Anyone who’s ever pushed a midweek bolognese too far knows the carby dangers of too much noodle. The soporific stupor brought on by a massive bowl of starchy ribbons makes it basically impossible to do anything productive for at least 24 hours. Overindulge in any noodles at your peril.
But, for anyone thinking that their recent two-for-one at Olive Garden makes them qualified to talk about excessive noodle eating, it’s important to recognise that most of our dining “achievements” are actually pretty pathetic. If you want to see what real noodle gluttony looks like, you have to head to Japan.
Every year in the Japanese cities of Morioka and Hanamaki, thousands of diners throw the notion of restraint completely out of the window and set about demolishing enough noodles to keep the whole of Italy happy for a month.
The custom, known as “wanko soba”, involves eating a never-ending stream of the eponymous buckwheat noodles, stacking empty bowls on top of each other in teetering terracotta towers of broth and garnishes. The current Japanese record sits at an astonishing 570 bowls in a single sitting. In 2019, one woman ate 300 bowls in 17 minutes. Make no mistake, this is the ultimate noodle binge.
Check out this Noodle-Stuffed Giant Sweet and Sour Chicken Ball:
Wanko soba has many differences from it’s traditional, less-mad noodle counterparts. The dishes and servings themselves are actually quite small, served with a selection of added extras and designed to be slurped back as quickly as possible. What really makes the challenge is the sheer quantity.
At wanko soba restaurants, servers simply will not stop bringing the food until you forcibly put a lid over your personal “dunking bowl” of broth. It’s a battle of wills between you and the noodles and, like a slurpy, wobbly Terminator, they absolutely will not stop.
Despite being a fixture of both the Morioka and Hanamaki foodscape, the origins of wanko soba remain slightly mysterious. One popular restaurant claims that the practise dates back to the 17th century when a local lord visited the town and enjoyed the local delicacy so much that he kept demanding more and more.
Today, eating contests are held twice annually at select restaurants across the region. If you want to see whether you have what it takes to be crowned a true noodle-lover, you better book your ticket.