Sumo

Sumo 101: Chanko

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Sumo wrestlers don’t eat before training.

An average workout is so intense that attempting to do one on a full stomach inevitably leads to the person getting sick less than an hour in.

Instead, the first meal of the day for rikishi is the post-training chanko-nabe (one-pot dish).

While commonly assumed to refer to the stew eaten post-practice, chanko is just sumo jargon for food in general and can be used to describe anything a wrestler eats, including curry and rice or fast food.

Preparation for the first meal of the day begins before training finishes. While the top-ranked wrestlers are still in the ring, some of the lower rankers are in the kitchen chopping and slicing the various vegetables and meats that will go into the giant pot.

Chanko duty rotates in stables with a lot of wrestlers, but in many stables there is a veteran rikishi who is in charge of the cooking.

Each stable has its own chanko recipes and of course no one wants to eat the same thing every day, so rikishi learn how to cook many variations of the stew as well as other dishes. These skills are often put to good use after retirement, and former wrestlers often find themselves working in restaurants or opening their own establishments.

Some chanko eateries go a step further and are housed in former stable buildings, allowing customers to eat sumo-style food while sitting around a genuine practice ring.

Many sumo wrestlers are superstitious, and as a result many prefer to have chicken rather than pork or beef in their chanko during tournaments.

The reason behind this is that chickens stand on two legs — just as a wrestler does while fighting — but animals with four legs resemble a rikishi who has been knocked or pulled to the ground.