Learning how to eat like a sumo wrestler in Kyoto


Letters from the Land of the Rising Sun

Dear Rich,

As I prepared for this trip, I watched as many travel shows as possible from Japan. One episode in particular featured the host visiting a sumo wrestler training center and eating chanko nabe, a traditional stew the athletes would eat to build their bulk and get energy. While seeing the actual sumo wrestlers wasn’t too appealing to me, the chanko nabe with beef, pork, chicken and TONS of vegetables sounded like something I would like.tray

Luckily for me, our hosts in Kyoto gave us a handout with nearby points of interest, and a restaurant that specializes in chanko nabe was literally around the corner. Time for dinner!

While most everyone in Tokyo speaks English, you’re lucky to find someone with an elementary-level grasp of the language in some parts of Kyoto — however, most people are willing to try. We entered the restaurant and it was clear that we would have some trouble with communication, but between my 1st-grade grasp of Japanese, the servers’ limited English and some creative sign language, we managed just fine.

Each table was outfitted with a table-top stove and they quickly brought out a pot of semi-solid broth. We were told to wait until the broth started boiling, then to drop in the chicken, pork and spoonfuls of seasoned ground beef for the meatballs. After a few minutes, they told us to dump in the heaping plate of fresh vegetables. Within 20 minutes of sitting down, we were feasting — and it was delicious.

Toward the end of the meal as we were starting to reach the pleasantly stuffed stage, the servers started asking us if we wanted to eat gohan (rice). Without really understanding what they were saying, we agreed… And then they brought out another tray full of food.

This time, the servers dumped a bowl of rice in our remaining broth, drained the excess liquid and let the rice simmer in the soup. After beating a raw egg, they poured that into the rice and mixed it, topping it with nori (seaweed) and some chopped green onions. I probably would have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t just polished off three bowls of chanko nabe!

The walk back to the ryokan after dinner was more of a waddle, but overall the food was delicious and I’m now inspired to look for a good chanko nabe restaurant when I return to California. Hopefully they’ll have servers who speak English and can explain what’s going on a bit easier to understand!


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