Keeping a 360-pound athlete satiated and ready for battle is no easy task. Two-time World Sumo Championship winner Byambajav Ulambayar breaks bread with Grub Street to explain his strict diet of “Sumo stew,” as well as where to find it in L.A. and the facts and fictions behind authentic Mongolian barbecue. The Oceans 13 player and former Katsuya sushi chef is currently touring with Living Social’s “Sumo & Sushi Experience,” but took some time away from the dohyō to explain the finer points of chanko-nabe. Take a look.
Give us an idea of how much a Sumo wrestler typically eats in a day while training.
In Japan, we would eat just two big meals a day. After training all morning on an empty stomach, and losing ten to fifteen pounds of sweat, we cook and eat a massive sumo stew called chanko-nabe. Then, we’d take a nap, do some afternoon chores, and have another big dinner. The total calories from those two big meals is probably around 3,000 to 5,000 daily.
Wow. Can you tell us more about what chanko-nabe contains?
Chanko-nabe is the sumo food. It has been developed over centuries as the ideal cuisine to rebuild the body after heavy exercise, and to recover energy quickly. It’s good for muscles, and is easily digestible, too. Chanko-nabe is a nutrient-rich stew, with lots of meat, fish, and vegetables. Each bowl probably contains about a quart of broth. There are various kinds, but each variety is high-protein and chock-full of vitamins and minerals from all the assorted veggies. The broth is also healthy, and helps re-hydrate the body after a workout. We also follow bowls of soup with several bowls of rice to add more calories. Lunch in pro sumo is from around 1:00 to 2:00 P.M., and dinner is around 6:00 P.M.
Any other staples or trade-secrets of the Sumo diet?
We drink a lot of water and green tea in pro sumo. That’s all. Sometimes, we have a little bit of dessert, too.
How does that diet change when you’re not in training?
My diet stays about the same, whether I am in serious training or not. I might eat a little more during phases of heavy exercise. My weight generally stays the same, about 360 pounds.
What places do you frequent in Los Angeles?
I sometimes eat at sushi restaurants. Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo is great. The best sushi I’ve ever had was in Toyko. I usually shop at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, and I recently did several promotional appearances at Whole Foods to promote their “Sumo Mandarin.” In terms of Asian markets in Los Angeles, I sometimes go to Mitsuwa.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in L.A.?
In Los Angeles, I like Shin Sen Gumi, because they make real chanko-nabe. In general, I prefer my native Mongolian cuisine and the Japanese food that I grew to love during my pro sumo years. Actually, my favorite meals are those that I cook at home. In fact, I’m a master chef. No joke. I spent five years in pro sumo in Japan, cooking chanko-nabe every day. I also worked as a high-end sushi chef many years ago, in both Japan and Los Angeles. I worked a little, many years ago, as a sushi chef at Katsuya.
Speaking of Mongolian cuisine, we’re all familiar with the concept of Mongolian barbecue. Does that relate in any way to authentic Mongolian cooking? The so-called “Mongolian barbecues” that you see here are actually just Chinese food. Those dishes are not authentic at all. Real Mongolian barbecue is made on a circular grill, but we don’t have the teppanyaki-style heaters. In Mongolian barbecue, we often cover the grill, too. Furthermore, we don’t add so many spices and sauces. Real Mongolian barbecue is very simple, with just a little salt.
So where do we go to find authentic Mongolian food in L.A.?
There are actually no authentic Mongolian food restaurants in Los Angeles. If you really want authentic Mongolian food, talk to me. I can make you real Mongolian barbecue—at home, at a picnic, wherever. You will really taste the difference!