Sunday, February 13, 2011
EATING JAPANESE NATTO
There are plenty of Japanese people who can't stand natto, and even among those consume it every day, if you ask them, "Why do you like it?" they usually reply "It's very healthy." But in my opinion, "healthy" is not a good substitute for "delicious."
In case you never heard of natto before, it is fermented soy beans. Like many other fermented foods, it is often recommended as being good for you. It smells like week-old socks, and is both slimy and sticky at the same time. When you lift a fork-full to your mouth threads of slime will trail from it, and if you're not careful they will stick to clothing and the sides of your mouth. You can easily end up smelling like stinky socks all day!
Fortunately there is a reduced smell version available, because - although you might not guess it from my description - I do actually like natto! Why do I like natto? Because it's healthy... no, just kidding. Eating a bowl of natto over hot rice feels satisfying and wholesome. The nearest Western thing I can think of to compare it with is plain oatmeal. You can almost feel it doing you good.
I buy natto in serving size packs. Each serving comes with a little sachet of hot mustard and another of soy sauce, which you mix in just before eating. Japanese people often add sliced green onion as well. You can eat it on its own or over hot rice. It's very fast and convenient and I infinitely prefer it to 2 minute noodles.
While I was still developing my taste for this strange Japanese food, I tried it many different ways - for example, on toast with miso paste and chopped onions (quite good) or Tochigi style with brown sugar (horrible!) Although I disliked the texture of sugar and natto, the flavor was good, so I tried it with honey (not bad) and maple syrup (really really good!)
So now I enjoy shocking my Japanese friends by telling them I eat natto with maple syrup for dessert! It's delicious!