Raina Huang has made a career out of her love of eating.
After realizing she naturally ate more than other people, friends encouraged Huang to eat competitively, according to the influencer’s website.
With 2.7 million followers on TikTok, the competitive eater and model has gained a following filming food challenges forking down upwards of 6 pounds of food at a time.
On Wednesday, as part of an East Coast Christmas tour, Huang visited Mashita, the Korean-fusion food truck in downtown that opened a brick-and-mortar space in late 2019.
Along with chef and owner Mikey Reisenberg, Huang developed an all-new food challenge that she completed on Wednesday. Huang devoured 16 of Mashita’s steamed buns in under 10 minutes.
The buns are slider-sized. For most people, two or three filled buns are a meal. Reisenberg said the most buns he’s ever eaten at one time is six.
“For me, [16 buns] sounds awful intimidating,” Reisenberg said.
The pillow-soft wheat buns are wrapped in half around eight different mouthwatering Korean-American fillings like bulgogi, marinated chicken or beef that’s been barbecued, slow-braised pulled pork and chicken, twice-cooked brisket, slow-roasted pork belly, sweet chili-soy tofu and savory shiitake mushrooms.
For the challenge, Mashita provided two of each flavor. Huang competed against the clock, aiming to finish the two large platters of food in under 15 minutes.
The challenge was hatched when Huang’s booking agent contacted Mashita.
“They loved the quality of our pictures, loved the unique quality about our food,” Reisenberg said.
When they asked if Mashita had a food challenge, Reisenberg said he decided to create one for Huang to film in the restaurant for social media.
“It was one of the perfect kind of stops in between southeast Virginia or wherever they’re coming from out of the Carolinas and then hitting [Interstate] 81 and coming up through the area,” Reisenberg said.
It was also a great opportunity to help promote the restaurant’s new expansion, which opened last Friday.
Huang produces her own content, so when she arrived at Mashita, she worked with the kitchen to refine the challenge so it’d make a good competition, staged the food and filmed the entire thing herself.
“I do everything,” Huang said. “The only people I have working for me are the people who reach out to restaurants.”
She said she produced content on YouTube and when she started creating TikTok videos, her following exploded.
Wearing a hot-pink sweatshirt and grey sweatpants, Huang filmed a countdown of the small audience that formed from the lunchtime crowd.
Then, with her bleached blond hair pulled back, she picked up the first bun.
Huang said every competitive eater has their own strategy.
Huang who is of Chinese descent, said she was pretty comfortable with the food in this challenge.
“I grew up eating a lot of buns, so I’m really used to the flavor. When I’m doing a food challenge on something like I’m used to, it’s a lot easier for me to eat,” Huang said. “When I do pizza or pancake challenges, I suck at those because I didn’t eat them growing up.”
For burrito challenges, Huang said she often eats all the fillings first and then the tortilla. For this challenge, she ate the buns whole, gradually vaporizing them from the top of the platters to the bottom.
Every so often, she stopped to take a sip of Coke or hot tea, which the servers kept full.
As the enormous plates of food disappeared, Huang commented on each different flavor of bun. She said the pork belly was buttery and tasty and said Mashita’s buns are much softer and fresher than others she’s had.
When she’s not at eating competitions, Huang, also a professional model, has to maintain a healthy weight. Huang, a slim 5-foot-7, said she stays moving. When she’s at home in Los Angeles, she walks her dog around 5 miles each day and eats healthy food.
“I work out a lot,” Huang said. “When I’m at home, I eat very, very clean. On the tours, you see me do all these challenges, but at home I usually eat pretty much all vegetarian food and like a lot of brown rice and stuff like that.”
Before the 9-minute mark, Huang picked up the last bun and calmly ate it.
She smashed the 15-minute goal. The audience, which now included Reisenberg and all the kitchen staff, cheered.
Reisenberg said he was excited Huang’s booking agent reached out to the restaurant, especially since Mashita opened an expanded dining area just days ago.
Taking over an adjacent commercial space, the restaurant is now capable of seating 80 or 90 people. Before, it had only 14 seats a tiny space that produced a large number of catering and take-out orders.
“When we first opened up, the limitation we ran into was a very small dining room. Once we [had] two tables of six people, we were completely full,” Reisenberg said.
The new area also features a bar area. The restaurant is still working toward getting a liquor license, but it currently offers beer, wine and sake cocktails — drinks made with Japanese rice wine.
“We do a lot of catering, so it’s kind of nice to have our own in-house space to do that,” said Jennifer Hamilton, front of house manager and the catering director. “It was just a six-table restaurant. We definitely needed this space.”
The staff said they needed the extra seating and are excited about what the future holds.
“It will be one of those fun reasons to come [to] the north end of town and enjoy,” Reisenberg said.
Reisenberg said the restaurant will likely keep the challenge for future customers to attempt.
“We’re going to name the challenge probably after her. My staff’s been saying we should make it the Raina Terror. I’m not sure what we’re going to call it,” Reisenberg said.