Sumo Wrestlers' Stew

Serves 4


Chanko is the staple diet of the sumo wrestlers. Every day, while the senior wrestlers are resting after their 6-hour morning workout, the younger ones retire to the kitchen, to chop up meat or seafood and vegetables. The highest ranking wrestlers eat first. They sit cross-legged, naked except for the wide loincloth-like belts which they wear while they are training, and help themselves out of great simmering pots full of food.

Practically anything can go into a chanko stew. The only rule seems to be that it is based on either meat or fish but not usually both. Fortunately the cause of the sumo wrestlers' vast size is not the contents of the chanko but the amount that they eat-dieters have no need to worry!

This recipe is served during sumo tournaments and features chicken because four-legged animals (down on all fours) and fish (no hands or feet) might be bad luck. The quantities, as one might expect, are rather large; you may want to halve them.


1 medium chicken
2-3 leeks, washed and trimmed
4 carrots, peeled
1 daikon radish, peeled
1 medium or large potato, peeled
10-12 shiitake mushrooms (if using dry ones, soak
   in warm water until soft)
2 medium onions, peeled
1 medium cabbage, washed
1-2 cakes deep-fried tofu (aburage) (optional)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 teaspoon salt



Bone the chicken and cut the meat into chunks 1-1/2 to 2 inches, reserving the bones. Cut the leeks and 3 of the carrots into bite-sized pieces. Put the chicken bones, leeks, and carrots into a large saucepan, fill it with water, and bring to the boil. Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 3 hours to make stock, then strain.

Cut the daikon and potato into bite-sized pieces and parboil in lightly salted water in a separate pot; drain. Cut off and discard the mushroom stalks; cut the mushroom caps and the onion into quarters. Chop the cabbage into small pieces, and cut the remaining carrot and the deep-fried tofu (if used) into chunks.


To Cook and Serve:
Put the chicken meat and all the vegetables except the daikon and potato into the stock pot, together with the soy sauce. Add the daikon and potato when the other vegetables are cooked. Season to taste with mirin and salt and simmer a few minutes more. Serve hot.

When the stew is finished, hungry wrestlers sometimes top up the remaining soup with cooked udon noodles.


At the Japanese Table:
New and Traditional Recipes

By Lesley Downer
Chronicle Books, September 2001
Paperback, 224 pages, $16.95
ISBN: 0-8118-3280-5
Recipe reprinted by permission.


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