Tochinoshin Bento Box: The Tachiai Review

Tochinoshin Bento Box at Kokugikan
A man hungry for Ozeki status… and ratatouille.

Longtime readers of the site will know that I find food to be an integral part of the sumo adventure. Of course, we all know that chankonabe forms the backbone of the rikishi diet, and many folks are aware that yakitori is mass produced at Kokugikan as a staple of the sumo-going experience.

But the Ozeki and Yokozuna bento boxes which are sold at honbasho are extremely popular as well – and sell out most days of the tournaments. The NSK is rigid and brutal when it comes to their application of the rights afforded the high rankers and their bento: Takakeisho’s recent injury-driven demotion from Ozeki meant that there was no Takakeisho bento for sale at the Aki basho, although this will surely return in November now that he has sealed his re-promotion. And despite the overwhelming desire for all things Kisenosato, the 72nd Yokozuna’s bento was taken off the shop lists following his intai.

With this in mind, and seeing the declining state of the health of Ozeki Tochinoshin, I had to try the Tochinoshin bento box before it was too late. He will of course get a chance to put this back on shelves (and restore his rank) with 10 wins in Fukuoka – but in case that failed to transpire, this particular box could be lost to the annals of sumo history.

Let’s crack it open, shall we?

Tochinoshin Bento Box

Contents

  • Umeboshi (or as it’s listed on the menu, “dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice”)
  • “Sauce of beef shiri served with paprika and kidney beans”
  • Pork roll of asparagus and cheese
  • Tatsuta fried Pacific saury
  • Ratatouille
  • Minirare omelette
  • Cherry tomato
  • Macaroni salad

At ¥1150, this is, like most food items for sale in the Kokugikan, a very good deal. $11 in an American stadium probably wouldn’t get you half as much food, and it is a very filling meal.

Tochinoshin Bento Umeboshi

Umeboshi

This was solid. The rice was actually good, it was very fluffy and a good temperature. I felt it was of a higher quality than in the last rikishi bento I reviewed, from Takakeisho. Perhaps our reviews have been read!

Umeboshi is normally shaped as a bed of rice with the dried sour ume in the middle, and typically made to resemble the Japanese flag. From a creative standpoint, perhaps they missed a trick here by not using 4 ume and attempting the Georgian flag as reference to Tochinoshin’s nationality. That would have certainly made it special!

Tochinoshin Bento Box

Main course

I only knew the beef (located at the top of the above photo) was beef at first because of the sign – it looked to me like the odd sort of damp excess fried parts of chicken karaage. Pulling it apart revealed more beef-forward contents. It was good and flavorful, if a little strange. I think I prefer chicken to beef in this format.

The fried Pacific saury (bottom right) was surprisingly delicate in nature, and moist: a really good bite. It was served with ponzu sauce on top. It did, however, contain very small, edible bones.

The rolled pork katsu (bottom left) was much of a muchness. I don’t know that I really need cheese in my katsu. I wouldn’t say a massive fan of asparagus but given that this bento was a little low on vegetable options, it was good for them to slot it in.

Tochinoshin Bento Box

Sides

The macaroni salad choice was very successful. Mixed with a healthy dose of kewpie mayo, the carrots, corn and pasta offered a fresher, sweeter bite.

I would have left out the “minirare omelet” – the fluffy presentation was very inviting but the odd flavour left a lot to be desired. I’ve eaten a lot of tamagoyaki in my day but this lacked the sweetness that I was looking for as a complement to many of the heavier proteins.

I felt the ratatouille was surprisingly good. It was extremely flavorful, and while I thought it was kind of a bizarre choice for a bento, it was an inspired and well seasoned choice. Four fish/meat offerings felt a bit heavy handed, and I think the box might have benefited from moving the ratatouille centre stage and dropping the beef or katsu in favour of another lighter option.

Overall

Overall Tochinoshin’s bento was much like the man himself: hearty. It’s a filling box and a great value, but I wouldn’t call it a standout when compared to the others on offer at this level of competition. The biggest remaining question is: will it be back on the shelves in 2020? Perhaps this is one of the only meals in the world that’s going to require a good knee to make.

With Takayasu now the kadoban Ozeki in the Fukuoka basho, we’ll look forward to examining his bento in the next tournament!

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.