Wednesday, February 23, 2005

IMBB 12 - Natto: You are what you don't eat

I didn’t find out about the 12th IMBB until after the fact. Then when I saw the theme, I wish I hadn’t missed the deadline, for I have the perfect food to subject myself to as the victim: natto (納豆) a.k.a. Japanese fermented soybeans. The Japanese believe that this verging-on- rotten bean product is extremely good for your health. It supposedly has all these enzymes unique only to natto that prevent blood clots and ward off heart attacks. It’s even said to be good for pets. In fact an ex-colleague of mine feeds his dog one pack a day.

I won’t dwell on health benefits of eating natto because that’s not the point. The main thing about natto is that it is disgusting to look at and has a distinct smell that’s best described as, surprise, rotten beans. Being a dog owner, I have had my share of bad smelling things. Libby’s breath could smell quite putrid sometimes but that didn’t stop me from kissing her. Natto, on the other hand, is an entirely different level of smelliness. It is definitely an acquired taste because according to my Japanese friends, most people in western Japan don’t even eat it. So is it any surprise that I was never able to get past the smell and the unpleasant aesthetics to bring myself to taste it?

I was going to be someone who’s never tasted natto if it weren’t for Carlo, host of the 12th IMBB, who extended the deadline. I took it as a sign that I should take this opportunity to overcome my aversion to natto and give it a try. So I went out and got the smallest packaged natto I could find in the supermarket, organic no less. It also came with two little packets: katsuo flavored sauce and organic mustard.

Cute, you say? You haven’t seen nothing yet, my friend.

This is what awaits you when you lift the plastic wrap on top of the natto. Combined with the rotten smell, is it not enough to turn any stomach?

Ewww, let me try the two beans stuck to the plastic wrap first and decide whether I want to eat the rest. I picked the two beans off the wrap and put them in my mouth and chewed. They were soft, with the expected texture of soy beans, but there’s an unpleasant bitter after taste. I looked down at Libby, who’s eagerly wagging her tail, and thought for a split second that maybe I should just dump the whole thing into her bowl and make her one happy pooch. Dogs are always fond of smelly stuff anyway, aren't they? But the next second my better sense took control and I was going to eat this rotten, smelly, unpleasant looking thing they call food for the name of IMBB.

I decided to make use of the sauce and mustard provided, and stirred them into the natto with chopsticks, more strings were generated with stirring. You’ll have to actually do this to fully appreciate the nastiness of the whole exercise. The more you stir, the stickier and slimier it gets and more strings are formed. It’s like a tangled ball of never-ending yarn. Yuck!

Luckily, the katsuo flavored sauce and mustard masked the bitter taste pretty well and I could almost convince myself that I am not eating natto, but rather some other dubious soy bean product, and I managed to finish the whole package.

I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I didn’t hate it, which is a good thing because I still have the other container to finish. Don’t suppose I can disguise it somehow and convince my unsuspecting husband to give it a try?


Anonymous said...

Oh, I didn't realise that you didn't know. I persuaded people to join last month but not this time since I myself had trouble with the theme. In any case next time I'll alert you.

Now you got me interested on natto. I've seen it mentioned in two or three other blogs. The seeds look like those of very ripe bitter melon. I'll try to look at the Japanese grocery and eat the second cup with you. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Lynn,

It was fun to read about your first experience with natto. If you'd like to mask the flavor, chop the natto into pieces and add a raw egg, some of that bottled wet seaweed (sorry I forget the name)and some chopped green onions with the package mustard then mix well. It'll taste a little better. -lance

Hana Loftus said...

Ah, but the best (and easiest as you don't have to really look at all those gloopy strings) way to eat natto is in a nori hand roll with some spring onions...such a classic! My mother used to give it to me as a child and to start with I had the same reaction, but actually I now love it.

Unknown said...

Karen, if you do manage to find it, let me know what you think. It's actually supposed to be super easy to make too. Just throw some cooked soy beans in an air-tight container and let it ferment for a few days, mmmm

Lance, thanks for the suggestion. I am actually thinking of cracking a quail egg on top of the second cup (it is such a tiny cup after all) and use some different flavoring ingredients.

Hana, yeah, I have seen natto handrolls in supermarkets, but once I watched a friend eat one and she had strings stretching between her mouth and the roll. Not a pretty sight! I guess it'll be a while before I acquire this particular taste.

Anonymous said...

Come to think of it, I had natto some years ago. I think someone flew in from Japan and brought us some. To quote you, "I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I didn’t hate it." Will still try to look for some and have a re-taste.

Unknown said...

Turns out, I might hate it more than I thought, cos I just can't bring myself to eat that second container!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lynn - I definitely miss Natto (I'm Japanese and live in Britain), I'm sure you'll be a big fan too... Your site is gorgeous BTW!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Keiko! Although I am not sure if I will be a fan of natto or not, I am glad to be able to put it in the "can eat" category =o)

Anonymous said...

Hi Lynn--now I know I'm an anomaly as I'm one of the few foreigners who like & eat natto regularly but just to let you know, black natto (kurodaizu) is much better! If you're still feeling brave, check it out...Dara

Anonymous said...

I found mixing it with yogurt and/or cottage cheese improved the consistancy and flavor green onions, or just onion granuals, when the green onions wern't available, were a big help!