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Eating Out, Sumo Style

Everyone thinks I'm kidding about going to Tokyo to watch sumo wrestling (see previous post), but I'm dead serious. I've even added a picture of me hanging out with the great Akebono (Hawaiian-born champion Chad Rowan) the year after he retired from the sport. I found him in the basement of the Kokugikan arena, bored and restless because he couldn't compete anymore. I'm not a little guy, and he absolutely dwarfed me. I offered to thumb-wrestle him, but he wouldn't go for it.

How do sumo wrestlers get so big? That's easy: They eat bowls and bowls of chanko nabe (chon-ko nah-bay), and you can too on a visit to Tokyo. That's because like Akebono, many sumo wrestlers retire as young men and need something to do, and so they open restaurants that serve chanko nabe. People come to the restaurant to try to get glimpses of their favorite sports stars, much as we go to Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in New York. There are several in the Ryogoku district where the sumo tournaments are held.

So what is chanko nabe? You'd think it was the fattiest, unhealthiest junk food on the planet if it can make a man as big as Akebono, who weighed in at well over 500 pounds during his prime. But nothing could be further from the truth. At a chanko restaurant, kindly ladies light a hibachi on your table, fill an iron pot with chicken broth and then add spoonfuls of ground chicken, radishes, mushrooms, bean sprouts, cabbage and two kinds of tofu. You let it simmer and then ladle out servings into a small bowl. They refill the pot with eggs, noodles and fish as you sock away the chow.

It's lean, low-carb and full of vegetables: Sounds like health food from where I sit.

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So how do the big boys get so big? They eat well past feeling full, and then lie down on the spot for a long nap. After about six bowls of chanko nabe, that's exactly what I wanted to do. Sumo on, dude.

Which one is the Guru, and which one the former sumo champion?

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