly sins go, gluttony is at the lower end of the scale. But that doesn't make it any easier on body and soul

Watch: 48 Hours reporters attempt to defeat the food challenges

January is traditionally detox month, with magazines and websites attempting to outdo themselves with recommendations of the most unappetising and calorie-deficient diets imaginable. We decided to challenge ourselves in a different manner, by filling our stomachs rather than depriving them. We put five of the city's most notorious food and drink challenges to the test.


Big Bite's Homicide Hot Wings Challenge

finish six Homicide Hot Wings in less than three minutes and then last a further three minutes without refreshment or relief to win a badge and place on the wall of honour.

Hot wings were the first on the docket, and as this whole thing was my idea, the onus was firmly on me to complete my challenge with ease. I like spicy food and can stuff my face as well as anyone, so wolfing down six hot wings in less than three minutes seemed easy. My confidence was shaken slightly as I stared at the radioactive red sauce covering the wings which, at 1.5 million on the Scoville scale, is the same strength as pepper spray.

Once I bit into the first wing, getting through them was surprisingly easy; they were hot, but not unbearable, and I'd finished the set in around two minutes, well within the time limit. However, the real challenge was still to come. The manager informed me that I'd have to wait another three whole minutes before I could relieve my burning mouth with anything.

Wing and a prayer: James Griffiths eyes his quarry at Big Bite. Photos: May Tse

Then started the longest three minutes of my life. I bounced from foot to foot like an incontinent toddler, all the nerve endings in my mouth screaming in agony. Finally the time limit was up and I chugged two glasses of milk, tempering the fire somewhat. I cleaned my face and hands and drank more milk, and the burning was replaced by a tingling sensation which would last most of the rest of the day. My travails were not over though, as, without going into too much detail, the pain would return as the devil food progressed through various parts of my digestive system. This may have been one of the shortest challenges, but its effects stayed with me for days.

success, tempered with regret.


Marlin's 10 Shot Challenge

get your name on the wall of this Lan Kwai Fong institution by finishing 10 shots in the fastest time possible.

I knew I wasn't going to get first place. I can't fathom how the legendary shot taker, identified only as "Cody" on Marlin's leader board, could finish all 10 shooters in just 6.55 seconds. Even the 10th fastest speed, 8.89 seconds, seemed faster than my hands could possibly move, regardless of what I'm drinking.

Line of fire: Marlin's 10 shots are not for the faint of heart. Photos: May Tse

As I watched the bar staff preparing the shots I tried to come up with a strategy - maybe the trick is to tip two shots into your mouth at a time. I quickly found that this was impossible with a normal sized mouth however and had to take them one by one. As I slammed through the shots as fast as I could, I felt like I was making pretty respectable time, so it was with shock I greeted the news that it had taken me 16 seconds to compete the set, almost double the slowest time on the board. Some of this was down to my being too respectful to my surroundings, as the manager informed me that the fastest shot takers simply dropped the empty (plastic) glasses on the floor and reached for another, while I had wasted time setting them back on the table.

Fortunately for my liver, the alcohol content of the shots was not high - the entire set was like drinking a large cocktail. Unfortunately for my head, the sugar content was through the roof, and within half an hour I was crashing hard, giving me the quickest hangover I think I've ever had.

16 seconds, how someone can knock 10 seconds off that time is beyond us.


Wilbur's Giant Challenge

finish the half-kilo Giant Burger with cheese and an order of French fries, a side salad, and a 500ml drink to get the whole thing (valued at HK$328) for free.

When the three of us set off to conquer Hong Kong's food challenges we were all pretty sure we would beat them all. And, watching James dominate the wings challenge had made me even more confident. I was sure this challenge would be no problem. I love cheeseburgers and - as an American - have years of practice gorging myself on fatty foods. Plus, on the morning of the challenge I was absolutely famished, having starved myself for the previous 24 hours in preparation.

