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Chanko Nabe: Chunk O’ Sumo


Talking to a sumo wrestler about his diet is juxtaposed to how we speak to Western celebrities.  Rather than ask how they stay so thin, the main focus is, “What do you eat to stay so big?”  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to decode the secrets of the sumo wrestler’s physique recently when I joined a special party at Azasu, a cozy neighborhood izakaya located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  Kyokutenho, significant among sumo wrestlers for being the first wrestler since the 1950s to rank at the top of his division past the age of 40, stopped in at the tavern to host a chanko nabe-eating party.

As the Japanese stew was served right out of the nabe (nabe literally means pot), I quickly learned that chanko nabe is no chump.  As I discovered pretty quickly, the famous hot pot dish is the champion component in the sumo wrestler’s bulk-up strategy.  While there isn’t an exact recipe, there are a few fixed rules that need to always be followed.  First, the dish must be filled to the rim with protein.  Second, the dish must contain a lot of vegetables, regardless of type.  And that’s really it.  Everything else is up to the chef.  It doesn’t really matter what combination of meat, broth, and vegetables it is, as long as it follows those specific guidelines.

The chanko nabe I tried was miso-based, and I was surprised at its mild and comfy taste, not too hot and very juicy.  The chanko nabe’s flavor actually can be changed depending on what’s added to the broth, so things such as soy, salt, and spicy kimchee can create different tastes.  Each sumo division actually has its own distinct chanko nabe.  In the end, however, the power of the pot lies in the pounds it produces.  And when it comes to the dinner table, the seniors get first dibs.  In a sumo stable, the highest-ranking wrestlers get first dibs while the lowest-ranking pick at whatever’s left over.

Interestingly enough, very rarely is the meat of chanko nabe anything other than chicken.  Finding pork, beef, or fish in your stew is extremely rare. There’s a superstitious belief among sumo wrestlers that fish, cows, and pigs are considered to be bad luck, especially during tournaments, because unlike chicken, they don’t stand on two feet like a proper sumo wrestler.  To put your hands on the ground in a sumo match results in an instant loss! With chanko nabe, build up the strength of a sumo wrestler.

—– Reported by Michael Goldstein


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As I sat down with the retiring sumo wrestler, Kyokutenho, I learned of the significant attributes of the chanko nabe dish.


While chanko nabe has no fixed recipe, it normally includes chicken broth, vegetables, balled chicken meat, and tofu.


Tofu is considered to be an important ingredient in chanko nabe because of the low amount of calories and large amounts of protein it possesses.


The final hot pot dish is commonly regarded as juicy with a mild and comfy taste.