When traveling abroad, I rarely buy traditional souvenirs. That’s not to say I don’t keep a momento of my trip. For me, a souvenir is something that reminds you of the time you during that trip. So most of my souvenirs end up being something like some sea glass from Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA, or Tibetan Prayer Flags from my first expedition to the base camp of Mount Everest(I carry these with me everywhere). One of my favorite things to do while traveling is eat. Cuisine can make the trip you’re on just that much better. Being a foodie, it’s something that I always plan for and look forward to. It’s also something I love bringing home with me. While it’s nearly impossible to sneak home a plate of Sambal Kang Kong from Singapore, or Souvlaki from Athens, I go for the next best thing, the Recipe! Ever since being taught how to make the perfect espresso while living in Italy, I’ve made it a point to convince the chef of my favorite dish while traveling, to give me the recipe. Sometimes I’ve been successful, sometimes not so much haha! It’s become a tradition for me while traveling, and I get to see the passion from the chef when he speaks about his food. It’s an amazing experience!
That being said, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Some chefs are very secretive with their food. Some recipes have been handed down for generations. It doesn’t always come on the first try. It may take 2 or 3 tries, or maybe more. I’ve struck out many times. I thought this was the case with the recipe for Chanko Nabe. While exploring the different districts within Tokyo, I came across the Ryogoku District, or what’s commonly referred to as ‘Sumo Town.’
Ryogoku is the heartland of professional sumo. Most training stables or heya are based there. The first Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium for sumo was completed in 1909. You can almost instantly tell the you’re in Ryogoku because the rikishi(Sumo) wrestlers are a very common sight. There are many sumo stables in Ryogoku and it’s also the site of three out of the six professional Grand Sumo Tournaments. Because of the stables, stadium, and the rikishi that call it home, Ryogoku earned the title ‘Sumo Town.’ Many ex rikishi continue to call Ryogoku home as well. It’s a common sight to see them open up training stables or restaurants, still faithfully serving the sport they once gave their lives to. This is how I met Tadashi Kawasaki and his family.
After watching a few practice matches, I stumbled upon Kawasaki Chanko. Kawasaki Chanko is a Chanko Nabe restaurant and was started in 1937 by Tadashi Kawasaki’s father, a sumo wrestler by the name Yokoteyama. Chanko Nabe is a flavored stew that you dump whatever is handy into it. Prepared by the junior wrestlers, Chanko Nabe is famed for fattening up sumo wrestlers after practice. So it’s an easy transition for many ex rikishi to become restaurant owners and Kawasaki Chanko has become quite famous for the Chanko Nabe it serves. It is a single story, traditional, wooden house from the Tashio era and is currently run by Tadashi Kawasaki, his wife and son.
Every time I would have downtime when flying through Tokyo, I would pay Kawasaki-San a visit, if not just to pester him for his recipe. Over the course of a few years and many trips to Tokyo, my charisma and winning personality won Kawasaki-San over and I was handed the map to a tasty secret. Even though I’m not the cook Kawasaki-San is, the Chanko Nabe turned out fantastic!
While there is nothing like having this dish in the middle of ‘Sumo Town’, surrounded by rikishi and the training stables, you can enjoy this wonderful spoonful of Japanese culinary history without leaving your own home! You can even turn on a sumo match on TV!
Dashi (Chicken Broth)
Prepare the broth a earlier in the day, if not the day before.
1 whole chicken or carcass with wings.
2 negi or 4 scallions, green parts only
1 inch of ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/4 thick pieces
4 cloves garlic, peeled
20 cups of water
Wash chicken under running water and set it aside.
Boil water in a kettle and pour over chicken. This process is called ‘Shimofuri’ and is a pre-bath for the chicken before it goes into the pot. This helps remove the smell and scum from the chicken.
Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat and bring to a simmer, allowing the chicken to cook for approximately 4-6 hours. Occasionally use spoon to remove scum from the surface.
Use cheese cloth over a strainer to strain broth, discarding any solids. Reserve broth in the fridge overnight, removing any excess oil. If you want to use the meat, you can remove the breasts after an hour. Leaving remaining parts in the pot to make the broth.
1 cup sake
4 tsp salt
The Vegetables and Tofu:
1/2 head of Napa cabbage, roughly chopped
1/3 daikon, peeled and sliced into 1/2 moons, 1/” thick
1 onion, chopped into 1/4 strips
1 carrot, cut into 1/2 moons , 1/4 thick
3 cloves of garlic
4 shiitake mushrooms, sliced on top
1 cup enoki mushrooms
1 cup shimeji mushrooms
1 negi or 2 scallions, chopped
1 package yaki dofu (broiled tofu, can substitute firm tofu)
1 package abura age
1/2 bunch of mizuna greens
1 package of shirataki noodles
1 lb chicken, leg meat or buffalo style legs and wings (optional)
Chicken Tsumire (Chicken Meatballs):
1 lb ground chicken(leg meat, if possible)
1/4 onion, minced
2/3 tbsp katakuriko(potato starch) or cornstarch
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 tbsp sake(optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
* You can find the hard to get ingredients at pretty much any Japanese grocer or Asian market.
