Rachel's Blog: Natto: an experience.

Fri, 10 Aug 2007
natto stirred with chopsticks

Abbey and I were lucky enough to be at a Japanese friend's house at lunchtime today. We didn't do it on purpose, but all the kids were having fun playing and she just asked if we'd like to stay.

Half an hour later we sat down to yakisoba, onigiri, garlic bread (not sure about the Japanese relationship to that one), steamed rice with natto and grated daikon, and botamochi with tea to finish.

All made on the spot too (except the botamochi which was purchased). I've never seen such speed in a kitchen before. Particularly impressive considering the four under-four-year-olds that were underfoot.

It was all excellent, even allowing for the bonus points automatically given to any meal I don't have to prepare.

Say what you like about acquired tastes. Compare it all you want to to Vegemite and blue cheese. This stuff is disgusting. Firstly the smell. It smells like a gnu with halitosis. Then there's the texture. The brown fermented soybeans are about the size of two grains of rice (or a guinea pig's faeces) and are coated in a light brown slime that is both sticky and slippery. The natto is stirred with soy sauce before serving with plain rice. I'm so glad our host warned us about this dish before I tucked in, but I'm a brave guest and I took a tiny bit. I should've known from the twinkle in the chef's eye that this was going to be interesting.

So imagine this - bad smell, a slightly crunchy texture that is at the same time sticking to your chopsticks and difficult to pick up. Now chew. The taste is initially of something that's gone off. There's a slight saltiness, but I didn't get the "cheesiness" that others say they can taste. Now, I like eating weird stuff, but for preserved foods I really need the acid taste of a pickling agent - like vinegar. If natto had that sour hit it might have been OK. Without it my instincts say, "This food will make you ill."

If I ever want to revisit this experience I will scrape some of the scunge off the bottom of a wheelie bin. Thank god the garlic bread was there.