Chanko-nabe, like other nabemono, is a rich stew of vegetables, fish and meat, but its motifs and style come from the sumo world. Whereas other nabemono emphasize the beauty and bountifulness of the meal by artfully displaying the ingredients, chanko-nabe emphasizes the heartiness and king-size associated with the sumo wrestler. Here, a large pot is brought to the table, already brim-full of vegetables and meats, and a huge feast is set aboiling in front of the diners. For the hungry diner, a satisfying meal is guaranteed.
History of Chanko-NabeThe chanko-nabe dishes were developed as a training and body-building food for sumo wrestlers. The word chanko has a very homey sound as it is derived from chan, the intimate family form of address since this is how the novices who prepare the food address their elders and idols.
In general, the ingredients of chanko-nabe are cheaper than those of nabemono because in the sumo world, only the highest ranking wrestlers are paid a salary and also, because the visual display of the ingredients at the table is secondary for giant sumo wrestlers. They are mainly interested in chowing down. In fact, sumo wrestlers sometimes simply boil a pot full of meats chopped across the bone with vegetables shredded in their powerful hands.
Sumo wrestlers live and work together at their coach's gym, or "stable." They eat only twice a day: after their morning practice at 11:00 a.m. and again at 7:00 p.m. It is believed that food "sticks to their bones" better after the sixty-minute period of heavy exercise in the morning.
The well-known American-born sumo wrestler, Jesse Kuhauluaknown in sumo circles as Takamiyama ("mountain seen on high")-described his first impressions of eating in a sumo stable in 1964 as follows:
"The stablemaster and other oyakata (bosses) sit down first, then the highest ranked sekitori wrestlers, and so on down to the lowliest, who must wait until everyone else has had his fill and picked out all the choicest morsels. We were told that if we wanted to eat well, we'd just have to train hard and become sekitori wrestlers." Takamiyama, who is six foot three (191 cm), weighing in at 438 pounds (198.5 kgs) did exactly what his coach suggested and fought his way to the top.
In Japan, Chanko-nabe restaurants are often decorated with sumo pictures and paraphernalia. Any "fat" man behind the counter is sure to lend a jolly atmosphere to a chanko-nabe restaurant. This is because the Japanese consider sumo wrestlers to be entertainers. They are often excellent singers, as attested to by the many wrestlers' recordings of enkaa Japanese ballad form of singing. Long years of apprenticeship prepare the sumotori's skill both as a celebrity and a cook and so it's not surprising that many retired sumo wrestlers open restaurants, both the chanko-nabe variety and others.