At the table, set the donabe(hot pot) on a portable stove, in the middle of the table. Season 8 cups of dashi(broth) with sake and salt to taste. Reserve remaining chicken broth to replenish the hot pot.
Combine ingredients for tsumire balls with your hands in a large bowl, reserve in the fridge. The tsumire will be cooked at the table.
Add leg meat and using two spoons, make tsumire balls, using approximately 1 1/2 tbsp of the tsumire mixture, and drop them gently into the broth. Repeat until mixture is gone or reserve half if doing multiple rounds. Cook until tsumire floats freely. Add tofu at this time and cook for 4-5 minutes.
Serve 1-2 tsumire with vegetables, and broth, or people can serve themselves. Any remaining broth can be used for a second round, or to make ojiya, a porridge, by adding a few cups of cooked rice and an egg.
Whether you decide to visit Kawasaki-San in Rygoku, Cook Chanko Nabe yourself, or try to do both, Chanko Nabe can be as small or as large as you want! And with the weather turning colder, it’s perfect for inviting friends and family over to enjoy.
1. While there are many variations of Chanko Nabe that use prawns, crab and other meats like pork, traditional Chanko Nabe is made exclusively with chicken, the idea being that a rikishi(sumo) wrestler should always be on two legs like a chicken, not on all fours like a pig.
2. Before you go to visit Kawasaki Chanko, make sure you reserve a spot in advance. And reservations are only accepted for groups of four or more people. The restaurant is very popular. Especially since it is located right next to the Sumo stables. You can watch a match and eat like the rikishi wrestlers once the day is done.
3. The broth is what makes the Chanko Nabe. While tedious, it’s well worth the effort. And if you have any of that rich, flavorful broth left, you can add a couple of bowls of rice and prepare ojiya porridge, topped with a soft-cooked egg. It’s delicious!
4. Typically, a hot pot like Chanko Nabe is cooked at the table on a portable stove and eaten communally, or Family Style. It can also be entirely cooked in the kitchen, then served at the table. I also recommend getting a donabe pot(Japanese Clay Hot Pot), which are easily found online or at an Asian market. But you can use a traditional dutch oven as well.
5. The address to Kawasaki Chanko is
2-13-1, Ryogoku, Sumida-ku, Tokyo 130-0026
And can directions can also be found below.
- The Dashi
- 1 cup sake
- 4 tsp salt
- The Vegetables and Tofu
- ½ head of Napa cabbage, roughly chopped
- ⅓ daikon, peeled and sliced into ½ moons, 1/" thick
- 1 onion, chopped into ¼ strips
- 1 carrot, cut into ½ moons , ¼ thick
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 4 shiitake mushrooms, sliced on top
- 1 cup enoki mushrooms
- 1 cup shimeji mushrooms
- 1 negi or 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 package yaki dofu(broiled tofu, can substitute firm tofu)
- 1 package abura age
- ½ bunch of mizuna greens
- 1 package of shirataki noodles
- 1 lb chicken, leg meat or buffalo style legs and wings (optional)
- * You can find the hard to get ingredients at pretty much any Japanese grocer or Asian market.
- Chicken Tsumire (Chicken Meatballs)
- 1 lb ground chicken(leg meat, if possible)
- ¼ onion, minced
- ⅔ tbsp katakuriko(potato starch) or cornstarch
- 1 tbsp ginger, grated
- 1 tbsp sake(optional)
- 1 egg
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- At the table, set the donabe(hot pot) on a portable stove, in the middle of the table. Season 8 cups of dashi(broth) with sake and salt to taste. Reserve remaining chicken broth to replenish the hot pot.
- Combine ingredients for tsumire balls with your hands in a large bowl, reserve in the fridge. The tsumire will be cooked at the table.
- Pour the dashi into the donabe(hot pot) and heat over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil and lower heat. Add vegetables and cook at a simmer for approximately 4-5 minutes.
- Add leg meat and using two spoons, make tsumire balls, using approximately 1½ tbsp of the tsumire mixture, and drop them gently into the broth. Repeat until mixture is gone or reserve half if doing multiple rounds. Cook until tsumire floats freely. Add tofu at this time and cook for 4-5 minutes.
- Add greens during the last minute, but be sure not to over cook them. Skim any scum you may see. Taste broth and make any adjustments accordingly.
- Serve 1-2 tsumire with vegetables, and broth, or people can serve themselves. Any remaining broth can be used for a second round, or to make ojiya, a porridge, by adding a few cups of cooked rice and an egg.