It's indeed a protein rich stew (uh huh, it's chunky) eaten twice daily by Sumo wrestlers to "build strength". Although the chicken dashi, or broth, is light, everything but the kitchen sink is added to this dish--shellfish, fish, chicken, several types of mushrooms, chrysanthemum leaves (?!?, but delicious), Japanese radishes, and a few other mystery root vegetables.
Last weekend, our retired Japanese friends invited us over to partake of this cultural favorite. Their invitation cheerily demanded: "Let's try chanko nabe!"
(Contrary to popular opinion, we do fix our own food. Often. Okay, sometimes.)
We arrived at their house to find a gas hot plate on the table. The dashi is cooked beforehand and then heated to boiling in a giant crock pot at the table. We tossed the veggies and fish in to simmer while enjoying assorted rice crackers, homemade pickles and cold beer.
Japanese cooking, at least when guests are involved, is communal. I have learned so much about food preparation here because it usually happens right before my eyes--it's like dinner AND a movie. What a spectacular experience for the disfunctionally illiterate!
At first I thought, it's just lean protein and vegetables. Calorie-wise, this meal is quite light. Four servings later, I got religion... but apparently I was still not devout enough. Once the chunky bits are all consumed, rice is added to the leftover broth with eggs, green onions and soy sauce. I felt adequately Sumo-Sized after eating my first-ever Japanese Risotto. The scale confirmed my fear the next day.
Sumo wrestlers eat 4-5 bowls of rice with these meals, hence their legendary girth. After each meal, they immediately go to sleep so they can become "stronger". Some of the younger wrestlers find it a challenge to eat so much and then rest. (Truly, chanko nabe is an X-game in the sport of eating. Thanksgiving? Ppppffft. Totally for amateurs.)
I feel for these poor guys. After tossing and turning all night, I couldn't even think about food until the following afternoon.
Tim slept like a baby and ate his normal breakfast. I think he missed his calling.