Big ask: Charley Lanyon takes on Wilbur's giant burger with sides. Photos: May Tse

My confidence was tempered a bit when the manager said only five out of 30 diners had successfully finished their burgers. Still, I could not wait to get started, and by the time the burger was brought out to me, about the shape and size of an adolescent tortoise, I was salivating like a cartoon wolf.

I knew, however, with my first bite there was no hope of finishing it. Let's just say they clearly don't reserve their best meat for their giant novelty burgers. The fries were excellent, the beer was fresh and cold and gone in about a minute, the salad was lovely, but the burger was virtually inedible: rubbery, unctuous, bleeding sheets of grease and tasting strongly of black pepper and hoof. Eight minutes in and the smell of the meat was enough to engage my gag reflex. I quit early and am very glad I did.

not even close.


The Keg's Half Yard of Ale Challenge

get your name on the wall by beating the record for drinking a half yard of ale in the fastest time. Aside from having your name in lights, you also get a Keg jersey on the house.

With the yard of ale challenge I was sure I would redeem my reputation; I was confident to the point of cocky. Drinking beer fast is kind of my thing (yes, my mother is very proud). I was even more convinced once I saw a yard was really just a little more than a pint of beer. To get on the wall I would have to beat six seconds, to win I would have to beat four; no problem.

Down town: a yard of ale at The Keg. Photos: May Tse
Before I started, the bartender warned me that - because of the shape of the yard - without the perfect technique I would end up pouring beer all over my face. No one could tell me what the correct technique was, but no matter.

The challenge felt as easy as I had anticipated. I finished my beer in what I was sure was record time feeling refreshed and not even a little full. When I heard my time, a full 10 seconds, I was taken aback but refused to accept defeat: "Again!"

The bartender poured me up another yard, but this time I knew I was beat: halfway through I was full and burping into the beer, a fair portion sloshed into my beard, and the rest poured in a surprise torrent all over my face. Shivering, covered in cold beer, and burping up foam, I expected at least to have beaten my personal record. Not so, said the barman with the stopwatch: "12 seconds."

just over 10 seconds the first time; more than 12 seconds the second time. This one's easy to complete, but near impossible to win.


The Waffle Challenge

eat a tower of nine waffles, layered with whipped cream, chestnut cream, ice cream, Oreos, ladyfingers, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, red bean paste and chocolate syrup. Finish within 45 minutes and you get the dessert for free (HK$208 if you don't).

I love desserts and my standard serving size when it comes to ice cream is at least a pint. I hadn't eaten in 12 hours and impatiently waited for the photo session to end. The timer set, I devoured the two scoops of ice cream in a few bites and took the first waffle off the tower. The waffles went down easily and I felt like I was in dessert paradise.

That lasted for around 20 minutes, or four waffle layers. The problem wasn't that I was full; I was nauseous from an overdose of whipped cream. Imagine stacking nine waffles one of top of the other, like a delicious twist on Jenga. The waffles will slip and slide and eventually fall. While the others were taking pictures and I was admiring the ingenuity of the sugar-crazed mind that dreamed up this challenge, the stack started to sway like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The solution to holding it together? Several long bamboo skewers to anchor this waffle structure vertically, and monstrous amounts of whipped cream to stick the layers together. If the waffles are bricks, the cream is the mortar. You know the little squares on waffles? On this dessert, every single one of them is chock-full of whipped cream.

I had thought that cantaloupe and watermelon in a waffle dessert was a horrible idea. Now I know those ingredients are there not because they complement the taste of waffle and chocolate, but because you can give your taste buds a break from the overpowering taste of cream. I had been dreading how the starchy Oreos and ladyfingers would weigh in my rapidly expanding stomach; those were great.

This should have been easy - after 30 minutes, I had time to finish the last two, but I couldn't stomach any more cream.

seven out of the nine waffles scoffed, including all toppings except the red bean paste.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: no guts, no glory