After watching a fascinating documentary on the sumo diet, chankonabe became an important addition to my Tokyo to-do list. A huge hotpot of meat and vegetables, chankonabe is a nutritious and extremely calorific dish that has fuelled sumo for decades. After some research, the general consensus seemed to be that Yoshiba Culinary in Sumida was the best mid-price chanko around. Ravenous after a busy day of visiting local sights like the Tokyo Skytree and Sumida Aquarium, I arrived at Yoshiba ready to tackle a dish designed for men three times my size.
The visual impression of Yoshiba upon entering is impressive – both western and Japanese-style seating available, high wood-beamed ceilings and all centred round a chalked-out sumo ring. Greeters and waiters are all charming and informative while maintaining an air of formality; graciously explaining how the food is served as they take you to a seat of your choice. The chankonabe options at Yoshiba are all large bowls intended for two diners, but since I was alone (and starving) I figured I’d manage one by myself. I ordered the Yoshiba specialty, a highly-recommended seventeen-ingredient variation which includes tofu, enoki mushrooms, shrimp, salmon, chicken, pork, scallops, and the Yoshiba-exclusive swordfish balls (most establishments use sardines). This costs ¥5200, which considering its designation as a two-person meal is extremely reasonable. There are several options for the broth ranging from simple salted to heavily spiced, and at the waiter’s suggestion I went for for the soy sauce and chicken stock. The chanko is prepared quickly and brought to you cold; it is cooked on a small hob at the table. This takes around ten minutes and the anticipation really pushes your hunger to the edge. There is an extra-long set of chopsticks given for serving into your individual bowl; a rule I adhered to despite not having anyone to share with.
When my chanko was finally ready to eat, it fulfilled all my expectations and more. I can honestly say that some of the seafood featured here was the best I’ve ever had. All of the meat is tender and juicy thanks to the rich broth, but the standouts for me were the swordfish balls and the scallops. So often bland and rubbery in western dishes, these scallops provide a burst of complex flavour with an impeccable melt-in-the-mouth texture. The superior quality of the ingredients really shines through, as does the care in preparation to maximise the taste of each. I delighted in finishing the whole bowl of chankonabe; relishing it down to the last boy choy leaf.
While this was my first and only taste of chankonabe, I struggle to see how it could be improved upon anywhere else. Yoshiba Culinary would genuinely be my first port of call upon returning to Tokyo with any friend or family member wanting to experience Japanese culture and cuisine. The service, atmosphere, and food are all faultless – don’t miss out on this affordable glimpse into the lives of Japan’s most revered sportsmen.