Takakeisho’s Bento Box: A Tachiai Review

Takakeisho's Bento Box at Kokugikan
The Takakeisho Bento Box

The last day that I visited Kokugikan during the recent Natsu honbasho was actually also the first day I had ever had the fortune of sitting in one of the “masu” boxes on the ground floor. It felt appropriate to celebrate the moment by engaging in one of the time-honored sumo and uniquely Japanese experiences: purcashing a proper bento box for lunch and enjoying a meal while watching some feisty lower division matches.

Given that Natsu was the first basho following the promotion of Takakeisho to Ozeki, it was a good moment to explore the Takakeisho bento box. As covered previously on the site, there are bento boxes for sale which contain selections from all of the Ozeki and Yokozuna (as well as some other generic boxes). This also means, that following the demotion of Tochinoshin to Sekiwake before the Natsu basho, that the previously available Tochinoshin bento was no longer available (and presumably, as the man himself resumes Ozeki duties, will be making a return for Nagoya).

Takakeisho Bento Box Interior
Takakeisho’s bento is rich with both flavour and detail

The Takakeisho bento included the following:

  • Umeboshi rice with black sesame seeds
  • Katsu pork with sauce and mustard
  • Soy sauce egg hard boiled
  • Tempura thing which seemed to be a fish cake
  • Broccoli and corn
  • Mushrooms (buried under the egg – they really pack a lot of stuff in there)
  • Carrot cut into the shape of a flower

At ¥1150, it’s an insane bargain (as much food is at sumo), especially by western standards. The box feels like it would easily be a $20+ package here in the States.

It should be pointed out that if you want to get your hands on one, then you’d better arrive well before Juryo: all of the sekitori bento typically sell out on a normal day at the basho, and the new nature of the Takakeisho box and popularity of its curator meant that his were flying off the shelves quicker than usual. A further pro tip for our readers: if you’re seated on the ground floor and all of the bento have sold out, more may be available in the gift and snack stands on the second floor of Kokugikan.

Takakeisho has done a great job on the whole of choosing very attractive – especially for sumo – and filling ingredients. As a very hearty bento, I actually think it is a box that would be very suitable especially for the Hatsu basho in January.

Katsu, Tempura and Egg inside Takakeisho's Bento Box
Beside the katsu and underneath the perfectly cooked egg, delicious mushrooms are revealed

Let’s get into the taste. The dried marinated fish element is probably better suited to the start of the meal. And if we’re talking tactics, I’d probably eat this from the left, the right then the center.

The broccoli and corn were surprisingly flavorful – moist and incredibly well seasoned, very peppery. These were among the standout items of the dish. Conversely, if I have one complaint, it would be that the rice was somewhat cold and hard, although I don’t know that that can be helped in the bento format. The egg was extremely delicious and a perfect caramel shade.

It was a bit a bit early in the day for me to imbibe when I was eating it, but Takakeisho’s bento would be a very nice accompaniment for any beer. The tempura item was a bit bland, but the mustard packet helped.

Four very generous cuts of katsu were included, and the accompanying sauce was very rich. I recommend using it sparingly.

No wonder Takakeisho came back early from kyujo! if I knew this was at Kokugikan…

Tachiai’s Rating: ⚪️⚪️⚪️⚪️⚫️

Sumo Stew Returns to Brooklyn in November

Sumo Stew - July 2018 Chankonabe
Chanko nabe from July’s Sumo Stew event

Popular stateside sumo viewing and Japanese food culture event Sumo Stew will return to Brooklyn on November 12 to coincide with the upcoming Kyushu basho. The event will take place at The Brooklyn Brewery and you can click here for tickets.

Sumo Stew founders Michael Harlan Turkell and Harry Rosenblum will reprise their popular gathering surrounded by a host of exciting vendors, and a portion of the $60 ticket fee will support The Japan Society.

I visited Sumo Stew in July, and you can check out my review of the proceedings by clicking here.

November’s event will feature a “seasonal chicken chankonabe” from Momo. Punters will also receive a bento box featuring a smattering of delectables from local vendors. Area craftsmen will also be on hand and this time, there will additionally be a rakugo performance from Ken Saito.

Tachiai Enjoys Sumo Stew in Brooklyn

Sumo Stew - July 2018

As Bruce shared with Tachiai readers earlier in the month, our friends at Sumo Stew hosted their 22nd event during the Nagoya basho. This event took place at Arrogant Swine in Brooklyn, NY. As I coincidentally happened to be in New York at the time, I decided to check it out with a couple of friends who were new to sumo!

