When thinking of meals served at sumo stables, the first to come to mind is "chanko" hotpot.
At the Shikihide sumo stable in Ryugasaki, Ibaraki Prefecture, the stablemaster's wife, Megumi Muko, who oversees the daily lives of the sumo wrestlers, has come up with a medicinal hotpot that warms the wrestlers from the inside.
Muko, 49, began incorporating medicinal cooking 17 years ago. While on one of her frequent travels to South Korea, she had the chance to eat dishes that contained natural medicines.
Back then, stablemaster Shikihide, who is now 45, was still an active wrestler and endured fierce matches in tournaments that went on for 15 days.
She said she began to adopt medicinal cooking to help him improve his fitness and recover from exhaustion.
After her husband took over the Shikihide stable in 2013, Muko went on to make curry and stews accentuated with such ingredients as "kuko-no-mi," or Chinese wolfberry, which is used in Chinese medicine.
In particular, the medicinal chanko hotpot served once a month is a source of strength for the wrestlers.
Muko’s recipe incorporates the advice of their 25-year-old daughter, Arisa, who studies Eastern medicine at graduate school. She gives tips on natural medicines that go well together and how to balance the aroma.
Served with a bowl of warm hotpot, the reporter first felt a tickling sensation in the nostril when the aroma of Japanese pepper entered along with the steam.
A sip revealed complex layers of umami. If chopped coriander is served on the side, the aroma will stand out more and stimulate one’s appetite. The reporter felt warm until night and slept well.
A total of 19 sumo wrestlers belong to the Shikihide stable where large meals are prepared, counting the people who also work there.
Each day, they cook 10 "sho" of rice, which is equal to 15 kilograms before cooking. Muko and four sumo wrestlers go shopping for food ingredients every 10 days.
For example, they buy 100 packs of eggs, 16 kg of cut-off end of pork slices and more that sometimes exceed 200,000 yen ($1,775) per shopping outing.
"My job is to create an environment that will allow the wrestlers and stablemaster to concentrate on sumo," says Muko.
In addition to grocery shopping, she also communicates what is going on at the stable through social networking services and leaflets.
Working with the supporters’ association and handling the stable’s accounting work are also important tasks for Muko. She manages to go to bed at 2 a.m. at the earliest.
1/4 daikon radish
1/4 head of cabbage
1 green onion (naganegi)
1 bunch each of nira and garlic shoot
1 bag each of shimeji and enokidake mushroom
1 thin deep-fried tofu (abura-age)
1 piece each of chicken thigh and chicken breast
200 grams pork shoulder slices (kata-rosu)
Some coriander leaves and myoga
1.5 liter water
Seasoning A (1 Tbsp light-colored soy sauce; 2 Tbsp each of soy sauce and mirin sweet sake; 60 grams grated ginger; 3 cloves of garlic grated; 1 Tbsp each of "gochujang" Korean red chili paste, Chinese soup stock powder, sesame oil, sake, white sesame; 1.5 Tbsp Japanese soup stock powder)
Seasoning B (2 small dates, 3 cloves, 1/2 tsp each of Chinese wolfberry, nutmeg, "sansho" Japanese pepper, cumin seed)
Place Seasoning B in tea filter bag. Cut meat into bite-size pieces. Mix chicken breast with 1/2 Tbsp vinegar and then with 2 Tbsp katakuriko starch. Remove hard tip of shimeji mushroom, cut off root end of enokidake.
Pour water in pot, place over high heat, add carrot and daikon radish that are cut into quarter slices. When water comes to a boil, add meat. When it comes to a boil again, reduce heat to low, skim off the scum that rises to surface and add Seasoning A.
Add sliced onion and mushrooms. When onion softens, add cabbage cut into 5-cm squares and "abura-age" fried tofu quartered into triangles.
When cabbage becomes soft, add tea filter bag and sliced green onion that has been sauteed with 1 tsp sesame oil. Turn off heat. Add nira, garlic shoot, and more Chinese wolfberry and white sesame (not listed above) to taste.
Serve with coriander leaves and myoga.
* * *
From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column