Discover Chanko Nabe, the food of Sumo wrestlers (recommended places included)

After watching Sumo Wrestling in Ryogoku, you might question how the Sumo wrestlers maintain their large and powerful bodies. Are they eating unhealthy food every day? No. They eat a notoriously healthy dish that makes their bodies strong. Chanko Nabe (Hot Pot with miscellaneous ingredients) is crucial energy for the fighters.

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What is Chanko Nabe?

A typical Chanko Nabe

Chanko basically means any kind of food cooked by sumo wrestlers. The most well known Chanko is Chanko-Nabe (ちゃんこ鍋), nabe meaning hot-pot. Sumo wrestlers eat this hot pot everyday after training. Unlimited combinations of ingredients and seasonings make their everyday food taste different. A variety of ingredients, including lots of vegetables, also gives the food balanced nutrients necessary for developing a strong body.

Chicken is a common ingredient in Chanko Nabe, pork and beef being avoided by sumo wrestlers. The reason is not is not nutritional; like many other old arts in Japan, it is heavily influenced by beliefs and symbolism. In sumo, you lose if any body parts other than bottom of your feet touch the ground. Birds stand on their two legs, whereas cows and pigs are on four legs : animals standing on four legs reminds the wrestlers of loosing a match. That’s why many Sumo wrestlers will eat chicken in their meals, especially during tournaments

Is the Sumo wrestlers’ diet unhealthy?

Having more body weight is an advantage on your opponent in sumo wrestling. (Source: The Japan Times)

One of the objectives of the sumo wrestlers is to become large and heavy. Unlike other martial arts, there are no weight categories in sumo, so having more body weight is an advantage on your opponent. Eating is an important part of the job of a sumo wrestler. It is said that Sumo wrestlers take in about 8000 kcal per day. This is 4 times larger than what an adult woman takes in per day. Surprisingly, their body fat is relatively low. According to NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), average Sumo wrestlers have between 23 and 25% of body fat. This figure is lower than that of the younger generation of Japanese people these days. If you ever get the chance to see a sumo wrestler close, you can see they are very muscular.

Sumo wrestlers usually eat only two meals par day, lunch and dinner. They skip breakfast because they can’t have food before intense training in the early morning. After training, Chanko Nabe is served to the exhausted and hungry wrestlers. However, priority is given to the head coach and upper ranking wrestlers. Lower rank wrestlers first have to serve the Chanko Nabe to the upper ranked members and only after that, are allowed to eat. It is said that one of the reasons young wrestlers are so motivated to move up the ranks, is in order to get their food earlier!

Why sumo wrestlers become great cooks

Sumo wrestlers cook their own meals.

Most “chanko restaurants” are shops opened by retired sumo wrestlers! This might seem surprising, but retired sumo wrestlers are not just the owners of these places: most of the time they are master chefs.

The reason behind this is that sumo wrestlers prepare their food by themselves. This is an old tradition in the sumo world.
Because they cook often, there are many sumo wrestlers who become really great cooks. Ironically, some sumo wrestlers get better at cooking than in wrestling… 

Our list of recommended restaurants

Ryogoku is the historic area for sumo wrestling in Tokyo, where the Tokyo sumo stadium ( called Kokugikan) is located. It is home to many Chanko-Nabe restaurants. It’s the best place to go and enjoy the food. If you are going when Sumo tournaments are taking place at the Kokugikan, make sure to make advanced reservation at the restaurant.

Here a special selection from all the staff at Tadaima Japan:

1.Chanko Tomoegata (ちゃんこ巴潟)

Address:  17-6-2 Ryogoku Sumida-ku Tokyo 130-0026

Official Website (Japanese Only): Chanko Tomoegata

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This restaurant prepares 4 different flavors of Chanko Nabe: soy sauce, salt, sour soy sauce, and miso.

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One of the restaurant specialties, Kunimiyama-Chanko (using a salted broth). Ingredients are meats (chicken and beef), seafood (clams, scallops, and others), minced fish balls and vegetables.

Dining rooms have a sumo-like atmosphere, exhibiting sumo related collections. Ask for the large sake bowl (replica) from which Sumo wrestlers drink from when celebrating a tournament win, when you take photos. The friendly staff will help you.

Matt-san

2.Kirishima (霧島)

Address: 2-13-7 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku, Tokyo 130-0026

Official Website (Japanese only): Kirishima

This restaurant was established by the famous former Sumo wrestler, Kirishima. After retiring as a wrestler, he became a head coach of a sumo stable and is currently training sumo wrestlers.

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A dining room with a Sumo Manga wall drawn by a former Sumo wrestler Kototsurugi

Kirishima’s Chanko-Nabe uses soup drained from chicken and pork bones in 4 different flavors; soy sauce, miso, salt and kimuchi. The soy sauce flavor includes minced sardines, and the other flavors include minced chicken.

The soy sauce taste Chanko-Nabe
The soy sauce taste Chanko-Nabe

3.Chanko Dining Ami (ちゃんこダイニング安美)

Address: 3 Chome-24-1 Ryogoku, Sumida, Tokyo 130-0026

Official Website: Chanko Dining Ami

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A dining room with Sumo wrestlers’ hand prints

Various flavors of Chanko-Nabe are available, including a rare curry flavor and tantan Chanko.

The curry Chanko

If you liked this article, we recommend you read: Sumo: Japanese wrestling

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AUTHOR

Amelie

Amelie

Writer / Translator

I’m French but I’ve been living in Tokyo for many years during which I had a lot of meaningful and thrilling experiences. I’m curious and I love learning new things. My hobbies are kick boxing, scuba diving, Japanese traditional painting, etc… As a writer, I’d like to share information about less touristic, more authentic places. I will also write about all the fun and cultural activities unique to Japan.