Chanko Nabe: A Taste of Sumo Town

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.
Ingredients:

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

6 peppercorns

20 cups of water

Method:

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.

Chanko-Nabe

Ingredients:

The Dashi:

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 egg

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.

Method:
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 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.

 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.

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.


Here are some tips for visiting Kawasaki Chanko and when making Chanko Nabe yourself:

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.

 

Chanko Nabe
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: Japanese
Serves: 6-8
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. Combine ingredients for tsumire balls with your hands in a large bowl, reserve in the fridge. The tsumire will be cooked at the table.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

89 thoughts on “Chanko Nabe: A Taste of Sumo Town

  1. Very cool idea to bring home the recipe of dishes you really enjoyed while travelling! Me … I always bring home chocolate. No surprise! But as well, I try to bring back some local art. Those precious pieces of art help keep the travel memories alive.

  2. Lucky you to get Chanko Nabe recipe!! I want one too. I am native Japanese but never been to Chanko Nabe restaurant, I would like to try one day. Getting recipe from destinations you traveled is a great idea. I did one in Italy. Your photos look fantastic, make me more miss Japanese food!! I can even see Yuzu Kosyo in the photo! I am going to a Japanese grocery store here in Brisbane now to get Yuzu kosyo. Thank you for sharing the recipe! When winter approach here, I am going to make this to invite people over for tasting Japanese food<3

    1. Yes! It’s a perfect winter dish! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! If you do get to try out a Chanko Nabe restaurant, make sure you stop by Kawasaki Chanko! It’s my favorite 🙂 what recipe dos you do when you visited Italy?

  3. You had me at sumo stew! What a beautiful and I bet, incredibly fragrant, dish. Looks like one worth spending a little time on and sharing with friends. Thanks for sharing this recipe and such a great story:)

    1. Fragrant is an understatement! It’s a blast with friends, and it gets everyone involved, making dinner a lot of fun! I’m happy you enjoyed the post! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. First off, creative idea on taking recipes as a souvenir! I have a friend who doesn’t necessarily ask the chef for specific recipes at restaurants, but instead attends cooking classes in every area she visits. I would love to do both! Interesting how the Chanko Nabe is only made with chicken because sumo wrestlers should be on two leags instead of four like a pig!

    1. Cooking classes are a great way to get a great recipe too! I need to start taking more of them, up my skills haha! Japan is full of neat and interesting analogies. This one isn’t used as much as before, especially be use of the seafood and shell fish that comes easily in Japan, but they do keep a ritual of eating only chicken before a big match as well as a few of the Chanko restaurants try to keep it as old school(authentic) as possible. It’s an amazing dish!

  5. Oh, these dishes look terrific and if they taste as good as they look you must be very proud of yourself for being able to cook them. I think it’s great that you try to collect recipes from wherever you go and make the dishes at home. I don’t have a passion for cooking, but I can understand yours.

    1. Thank you! They taste amazing! But that’s more of the recipe than myself. My passion for cooking came from my passion for eating. When I couldn’t find something I was craving, I attempted to make it. It was trial and a lot of error, but I succeeded with a few! What do you collect as a momento when you’re traveling?

  6. Totally agree recipes are the best souvenir. We do the same and love showing off when we get back home. Another souvenir we love is currency. You’ll always have leftovers but the storage of them is the challenge!

    Your Chanko Nabe looks DIVINE btw

  7. Well done getting hold of the recipe, when the weather cools down a bit I’d love to try it. I was very nervous about eating Chanko Nabe the first time, we’ve all heard how it’s the secret to fattening up sumo wrestlers and I really don’t need any extra help with putting on the pounds but actually it’s a tasty and fairly healthy dish if you watch your portion size.

    1. You and me both haha! From what I understand, it’s not only the quantity that they eat, but how and when they eat it. The have an interesting regimen. Lots of afternoon naps too, which I need to incorporate into my life!

  8. I’ve actually never heard of this dish so you succeeded in teaching me something new as well as making me hungry. The idea of blending the tastes of saki, chicken, ginger and mushrooms is really appealing to me. I’m going to bookmark this recipe and make it for my Japanese friend when I return to Vancouver. Wish me luck!