Menu

For the latest event, Sumo Stew founders Michael Harlan Turkell and Harry Rosenblum teamed up with Arrogant Swine’s Tyson Ho to deliver what they called a “North Carolina BBQ-style Whole Hog” chankonabe. Arrogant Swine is a barbecue restaurant and bar located in Brooklyn’s industrial East Williamsburg neighborhood, and so this take on chanko was a fusion of traditional chanko flavors with a falling-off-the-bone pork twist.

Sumo Stew - July 2018 Chankonabe
The Chankonabe of Sumo Stew 22

While the chanko is perhaps the main event of Sumo Stew, it is far from the only item on offer. Upon entering the venue, attendees were given a bento box full of items from four different local vendors:

  • Spicy beef shank & yuba salad from Junzi
  • A mushroom and umeboshi onigiri from Momo Sushi Shack
  • Seaweed salad with ikura and fried potato from Juku
  • Cold ramen from O Ya

This menu was further augmented by the presence of a number of whiskey, wine, and sake vendors. A number of representatives from the enormously popular tea brand Ito En were also on hand doling out bottles of Japan’s favorite Oi Ocha.

Vendors

Besides the sumo and the amazing food & drinks, one of the aspects of Sumo Stew that shouldn’t be overlooked is that the organisers bring in all sorts of vendors with specialties that run the gamut of various facets of Japanese culture.

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All sorts of hand crafts were on display for sale, and there was also representation from the US branch of Japanese cutlery brand Kikuichi Cutlery (their stateside headquarters are located not far away from New York City in nearby Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey). They had an impressive array of knives on hand for demonstration.

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One brand I hadn’t been aware of before attending was NYrture, a natto company based in New York City. For Western palates, the fermented soybean can perhaps be an acquired taste, but this vendor did a great job of pairing what is often a divisive ingredient with incredibly interesting flavors to create a really cool snack. I especially appreciated the combination of black natto with coconut milk yogurt, honey, and blueberry.

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Sumo

Owing to the time difference between Tokyo and New York, it was clearly difficult to line up live sumo with the evening dinner hour. The folks at Sumo Stew had a playlist of videos from the first several days of the Nagoya basho projected onto a big screen inside of the venue. From time to time they cut in trailers from various features from an upcoming film festival put on by the event’s partners at the Japan Society in New York.

There were quite a few regular attendees on hand, and many of the folks I talked to seemed newer to sumo and were somewhat more connected to the food and cultural elements of the event. In that sense, Sumo Stew is doing a really great thing by bringing members of the local food community together to get an initiation into the ways of a sport that many of us have come to dearly love. On the flip side of the menu which all attendees were given was an overview of how the sport works, its rules, traditions and key vocabulary words to help newcomers understand a bit more about what was happening on the big screen.

I had a chance to speak briefly with the event’s organizer Michael Harlan Turkell during the event, and he mentioned that the Sumo Stew team are looking to continue bringing the event to other cities around America in the near future for forthcoming basho. So if you’re interested in attending, perhaps there will be one nearer to you in the future, and of course we’ll continue to share news of this unique Sumo-themed event here on Tachiai.

For more info on Sumo Stew, check out sumostew.com.

Enjoy Hawaiian BBQ with Konishiki

Konishiki's Hawaiian BBQ Stand

Earlier this month, Andy tipped off readers via the Tachiai twitter account that sumo legend Konishiki would be hosting a stall at the BB (“Beer & BBQ”) Fest, which takes place from now until May 6 in Odaiba:

The festival is taking place out on Symbol Promenade Park in Odaiba, and I decided to head out there today to check it out. Getting there took about 15 minutes from Shimbashi station in central Tokyo on the unique Yurikamome line (a must-ride for transit enthusiasts, owing to its looping track that goes out over the Rainbow Bridge).

There are three festival areas running concurrently during Golden Week on Odaiba: an Oktoberfest, a large section of the BB Fest that is dedicated to Japanese-style BBQ vendors, and then a section of the BB Fest on the eastern part of the island featuring international BBQ food and craft beer. Konishiki’s Hawaiian BBQ is located in the latter area.

