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"Good Luck" Chankonabe

(Japanese sumo wrestler soup)

A favorite of sumo wrestlers, this particular Japanese soup is uncharacteristically stuffed with goodies--and just as uncharacteristically does not use fish-based dashi stock as the broth (since armless and legless fish are considered unlucky for wrestlers who depend so much on arms and legs).

Friend Louise Elsea, who has specialized in Japanese cuisine, has graciously written the following gloss on sumo customs for me: "In a sumo training stable, the wrestlers both live and train there. The younger student apprentices in addition to training and practice, clean and cook, and act as attendants to the older wrestlers. One of their duties is to prepare the soup. The wrestlers eat in order of seniority, older wrestlers first, younger ones sharing the leftovers. After all, the older ones once were in junior position, and the more junior hope to move forward. So the wrestlers tend to develop a hand for cooking. Those who wash out of training sometimes wind up opening chankonabe-ya, or chankonabe restaurants." Louise adds, "the Tokyo sumo stadium is in the Ryogoku district in Eastern Tokyo. The various sumo stables until recently concentrated in that area, along with the businesses that supported them--clothing worn by rikishi (wrestlers) would fit very few Japanese outside the sumo world, and vice versa. It is also in this area that chankonabe-ya are most often found."

Serve this soup as a meal to 4 people with big appetites. Oh--and why chicken instead of beef? Because cows keep all four feet on the ground...the very image of defeat for a wrestler down on all fours.

  • 1 pack udon noodles
  • 12 cups chicken stock
  • 4 boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 daikon radish, sliced
  • 1 potato, sliced
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 12 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed removed and quartered (can use reconstituted dried shiitakes, if you like)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced into bite-size chunks
  • 1 cake fresh tofu ("cotton" or non-silken so it won't break up on you), cut into small cubes
  • 1 cake fresh tofu (also cotton variety), cut into small cubes and fried on all sides in oil til they take on color (if you can find it in the store, get abura-age,which are deep fried thin slices of cotton tofu)
  • 1 medium bok choy cabbage, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin (sweet sake)
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Garnish: gratings of that racy, narcotic shichimi, if you can get your hands on it

Cook the udon noodles according to directions, drain, and reserve.

Bring water to boil in a saucepan, then add the sliced daikon and potato and parboil for a few minutes. Drain, refresh with cold water, and reserve.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, add all the vegetables (not including the daikon and potato or the cabbage), chicken, and two kinds of tofu and simmer until the fresh vegetables are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Add the daikon, potato, and cabbage and simmer 5 more minutes.

Season the broth with soy sauce, mirin, and salt to taste, simmer a few more minutes.

Place the cooked udon noodles in deep soup bowls, then ladle the soup over them and serve piping hot, passing the shichimi separate, to grate over the soup to taste.