  9. I have never had Chanko Nabe, but love Japanese cuisine in general so I’ll definitely give it a try! I also love to take home recipes from my trips, but you really seem to have it down to a fine art and clearly have a lot of patience to go through several attempts: in my case, sometimes I take a cooking class, but sometimes I just end up scouting the web once back home – thanks to posts like this, that can work out like quite a treat 😉

    1. It’s a neat place Erica. It’s official name is Ryogoku and it has many things to do. It’s home of the Edo period museum as well! It’s a quick trip up the Sumida River if you take one of the cruises!

  10. It’s such a lovely and original way to keep mementos of your trips! They’re almost like living memories too. And I’m impressed by your persuasive powers of getting them as well.

  11. Wow, you finally got the recipe! I love Japanese food and chanko nabe sounds and looks like a winner. I was just wondering…no soy sauce??? Unusual! Can’t wait to try! Thanks so much for sharing with us this great recipe!

    1. I love Japanese food as well! When you eat in a Chanko restaurant, they have a few condiments you can use to spice up the dish, such as soy sauce and some different ground peppers. It honestly doesn’t need it, it’s very savory with out it! Let me know what you think when you try it!

    1. It’s delicious! You can always make it without the tofu. This tofu is a bit different than regular tofu, since it’s broiled or fried. Definitely go check out sumo town! It’s a blast!

  12. Yum, yum, yum. You’re just like me. I’m not big on souvenirs but beach glass and foodie treats are our most frequent treats. We did spend a lot at the Spice Market in Istanbul and it’s awesome to enjoy a little bit of our travels with each recipe we make.

    1. I love the spice market! Istanbul is one of my favorite places! It’s all about the small things when traveling, and stuff like recipes and beach glass, etc bring back all those incredible memories!

  13. It just shows you that connections can be made in the simplest of ways! Good food being one of the best of course! Chanko Nabe looks like a realtively involved dish to make, but also as though it tastes delicious! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

    1. It truly is a great way Charli! Chank Nabe is really simple, just involves a lot of chopping. You can also substitute regular chicken stock for the dashi if you can’t spend the time to make it. It’s not as good, but will do the trick. Definitely try it if you can, you won’t regret it!

  14. Congratulations on your perseverance! I love authentic Japanese food but I don’t eat chicken. And the dish actually looks a bit complicated for a simple cook like me. But I do applaud your tactics in going after the souvenir you really wanted.

    1. Thank you! The great thing about Chanko Nabe is you can honestly put whatever you want into it. Some modern takes on it feature different shellfish and seafood options, especially since they’re plentiful in Japan. You could even concoct a vegetarian version. Thank you for your warm comments and for stopping by!

  15. Thx for the great recipe! I actually don’t have that much experience with Japanese food, Japan is still on my bucket list and I mostly link it to sushi, but with direct flights now available from Brussels, I’m sure I’ll get there soon to try all of their food. It’s actually a great tip to ask chefs their recipe, I’ll have to try that. I always buy a local cooking book to add to my already big collection, great for cooking at home and great as a souvenir!

  16. What a great idea! I guess most of the chefs at normal restaurants won’t say a thing about their recipes, but maybe the local ones are more approachable. It’s a nice way of interacting with the locals and finding more about their culture.
    By the way, that looks delicious!

    1. It is delicious Hugo! It’s why I had to have the recipe haha! I agree with you, most regular restaurants are a bit hesitant. And It was the case with this one as well. The best thing about getting the recipe was gaining a friend. That’s why I think I got it in the first place.

  17. I always end up buying some souvenirs, even though my backpack is heavy. The idea of carrying recipes though is totally cool. I would love to be able to reproduce at home the incredible food I have when I travel. It’s not always easy to find the ingredients, but as cities in Europe become more multicultural, I will have to give it a try. Thanks for the recipes 🙂

  18. Wow! Perseverance pays off! I am the same in regards to bringing home little random items from my travels. I haven’t ever thought to get a recipe though. I have an absolute favorite dish from india that I am constantly trying to recreate.. Maybe I need to work on them for the recipe 🙂

    The dish looks fabulous! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Oh! I haven’t heard of a Chanko before. It looks delicious and I love the story behind the dish. I definitely think I could make it but I’d have to leave out the mushrooms.

