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Chanko Hot Pot: Sumo-size Stew

July 14, 2016

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Diet of Champions

Sumo is not for the weak-hearted –– nor the faint of appetite. When it comes to food, the rikishi eat with the same intensity with which they train.

“They eat chanko nabe 365 days a year,” says Hiro Morita, NHK sumo commentator and a frequent reporter from the stables. “Because it’s full of vegetables and meat, and is really balanced. It’s good for bulking up, especially for younger guys. The point is to eat it with rice, a couple of bowls of chanko, a couple of bowls of rice. The older guys don’t need it so much -- but the younger ones, it really helps them.”

Morita points to the Mongolian wrestler who is sumo’s all-time record holder, with 37 championships. “Look at Hakuho,” he says. “When he first came to Japan he was 60 kilograms. Now he is 160. He gained 100 kilograms – just from eating chanko nabe!”  

One theory about the name chanko is that it describes the paternal relationship between the stablemaster and his young charges: “Chan” is an affectionate word for parent, says Morita, and “ko” means child (“nabe” is the cooking pot). The dish is prepared by lower ranked wrestlers, and eaten in the late morning, after hard practice.

Every stable has its own rules, but most follow a strict hierarchy in how chanko nabe is eaten. The timing of the meal is based around training. Higher-ranked wrestlers generally have the pick of the pot. First up are the yokozuna. Lower-ranked wrestlers get less of the choice morsels. But of course, no one starves. “There will also be many okazu, side dishes,” says Morita. “Perhaps scrambled egg, yakiniku [grilled beef], French fries. Then the wrestlers have the responsibility to rest, to help build themselves up. Then around 3 or 4pm, they will eat again, but maybe this time just yakiniku or something lighter than chanko. At night they might eat just what we eat, curry rice or something like that.” 

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