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How to eat like a sumo wrestler

Harry Rosenblum (left) and Michael Harlan Turkell are the men behind Sumo Stew.Max Flatow

On his honeymoon to Japan, photographer, podcast host, and cookbook author Michael Harlan Turkell became fascinated with the culture of sumo wrestling — especially the cuisine. “The sumo wrestlers live together like they are in a fraternity,” he says. “They take care of each other, cook for each other, feed each other. When I came back to the US, I wanted to not only see more sumo, but share that sport’s heritage, and the chankonabe, the sumo stew.” And so Turkell created a bimonthly event called Sumo Stew, which comes to Boston May 19.

Turkell produces the pop-up together with Harry Rosenblum of the Brooklyn Kitchen, a cooking store and center for culinary education. At the events, they stream sumo matches and serve bento boxes of food from local chefs. The Boston event will feature the work of Nicki Hobson of Island Creek Oyster Bar, Colin Lynch of Bar Mezzana, and Tony Maws of Craigie on Main and Kirkland Tap & Trotter. There is also, of course, the chankonabe (pronounced chon-ko-nah-beh), made by Rob Wong of Hojoko.


Given the size of sumo wrestlers, you might wrongly assume the stew is a fatty, calorie-dense dish. In fact, it’s a hearty, broth-based bowl teeming with some combination of chicken, pork, meatballs, tofu, and greens. Turkell says there is no official recipe: “It’s a really seasonal and regional dish. It has whatever is available and fresh and delicious at the time. When the sumo come to town they donate food and bring it to the [training] stables with them, and that’s what they make the stew from.”

He says that poultry usually makes its way into the pot because sumo try to channel the chicken in the ring. “The lore is if you fall down in the ring, you are supposed to spring back up like a chicken. . . . They are some of the most [agile] and flexible people I have ever seen. It’s almost mandatory that a sumo wrestler has to be able to do a split.”


Turkell says his events are one of the only ways to watch streamed sumo wrestling in the US. “Some matches last as little as a second; others last up to a minute or two. But then there’s a lot of ceremony and kind of unfamiliar things that happen in between.” The format gives guests plenty of time to enjoy beer, sake, signature cocktails, and unlimited bowls of chankonabe. But he veers from tradition a little: “The best sumo wrestlers get to eat first, so they eat all the good stuff off the top, then the next ones eat the middle. The last ones usually just get broth and rice. We are not going to do that to our attendees. Everyone is going to get the good stuff.” Sumo Stew takes place May 19, 6:30-9:30 p.m., at 267 Western Ave., Allston. Tickets are $60; to purchase and for more information, go to www.sumostew.com.

Catherine Smart can be reached at cathjsmart@gmail.com.

Note: This event has been canceled.