  20. Absolutely one of the things I do when I travel. Bring back some recipes, both food and drinks. Yes! It does take some convincing, but it is worth it. I have never heard about or eaten Chanko Nabe, but it really looks so delicious I will give it a try after Christmas.

    1. It’s definitely worth the effort! And the best thing about it, is you end up with a friend afterwards! One of my favorite experiences getting a recipe was for hot chocolate in Italy. Absolutely delicious and an incredible journey to get it!

  21. I love this post! Much like you, I love learning recipes of the amazing dishes that I have tried in my travels 🙂 Japan is high on my list ( I LOVE THAT COUNTRY TO BITS) so it’s great to see a ‘piece’ of it through your post. Hopefully I get to visit next year!

  22. A recipe is such an authentic souvenir! I love learning how to cook local dishes, but usually through a cooking class. I admire your tenacity for asking (repeatedly) for a chef to share his/her secrets. It is nice to be able to cook a favorite dish at home. I recently did this with some of my newfound Thai cooking skills. It was a big success, although my kitchen looked like a tornado hit it! 🙂

  23. I would never think to ask a chef for their recipe; I guess I assumed they’d always want to keep it a secret. It’s cool you’ve been able to get recipes a few times as the food of a country can be one of the most important parts of the culture. I recently took a cooking class in Thailand and loved the experience.

  24. This is a great way to bring the travel’s experience back to your home! I’m sure that it`s not easy to get such precious recipes from chefs. During our travels we ask to visit the kitchen from some restaurants, just to have a look on how the dishes are prepared. Have to say that we did not succeed 100% of our tries.
    The Chankon Nabe recipe is an interesting mix of ingredients, my hubby is willing to give a try 🙂 tks for sharing the recipe!

  25. That looks amazing and it’s such a good idea to bring home recipes as souvenirs. I’m a foodie myself and I’ve never thought of this, though I do try to bring home local flavor in the form of sauces, seasonings, or other “non perishable” foods. I am a foodie, but unfortunately not much of a cook. I still may need to try this recipe out though. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Mags, I feel ya haha! It took a lot of trial and mostly error to become a decent cook. I still mess up considerably! But that’s the fun part! It’s like eating the cookie dough off the beaters haha! Don’t give up!

  26. Well done on getting the recipe – yes, many chefs are very guarded about sharing, because it is their art and their livelihood after all. It’s lovely that you found one who is happy to share.

  27. I love the idea of bringing home recipes. We recently were in Nepal to hike to Everest Base Camp and also brought the prayer flags 🙂 now that we’re home, we tried to make Dal Bhat but no matter how we try it, it’s not as good as the Nepali make it…

    1. Exactly! That’s why recipes are the perfect souvenir! I have an old ledger from the military and that’s where I keep everything! Almost like a food journal. And it looks like hell haha!

  28. Food is one of my favorite ways to experience a destination too. I also collect recipes from my travels and when I can I like to take a cooking class. A meal is always better when there is a story behind it.

  29. Looks so delicious. While time-consuming, I’d love to make this at home. One of my best meals of the year was at a Ramen House in the Asian district of San Diego. They start the broth the night before and have a special noodle cooker for each serving. Great pictures here too.

  30. This recipe looks delicious–I would love to make it sometime! We stayed near the sumo area when we were in Tokyo, but unfortunately, no one was practicing as the tournaments were going on somewhere else that week. I was bummed because I would have loved to watch a bit! Looks like fun and the food looks really good!

  31. You have made a beautiful looking nabe there, nabe is one of my favourite dishes to make at home. I’m like you and don’t purchase a lot of traditional souvenirs when travelling, but I do purchase cooking or food related items. I tend to take another suitcase with me when i visit Japan……..

  32. I always pass by a restaurant serving Chanko Nabe, and it always has a super long line! Now I have a better understanding why, and another addition to the list of places to go to in Tokyo!

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