Inspired, I decided to delve into the mysterious world of the sumo wrestler’s diet.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the massive size of some of these athletes. You may think the sumo wrestler is just built that way but in fact, they go through an intense training schedule that also builds up their bulk.
When I think of sumo wrestlers, I often have images of hefty men devouring a box of donuts with cream to boot but one must credit the Japanese, this is an ancient art form and it has its own set of cultural rules and a rigorous regime of eating, that does not include frequent trips to the donut shop.
CHUNKY STEW MAKES CHUNKY MEN
Sumo was an institutionalized sport by the late 18th Century in Japan and became a national sport in 1927.
Sumo represents many facets of Japanese society – a potent mixture of meditation, spirituality, self-defense, exercise, art, history and philosophy.
So, why are the rikishi required to be so fat? The theory is that having a jolly belly and heavy legs lowers the person’s centre of gravity, making it harder to anyone to push you over. And, in sumo, the rikishi use their mass to propel them towards their opponent, thus toppling them over.
There’s a strict hierarchy to sumo. Young apprentice rikishi join a “stable” of sumo wrestlers where they all live, eat and work together. The senior wrestlers grow strong by tossing around their younger counterparts, literally. The young wrestlers aren’t paid but help the senior rikishi by scrubbing their backs, massaging their injuries and cooking their meals, mostly chankonabe — the spine of the sumo wrestler’s diet. (SOURCE: Gastronomica 2004)
Ever heard of the Campbell’s Soup slogan “the soup that eats like a meal”? Well, that’s what chankonabe is, a very hearty soup. Chankonabe can include vegetable, pork, chicken or beef and there are as many recipes as there are rikishi.
Fittingly, the younger riskishi preparing the hearty soup are called chankoban and they start preparations in the morning for lunch and after lunch, prepare another soupy stew for dinner.
Chankonabe can involve disparate ingredients such as kimchi and miso, chicken meatballs and even bits of hotdog thrown in for good measure. There’s a preference for the chicken version during tournaments as four-legged animals such as pigs and cows are symbolic of the four-legged losing position in sumo. Other ingredients include seaweed, cabbage, leeks, mushrooms, noodles, bean sprouts, tofu, seafood, rice, dashes of mirin or sake and eggs. Put it all together and it becomes a nourishing and fortifying dish.
The soup is so entrenched in sumo culture that many rikishi will “snack” on a hamburger meal with fries and not consider that a proper meal because there’s no chankonabe involved.
By the way, rikishi eat communally with the young apprentices who ladle out bowls of chankonabe for their “masters.”
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