On one of our unstructured (read: free) days, Emilee, Grant, Dylan, Jon, and I set off on a day-long journey to find some sumo wrestlers. We searched high and low, going everywhere from the sumo stables (where they train so, basically, a sumo gym) to the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Arena, where most of the sumo competitions are held in Tokyo. We wandered all over Ryogoku for a chance to see some of these guys either training, competing or even just existing. And, spoiler alert, we found quite a few and we got a few pictures, but the highlight of the day for me was the sumo dish we had for lunch that day.
The quest to find this dish was a long one. After a whole morning of searching for any sign of sumo wrestlers, we decided we needed to boost our morale and there’s no better way to do that than with food. We found the nearest sumo restaurant, thanks to the fact that most, if not all, restaurants in Japan have pictures of the food they serve by their front door. As we walked in, the man at the front escorted us quietly to an elevator to the back of the restaurant and silently sent us to the fourth floor. To be honest, this was mildly confusing to us; we hoped we were in the right place and didn’t stumble into a place where we should not have been. Once we got off we were welcomed to the land of delicious chankonabe.
Chankonabe is a traditional dish that sumo eat to get those gains in. It’s similar to hot pot: a large pot of broth, vegetables and goodness cook on the table in front of you. The stew is comprised of a light broth, usually chicken, with a mixture of different meat like chicken, fried fish balls, tofu and shrimp. As for the vegetables, there’s usually a mix of bok choy, different types of mushrooms (ours had two types of mushrooms in it, as if one wasn’t enough), cabbage and daikon. In both of the instances of meat and vegetables, there is not a set recipe for chankonabe so really anything goes in this case. And if you’re wondering, “this sounds healthy so far,” how does it help sumo wrestlers gain weight? Usually, sumo eat this with a whole load of rice and beer to increase the caloric intake. Also, the large quantity of noodles at the end usually help with that. One of these large servings is meant for one sumo wrestler, but it took five of us to get through it.
All in all, this (and the whole experience of the day) was my favorite meal I had in Japan. It was a collaborative effort to find the meal and then to get through this enormous meal. Chankonabe is something that all people visiting should try to experience. Whether it is warm or cold outside, chankonabe will hit the spot for anyone looking for an experience only found in Japan.