Konishiki's Hawaiian BBQ Menu
Konishiki’s Hawaiian BBQ menu board

As for the menu, Konishiki offered a couple selections: a meat plate (featuring BBQ pork, spare ribs and chicken) and then a combo platter which contained all of the meat items plus rice, slaw and the classic Hawaiian macaroni and egg salad. Obviously, I opted for the latter choice:

Konishiki's Hawaiian BBQ Plate
Konishiki serves up a meat lover’s Hawaiian BBQ paradise, replete with Mac Salad

Konishiki has long been one of the most flavorful names in sumo, and puts out a dish to match. All of the meat selections were very succulent, very moist and well coated in the right amount of marinade and sauce. The macaroni salad was delicious as well. I opted to wash it all down with a bottle of water from Konishiki’s stand owing to the hot weather, but there were a number of craft beer vendors also in the park and Konishiki’s BBQ would surely make a great pairing for many of them. When he says he knows how to have a good time cooking up Hawaiian BBQ, he’s not joking.

Konishiki has also provided a video that takes you behind the grill, in promotion of the event (in Japanese):

The event also has plenty of other food vendors offering BBQ from a variety of regions and countries. I was too full from Konishiki’s Ozeki-sized platter to take in any of the others, however a man at the Texas BBQ stand was offering free samples which were also delicious. Hopefully, up and coming Texan sumotori Wakaichiro can make it out to the festival to get a taste of home!

BB Fest International Vendors
Other vendors in the international portion of the festival included Spanish, Jamaican and Texan BBQ.

As for the man himself, Konishiki, he was off to the side of the stand, relaxing under a tent near the festival stage with family and friends. A number of his fans ambled up from time-to-time throughout the afternoon to request photos, which he graciously provided. I was able to get a few moments to chat with the man to let him know just how good the BBQ was, and ask if he had any words for Tachiai readers.

Konishiki says he wants everyone to come on down to Odaiba, and adds: “Bring your hungry on, and bring your thirsty on!”

Konishiki’s Hawaiian BBQ is located at the BB Fest on Odaiba in Symbol Promenade Park, located just off the Odaiba-Kaihin-Koen station on the Yurikamome line, and the Tokyo Teleport station on the Rinkai line. The festival runs through May 6 during the Golden Week. For more info, check out bbfest.jp

Additionally, for those readers who will be in Tokyo during the upcoming Natsu basho, Konishiki will be appearing at the Island Music Festival in Symbol Promenade Park on May 18 and 19. For more information, check out islandmusicfestival.jp

Eating Sumo: A trip to LA’s Sumo Dog

Sumo Dog Exterior

As we all know, sumo is a sport punctuated by ritual. I’ve created a new ritual for myself: I like to enjoy a trip around the start of every honbasho to Sumo Dog – a Japanese and quasi-sumo themed hot dog specialty restaurant in Los Angeles. In anticipation of the upcoming Haru basho, I did this again today. It is both odd and cool that a sumo-flavored restaurant exists and for those of you who are reading and are very near or very far from Los Angeles, please enjoy the following review of the Sumo Dog experience.

Overview

Sumo Dog is a fast-casual establishment which opened about a year ago on the periphery of Los Angeles’s Koreatown neighborhood. Opened by Chef Jeffery Lunak and Mark Stone, it’s an unassuming small shop on a block which has now come to be lined with ever more ridiculous dessert options (like cotton candy ice cream burritos). With that in mind, we’ll focus on the main Sumo Dog selection.

When you enter the restaurant you are created by an impressive sized statuette of a yokozuna. I believe this is Asashoryu in the below image (if it’s not, please correct me in the comments!), however when I asked one of the chefs one day (which may have been one of the owners) he said “that’s Sumo Joe.” For a sumo fan, it was not the most impressive response.

SumoDog_Yokozuna.jpg

The walls are plastered with Sumo Dog posters which comprise of a drawing of a rikishi and the Sumo Dog logo, as well as their admittedly very impressive and cool selection of merch, like t-shirts and hats. The atmosphere overall is casual and good and one can imagine it might not be out of place in Tokyo with a bit of work.

Menu

Sumo Dog Menu
Which of these Sumo Dogs sounds best to you? Leave a comment with your favorite!

Sumo Dog’s menu is where they really shine. Out of the 8 hot dog based dishes, several have taken very liberal inspiration from Japanese flavors. I’ll add a few photos of the menu below from several trips.

