English and Japanese major
Doshisha University, Japan
Academic Year 2016-2017
On Friday, February 24th, my parents and I joined my mom’s friend and a group she (my mom’s friend belongs to) for a dinner course called chanko-nabe (ちゃんこ鍋). It’s a traditional sumo wrestler food, so, as you would expect, it’s a lot of food. At the end of the meal, we got a whole speech about sumo wrestling and the current state of the sport (up to date news on what’s going on, etc.), though, to be honest, I don’t remember much about it. I do remember the meal though.
We got there and had beer poured for us. Japan has a huge drinking culture, and it’s very common to go out drinking with friends, co-workers, even your boss, and, because there’s such a huge culture behind it, there are some specific rules and traditions to follow. First, you never pour your own drink. Keep an eye on everyone else’s drinks, and when they start to get low, pour their drinks for them. I was told since I was the youngest at the table, and thus the “lowest on the food chain” (so to speak), I had to be extra aware. When you pour drinks for others, that will encourage them to reciprocate (if your drink is low), so (I was told) it’s not uncommon to pour a little splash in someone else’s drink to encourage them to reciprocate if you want more. A polite way of indirectly asking for more. It’s also rude to refuse a drink. W were drinking beer, and I don’t really like beer, but, none the less, I drank it. I just made sure to drink it slowly so I wouldn’t get as much.
The first course of the meal was tuna jaw, I think. It was tender, easy to pick off the bone with chopsticks, and absolutely delicious.
The second course was the chanko-nabe part. Chanko (ちゃんこ) is traditional sumo food, and nabe (鍋) means pot. A pot is placed over a burner in the table with broth and a mix of fish, meat, and vegetables. The food is cooked right in front of you by someone at the table. I was told that every part of cooking/kitchen duties is the woman’s job – except for chanko-nabe. This is done by the ぶちょう (buchou) (I think that’s the term I was told, or else it was something very similar), which means chief or head of the office. Basically the person at the “top of the food chain” (in our case, the person cooking food at our pot was the head of my mom’s friend’s organization). Everything cooks pretty quickly, in maybe five to ten minutes, and then you just reach in with your chopsticks (or there is also a ladle, some of the food is a little difficult to get out with chopsticks). We were with friends, so it wasn’t a big deal, but typically their are a pair of large chopsticks used to stir the food in the pot that everyone uses to remove food.
After that, servers will come by and fill the pot with with rice and egg, which makes a kind of porridge to finish off the meal. I think it was called zosui, but I can’t remember for sure. I would say it’s essentially the same as dessert, it just wasn’t very sweet.