Chanko-nabe (ちゃんこ鍋), the dish of the sumo wrestlers! It’s a hotpot that contains lots of proteins and carbohydrates that sumo wrestlers consume in copious amounts to bulk up. One pot could easily feed two people with moderate appetites. Sumo wrestlers don’t have breakfast and have their first meal after the training in the morning. They also take an afternoon nap between the two big meals: lunch and dinner, and that’s how they become so big-sized!
We were ravenous after a strenuous bouldering session at Dogwood Climbing Gym in Futakoshinchi, which is just across the Tamagawa river from Tokyo, and found the chanko-nabe restaurant Shibamatsu (芝松) next to the station. The sign has sumo fight painted on it in traditional Japanese style!
Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted with a wall of autographs and photos of sumo wrestlers who had visited this place. Even the owner looked like a sumo wrestler himself :) We consulted our waiter, a big sized, affable man on what to order and he brought out 3 pots to demonstrate the sizes. As the pot for the three people was seriously about the size of a basin, we chose to get one person’s serving of miso flavoured chanko-nabe, recommended to be the most popular amongst the 3 flavours (miso, salt, and soy sauce). We also got a cucumber starter, chicken wings, and yakitori, which was charcoal grilled by a window at the shop front. A yakitori drive-through. Sweet!
The chicken wings deserve a special mention, they were fried to a golden crisp and had a wonderful タレ(tare) glaze. Tare is a savory-sweet soy sauce reduction that is similar to, but not the same as teriyaki sauce. I don’t usually eat the little boney parts (the manus) of the wingette, but this… It left me licking my fingers and chewing on every bit, savoring till the last bite.
And now, on to the chanko-nabe. It pretty much has no fixed recipe, and ingredients are a myriad of proteins and carbs. There were salmon, streaky pork, chicken meat balls (tsukuneつくね), bokchoy, carrots, enoki and shitake mushrooms, and udon noodles simmering in the pot of miso soup. It was a hearty meal that looked and tasted divine! All the flavours came together in a harmonious blend; the fish and meat gave robustness to the broth, and the vegetables brought some sweetness to counter the richness. Perhaps I could be a sumo wrestler too!
In the original sumo way (and archetypal hierarchical Japanese fashion), the table is seated by the highest ranking sumo wrestlers first. After they are done, the next down the ranking ladder take their seats. Meals are served in such a manner, that there’s food left until the most junior sumos get their turn, when there is usually not much left, so cooked rice and an egg is added to the soup. And that’s what we did (but rice only, without an egg)!
It was a really satisfying meal and a great time experiencing the favourite food of sumo wrestlers. I will definitely be back for the chanko-nabe, and to try out more dishes from the menu! The rest of the food is fresh, high quality, and very well prepared. You will definitely ask if you may have sumore ;) Hopefully I will get to see some sumo wrestlers there the next time, and challenge them to a meal! (Just kidding.)