Folks, it's time for another edition of Odd Eats and this time, I'm taking it personally. That is, this time we're trying a Japanese dish and I'm half-Japanese so I better like it. Nattō is a popular Japanese food consisting of fermented soy beans. Its origins date back hundreds if not thousands of years and it is extremely popular in Japan as it is revered not only for its taste and but also for its health benefits.
It's one of those dishes that many people both in and outside of its place of origin find revolting due to its sharp smell and slimy texture. I personally expected to like it because I like just about everything that's soy based. When we cracked open the package, we found a small packet of karashi mustard and soy sauce.
The most overwhelming quality about the food upon first opening it was its smell. It's pungent and rather sharp, not unlike cheese, but I didn't feel it had a dairy quality to it like many people do. Instead, I felt this most definitely was a plant product and in fact in reminded me most of soy sauce, which would make sense as they're both soy products and they're both fermented.
We first poked and prodded at the nattō, exploring its gooey consistency, and then dumped the whole mess into a bowl and stirred it up with the condiments. It somehow managed to become thicker and more slimy as we mixed it.
We topped a bowl of steamed rice with our mixture and had a taste. At first I liked it. It was much milder than I imagined it to be, although the consistency was a little less than pleasant. The sliminess made me feel like this wasn't something I was supposed to be putting in my mouth, let alone ingesting. Still, I thought it was decent – not something I'd want to eat all the time, but something I could appreciate as it would certainly be filling and of course healthy.
But then the aftertaste hit. It's the smell that ultimately got to me. And as it did, the consistency gradually became more and more of a problem. I found myself wanting less and less to have any part of the stuff as it got stringier. I wonder if I'm just closed-minded when it comes to textures as I know I'm less adventurous than some of my friends. This one was a lot like stirring the melted marshmallows that become Rice Krispie treats, only with a cheesy, ferment-y smell and a mild enough flavor that there was nothing to taste but how it smelled.
I'm not ready to give up on nattō though. I believe that with the right seasoning, it could be delicious. It's common, for example, to add it into miso soup, stir fry or omelets (I always put soy sauce in my scrambled eggs) and those are dishes I think I could really appreciate. On its own on top of steamed rice, though, I found nattō to be underwhelming if not slightly unpleasant. Until I try it again, I'm going to assume it will be a flavor enhancer to me, not a dish on its own.