Odd Eats: Nattō

by Valerie on Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Post image for Odd Eats: Nattō

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.

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{ 16 comments }

Joyti August 31, 2011 at 7:30 am

Interesting. You always find the most fascinating foods.
The resemblance to soy sauce sounds appealing, but the slimy texture would scare me off a bit too. Still, seems like its worth trying.

Isaac Kojima August 31, 2011 at 8:59 am

I love natto. Dad is a Tokyoite, I legitimous Edokko, so I grew up eating natto, almost everyday. And I never get tired of it.

And the variations are endless: with aojiso, umeboshi, kimchi, grated daikon, raw egg, chives, okra.

If you didn’t like the smell in your mount, maybe, next time you go to Japan you should try warazuto natto http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/photos/seasonal/seasonal090516.htm.

Valerie August 31, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Just read up about warazuto… so interesting, thank you!

Maria @ Scandifoodie August 31, 2011 at 11:44 am

I do love natto! To my understanding, however, it is more popular in Tokyo area? My MIL who is from Osaka says natto is not so popular there, and when we were in Osaka, it was indeed harder to find than in Tokyo. Nevertheless, delicious with a bowl of steaming brown rice! 😉

Mely August 31, 2011 at 11:51 am

Right away I notice the tiny bubbles over the beans in top picture before reading the post.
Thanks for this Odd Eats.

Have a great week!

Mely

Belinda @zomppa August 31, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Oy – you are brave! You almost make me want to try it…..

deana@lostpastremembered September 2, 2011 at 8:52 am

I love trying weird things… honestly I do, but that texture would get the better of me (like I hate okra) I think you are a brave woman for soldiering on… I have never heard of them!!

Jessica September 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I fell in love with it when I was living in Japan. I had a vegetarian boyfriend and natto on rice was a staple in his diet. We always ate it with dried purple shiso and finely sliced green onions over steamed rice. Amazing! I still eat it pretty frequently these days (5 years later) – one of the best things that came out of that relationship!

P.S. Love your blog! As someone who loves food, photography, and travel your blog blows me away. Well done, ladies.

Valerie September 4, 2011 at 2:22 am

Thanks so much, Jessica. 🙂

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen September 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I always admire how brave and curious you are when it comes to trying different foods, it’s such a wonderful quality.

amy September 15, 2011 at 1:02 am

I’m waiting on my fourth try with natto (I’ve had it alone and w/ various other foods)….Needless to say it’s a good way to experiment and play with my senses.

I have two more sitting in my freezer as I type this.

Justine September 15, 2011 at 2:23 am

Sounds and looks gross. I dont need to smell it and you don’t need to try it again. Once sounds enough.
Sounds a bit like me and musical theatre. I’ve tried it many times hoping to like it but in the end, its a good play spoilt. You either love nanno or don’t. Don’t persist for our sakes! Lol

Kairi September 30, 2011 at 8:47 am

I love natto! My boyfriends mother who is Japanese challenged me to try it and to everyones amazement I really liked it! I used to live in Sweden for years and hence have a tip for your next “odd eats” entry. You should try surströmming, fermented Baltic herring. You probably have heard of it, but most likely haven’t had it. It’s the smelliest thing you can imagine. Forget French cheese , this is way stronger – perhaps stronger then the durian fruit you talked about in your previous post. Surströmming is hard to transport, they don’t allow the tins on plane in fear it will explode and release the smell and generate a general chaos or something like that. You can not open the tins indoors, and when doing it outdoors I would recommend to be somewhere not near strangers 🙂 I think it’s delicious!

kristina@beancakes November 23, 2011 at 12:19 pm

it is definitely an acquired taste but i’ve grown to love it ~ my mom grew up eating this 😉
xo ~ kristina

Amy January 10, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I love natto. It must be the 1/2 Japanese side of me. My mother used to make it when I was small. Now, my 1/4 Japanese, 1/4 Swedish, 1/4 Mexican, and 1/4? kids love it.

My mother used to prepare it by first putting it in a bowl and stirring it briskly with a smidge of salt. Then she would add the mustard and stir some more. Then finally the soy sauce. We didn’t use the soy sauce that came in the package, and she only used Kikkoman soy sauce. Some companies pack a fishy soy and that just doesn’t taste good to me.

There is a place in Sebastopol, CA that sells fresh, organic natto. Their natto is delicious!

Sarah February 8, 2012 at 10:41 am

The texture reminds me of mloukhia (Jew’s mallow), extremely slimey. I tried to get used to it but am still having trouble. I would be curious to taste natto even so.

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