Japan is a country of extremes -- nothing is sufficient until it is perfected to the nth degree. It is the home of geisha, bonsai trees, tea ceremonies, ninja, eating contest champions, harajuku girls, and -- of course -- sumo wrestling. You'd think that being as large as they are, rikishi (literally "strong man," as the wrestlers are collectively known) would maintain a diet similar to six-time hot dog eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, but remarkably, the sumo diet is remarkably healthy and low in fat. In fact, despite being what medical professionals would call morbidly obese, rikishi have a very low occurrence of obesity-related illness such as heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol due to the placement of their fat. Thanks to a disciplined regimen of intense exercise paired with high-volume consumption of high-protein foods, most of their fat is subcutaneous, lying just under the skin. Compare that to visceral fat which is located inside the abdomen and often infiltrates the internal organs. This is the same phenomenon that causes even your fittest of friends to have cellulite deposits and some outwardly skinny people to suffer from hypertension or high cholesterol.
So what do these big boys eat? Since they live together in heya (literally "stables," or training establishments), chanko nabe is an efficient means to provide a healthy, high-protein meal in immense volumes. A stew made with a protein and plenty of vegetables, chanko nabe is prepared in a communal hot-pot style, with a base broth simmering in the center of the table and ingredients added as they are needed. Generally, the protein used is pork, chicken, or fish, although some heya believe it's bad luck to use four-legged animals (symbolizing being down on all fours) or fish (no hands or feet), so chicken is the only allowable meat.
Seeing as how we had no upcoming sumo matches planned, we tried chanko nabe miso-aji (miso-based) using thinly sliced pork belly and an assortment of vegetables. For a true hot pot experience, serve it with hot rice and individual bowls of ponzu for dipping the meat and veggies. For the recipe read on.