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Chanko Hot Pot: Sumo-size Stew

July 14, 2016

The sumo wrestler's main meal forms a delicious ritual that brings diners together. It's easy to make and tastes richer and deeper the longer it cooks.

Pillars of Strength

It takes a lot to become a sumo wrestler. It takes commitment, training and, of course, food. Plenty of food. The communal hot pot, or chanko nabe, is a major component of these oversize athletes' lives. The bubbling cauldrons of meat, fish, and vegetables represent food as both social event and nutritional force. Chanko nabe is also delicious.

Sumo on TV might look exotic – even strange. It is part-sport, part-ancient ritual. The wrestlers, known as rikishi, pay their respects to the gods. A bout may be over in seconds, but the preparations before every clash are meticulous. The fighters wipe themselves, rinse their mouths, stamp their feet, and cast handfuls of purifying salt.

When a bout starts, it is explosive. If the rikishi look like fantasy characters from a distance, up-close they are entirely human, all sweat and grime, smelling of hair oil and sports ointment, fingers taped to protect injuries, their knees and shoulders bandaged.

Anyone who hasn't been to sumo…should go. There is nothing in the sports world to match the atmosphere of a tournament, from the actual physical enormity of the man-mountain wrestlers, to the ancient wails of the referees, and the smell of straw and earth. When two rikishi collide, you feel the force of their combined weight, in the hundreds of kilograms.

Sumo Basics

Fought by two wrestlers in a ring made of packed earth and rice straw.
The object is to force your opponent out of the ring or to make him touch the ground with any body part other than the feet.
A bout starts as the wrestlers charge at each other.
The most-watched bouts are between wrestlers of the five ranks in the top division, with grand champions, or yokozuna, at the top.
Wrestlers belong to different stables. There are 44 sumo stables.
There are six tournaments per year, three in Tokyo. Tournaments run for 15 days.
Wrestlers practice hard and eat to bulk up. Each stable has its variation on the basic food, chanko nabe.

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