HORSEMEN OF THE ESOPHAGUS, a nonfiction book about the sport of competitive eating, was published in April 2006 by Crown, a division of Random House. In the UK, Yellow Jersey released the book under a different title — they called it INSATIABLE — and Random House Kodansha translated the book into Japanese. I still have no idea how the phrase “Horsemen of the Esophagus” translated into Japanese.

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From the May 2006 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, here’s a 6,000-word excerpt from HORSEMEN.

Book Extras

  1. What is the meaning of the net weight number on the book’s cover, 960 oz./60 pounds? That’s the weight of a year’s supply of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, the prize for winning a regional Nathan’s qualifier.
  2. Dave “Coondog” O’Karma, the protagonist of HORSEMEN OF THE ESOPHAGUS, has published two articles about his adventures in competitive eating. Both are available at www.clevelandmagazine.com/okarma. His collection of poetry, wit and whimsy of a white trash jesus — “Thoughts of love, laughter, sadness, sickness, silliness, and sarcasm” — can be purchased at www.cafepress.com/coondogpub.
  3. Japan photos. The first third of the book centers on my trip to Japan with the American eater David “Coondog” O’Karma. We were trying to get an interview with the elusive Takeru Kobayashi, the great hot dog champ. Eventually we did meet Koby and talk shop, but Koby wasn’t the only oogui star we got to meet, as you can see in these photos (all copyright 2005 by D. M. O’Karma):

Dave “Coondog” O’Karma, left, in his ridiculous “sumo” garb on the day of the Harajuku sushi battle arranged by Kenji Aoki, right.

Kenji, Dave, and Kenji’s oogui compatriots at Kappa Sushi the day of the battle.

Dave and two oogui oldtimers: Toshio Kimura and Kazutoyo “The Rabbit” Arai, former Nathan’s world record holder.

Takeru Kobayashi on the left, mugging with Dave and Yukihiro Iteya, another top Japanese eater and frequent competitor on TV Champion and Food Battle Club back in the day.

Tazawa, Dave, and Kenji at the Harajuku Nathan’s restaurant, where Coondog gets his revenge.

Nobuyuki “Giant” Shirota and Dave. Notice, please, the size of Shirota’s head and hand. (That is not a wide-angle lens.)

This woman’s name is in my notebooks somewhere. She didn’t say a word the entire interview. She just sat there, immaculate. The restaurant where we ate with Shirota had this giant Buddha statue; I don’t remember it glowing like this, though.

Coondog at the Imperial Palace.

One day we rode the train to Morioka and ate at the storied WONKOSOBA restaurant, where they let customers play the soba-noodle game. A waitress stands over your table and pours small lacquered bowls of soba noodles into your own personal bowl. As soon as you slurp up the mass of noodles, the waitress gives you another. This continues until you can’t eat anymore. Here are my 107 empty bowls of soba. Not a bad score for an amateur but way behind Dave’s 170 and not even close to the 400-bowl champs that regularly besiege WONKOSOBA.

Dave, full of noodles.