The Sumo Dog is their signature dish, and comes covered in wasabi relish, furikake and nori as well as pickled peppers, onion, spicy mayo and teriyaki sauce. I have never been much of a hot dog person, but I love Japanese flavors and they have captured some great – potentially even complex – flavor in this dish. It gives you the sort of satisfaction you get when you see a classically executed uwatenage.

Sumo Dog Classic
The signature “Sumo Dog”

The Miso Katsu dog is a spot on recreation of a classic dish in hot dog format, with a perfect panko crust giving a nice contrast to the miso and cabbage. At $13, the Godzilla is perhaps best suited to aspiring sekitori, and is a monster foot long hot dog covered with many of the same elements of their classic Sumo Dog as well as their togarashi cheese sauce and slaw. Perhaps they should rename it the kinboshi because it is simply so big that taking this hot dog down is like a rank-and-filer trying to knock off a Yokozuna: it’s hard work, and if you can finish it, people will be very impressed!

The menu also sports a number of more Angeleno-centric and traditional inspirations, but each one of the frankfurters has some kind of Japanese element, whether it’s the pickled daikon and togarashi on the chili dog, or the tempura crunch that’s been added to their “Romero” guacamole hot dog.

Sumo Dog Romero
The “Romero” – featuring tempura “crunchies” over guacamole

Finally, Sumo Dog is also known for its sides, especially the tater tots formed from sushi rice which are delivered with a generous helping of wasabi and the togarashi cheese dipping sauce. It’s a nice compliment for a Ramune, several flavors of which are kept in the cooler.

Overall Impression

Sumo Dog is a very good, fun addition to the food landscape in Los Angeles and a great place to enjoy an interesting take on Japanese ingredients. While the restaurant has done a great job capturing some sumo-themed elements in their branding and merch, if they can put some more work into paying homage to the sport in the restaurant’s overall design and staff’s knowledge, they will have a very special winner. As ever, I’m sure I’ll be visiting ahead of the Natsu basho as well.

Sumo Dog is located at 516 S. Western Avenue in Los Angeles – and you can check out their full menu on their website at eatsumodog.com.

Eating Sumo: Which Rikishi Has the Best Lunch?

kisenosatoboxlunch
Photo by the author, pixelation by iPhone 7

The last time I visited Ryokogu Kokugikan, the lunch selections were named according to the various sumo ranks – “Yokozuna Box,” “Ozeki Box,” etc. But today, I went to the hallowed stadium for day 2 of the Hatsu-basho, and found that the bento selections had been named after some of our nearest and dearest superstars.

So, for a bit of fun, let’s run through each of the selections, and then you can vote for the rikishi with the best bento at the bottom (EDITED: all of the poll embeds were breaking so just leave your selection in the comments). All of these bento boxes are the same price, so your choice strictly comes down to the contents, and the descriptions are more or less verbatim as they are presented in English on the menu. If you want to be cheeky, feel free to create a menu for another rikishi’s bento in the comments.

Takayasu

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Mackerel in miso sauce
  • Chicken nanban
  • Lotus root seafood scissors
  • “Cut the cooked kelp”
  • Pickles marinated with soy sauce
  • Boiled mixed beans
  • Cherry tomato

Goeido

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Grilled beef
  • Beef croquette
  • “The spitted cutlet of pork”
  • Potato salad
  • Cherry tomato
  • Japanese style omelette
  • Kinpira burdock root

Kisenosato

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Salty mix of chicken and Japanese leek
  • Mushroom marinade (Marinated mushroom?)
  • Boiled egg
  • “Food boiled and seasoned: Radish, Carrot, Konjac, Shiitake mushroom, Japanese butterbur, Taro”
  • Honey pickled plum
  • Meat ball

Kakuryu

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Sirloin pork cutlet
  • Beefsteak
  • Boiled egg
  • Boiled vegetables: Carrot, Potato, Pumpkin, Broccoli
  • Pork sausage
  • Cherry tomato
  • Boiled mixed beans
  • Pickled vegetables

Hakuho

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Deep-fried chicken with Japanese leek sauce
  • Deep-friend Chinese style dumpling
  • Boiled egg
  • Boiled vegetables: Carrot, Potato, Pumpkin, Broccoli
  • Cherry tomato
  • Boiled mixed beans
  • “Stir-fry shrimp in chilli sauce”