The Sumo Scene / Eating Is Also Part of Training, Goes Beyond Just a Boiling Pot of Stew

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former wrestler Ryuo, right, shows some of the dishes at a recently opened chanko restaurant in Tokyo where he is the manager.

When you hear the word “chanko,” what kind of cuisine comes to mind? No doubt, many would answer a bubbling pot of stew.

But in the sumo world, chanko is not limited to what comes out of the cauldron. It also includes curry rice, fried foods, sashimi — basically any dish that a sumo wrestler eats.

Unlike the typical household, sumo wrestlers generally eat two meals a day. The first meal comes around noon following the morning practice session, and is vital for replenishing the energy expended during the rigorous training.

The seasoning and menu vary from one stable to the next, with each having its own distinct recipe.

To give the general public a chance for a “taste of a sumo stable,” many retired wrestlers open chanko restaurants. Recently, a restaurant called Chanko Dining Ryu opened in Kinshicho, Tokyo, featuring the flavor of the Miyagino stable, which produced former yokozuna Hakuho.

The restaurant is managed by Erkhem-Ochiryn Sanchirbold, the real name of the former makuuchi division wrestler called Ryuo, a Mongolian native who was Hakuho’s elder in the stable. Another former wrestler who handled the chanko duties during his active days is now the head chef of the restaurant.

In addition to the chanko stew, the menu also features “salty braised pork” and other items that are staples of the stable’s nighttime meal aimed at building bulky bodies. “We want to change the perception of chanko cuisine as expensive, and make the restaurant accessible to everyone,” Ryuo said.

For a sumo wrestler, his body is an “asset.” His main job is to hone a physique that can defeat opponents, and that’s why it is often said, “Eating is also part of training.”

When a gangly Hakuho first arrived in Japan at 15, he weighed only about 60 kilograms. However, he ardently dug into the chanko and rapidly grew bigger, with his rise to the ultimate rank of yokozuna a well-documented episode in sumo history.

While the average person would find it extremely difficult to emulate Haku-ho and consume that much, a stop at a chanko restaurant can offer a glimpse into the source of a sumo wrestler’s power.

— Kamimura is a sumo expert.