Tucking Into Chanko Nabe (Sumo Hotpot) @ Saganobori, Ginza, Tokyo

I was going through some old posts from my Japan trip last year and realised that I missed out writing on this.

It was our last night in Tokyo, and as appreciation for our work filming from 3AM – 1PM lol (we were doing a story on the Toyosu Fish Market), our POC / guide Ken-san picked out a place for dinner. It turned out to be Saganobori in Ginza, which is very famous for their chanko nabe, aka sumo hotpot. Reservations are required, so we were really grateful to Ken-san for making all the arrangements – we just showed up for the food!

Sumo wrestling is a big sport and an age-old tradition in Japan. If you thought they are just fat dudes wrestling around in a ring, you are sorely mistaken. A lot of hard work and dedication goes into maintaining their physique, and sumo wrestlers adhere to a rigorous diet and training regime, and follow a strict set of rules.

One of the most recognisable dishes associated with sumo wrestling is chanko nabe, which literally translates to “a meal of hotpot”. There are no specific recipes, but typical ingredients include meat or fish/seafood, and vegetables. One thing they all have in common is the large serving, as chanko nabe is eaten as part of a weight gain diet.

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Cute sumo-themed chopstick holders !

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A couple of pickled appetisers to get things started. The fig with cream sauce (top right) was divine.

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Japanese cuisine is always a feast for the eyes as much as the stomach.

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Tamagoyaki (Sweet omelette) with herbs – fluffy, bouncy and absolutely perfect.

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Small fried shrimp – more snacks to keep us going while they prepared the hotpot.

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It. Was. Massive.

It was the first time I had ever seen such a gigantic hotpot, and it was filled to the brim with beautiful slices of fatty pork belly, humongous squares of tofu, meatballs, mushrooms, vegetables and spring onions in a light dashi broth. This thing could feed a village. Needless to say, we had problems finishing it among the six of us and were basically lying sideways in our chairs by the end of the meal. It was quite wasted, so I don’t recommend getting this unless you’re travelling in a big group or you are a big eater with a bottomless pit for a stomach.

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This was like the third bowl and I was already slowing down considerably lol. Of course, everything was fresh and tasty, especially the pork belly slices. The dashi got more and more flavourful as the night wore on, having soaked up the full flavours of the ingredients.

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The meat and veggies in itself were already very filling – but of course Ken-san had to go and order noodles lol. I’m not sure what they are but they were a little chewy, like udon, but less thick.

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Despite saying we were all full, we somehow found space in our stomach for ice cream (because everyone has a separate dessert stomach, no?). It was an interesting flavour – sea salt – hence the bluish tinge.

We actually sat around eating and drinking green tea (thankfully, I travelled with a group of non-alcoholics!) until closing time. It was actually autumn during our visit and the weather was just starting to get chilly – so it was nice to have something warm and hearty before bedtime.

If you’ve never had sumo hotpot, and are travelling with friends/family in Tokyo, I recommend trying it out at Saganobori. The shop can be a little hard to find because it’s tucked in a quiet side alley (I notice that this is a trend with many famous restos in Tokyo – they often look super unassuming / are hidden in some back alley or other), but with a little determination and a GPS, you’ll be rewarded with a giant bowl of hearty hotpot!

SAGANOBORI 

Address: 7-18-15, Ginza, Chuo 104-0061 Tokyo Prefecture

Website: https://www.saganobori.co.jp

Phone: +81 3-3545-1221

PS: I’m not sure how you can make reservations if you don’t speak Japanese. You may need the assistance of a local.

 

 

One Night In Ginza, Tokyo

With its bespoke boutiques, branded luxury stores, glitzy malls and chic eateries, Ginza is widely considered to be one of Japan’s (if not the world’s) most luxurious and elegant shopping districts. Today, it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than classy and upscale – but did you know that Ginza was actually built over a filled-in swamp in the 167th century? Together with two other districts – Nihonbashi and Kanda – they formed the original downtown centre of Edo-era Tokyo.

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During my stay in Tokyo, I was based in a quiet street just behind the main shopping thoroughfare, which made it very convenient to access the area. Unfortunately due to work and time constraints, I only got one full night to explore what Ginza had to offer; barely a tiny glimpse. It was an interesting glimpse, nevertheless. While the rest of the group took the train to Shinjuku, I wandered around Ginza poking my nose into random shops and department stores.

(Above) The Wako Store, housed in an art deco building that dates back to the 1930s. You’d know Wako now as Seiko, the jewellery and watches brand. The clocktower plays the Westminster Chimes tune every hour.

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The Nissan showroom at the eponymously-named Nissan Crossing, where pedestrians can ogle at the latest high-tech vehicles from the car-manufacturing giant through a glass window.

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As the sun sets over Tokyo, Ginza comes to life, like a magical wonderland of lights filled with a sea of people. Couples stroll hand in hand down the pavement, loud Chinese tourists flaunt their bags of luxury goods, businessmen with sweaty foreheads and crisp suits congregate for a beer and some after-hours socialising, and impeccably-dressed women with the air of rich tai tais push their baby strollers forward.

(Above) Tokyu Plaza, where tourists can enjoy duty free shopping.

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Popped into UNIQLO’s flagship store – which spans a mind-boggling 12 floors. Most of the floors had a display section in the middle with mannequins dressed in the latest fashion pieces. Not big on shopping tbh so I did not spend too much time here, but this will probably be a pilgrimage site for Uniqlo fans.

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One of the peeps I was travelling with was going on about Ginza Six, one of the newest shopping complexes in the area, so I went to see what the hype was all about. It was nice, but again, malls aren’t really my thing (excluding the grocery store + restaurants). What I really liked, though, was the bookstore on the top floor, and the rooftop garden which had an open concept an several interesting art installations. If you’re into branded things, then the flagship stores for Fendi, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent can be found within the building. There is also a Noh theatre, and banquet hall facilities.

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As much as I love sushi, raw fish doesn’t sit well in my stomach these days (getting old and shit). For some inexplicable reason, I also found myself craving a burger lol. Now, fast food isn’t big in Japan because they’ve got all these healthy, delicious and wholesome restaurants to choose from, but they do have a brand called Lotteria, which was originally from South Korea. I found one hidden in an underground nook (you have to descend a staircase into the basement). It seemed largely frequented by locals – I mean, what tourist comes to Ginza and eats fast food, amirite? Oh, wait…

(Above) The setting is catered more towards single diners. After placing your order, they give you a pink slip which you have to clip on the top of the divider, and they’ll send your food to the table.

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Shrimp burger isn’t something we see much in KL (God I miss the ones at Wendy’s before they took it off the menu), so I had to get that. It was close to a 1,000 yen for the set, ie about RM40 lol probably the most I’ve paid for fast food, apart from that Burger King I got at the Hong Kong airport a couple of years ago. I wasn’t expecting it to be American-sized, but boy was the portion paltry. This is why you don’t see fat people in Japan…

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All things considered, I loved the shrimp burger. The patty was fried and breaded well, and was chock full of shrimp rather than flour or filler. Add to that tangy mayonnaise, a slice of cheese, some cabbage to cut through the grease and plain, soft buns.

There are many things to see in Ginza, and it carries well its moniker as a shopper’s paradise. Even for non-shoppers, it is close enough to several attractions such as the Hamarikyu Gardens (will detail in another post), art galleries and museums, making it a great base for travellers.

Where would you visit if you had one night in Ginza?