It’s official: we’re going to Japan! It’s been a dream of mine for so long, I almost can’t believe it’s actually happening. Our love of Japanese cuisine is one of the main reasons for our visit, and when it comes to travel, a big part of the fun is in the preparation. This not only means planning all the great places we’re gonna stay and things we’re gonna do, but also learning useful Japanese phrases (there are some great tutorials on YouTube) and trying out Japanese ingredients we’ve never tasted before. One of these typically Japanese foods is natto.
Like tempeh, natto are fermented whole soybeans. However, while the former is produced by fermenting soybeans with a type of fungus (which gives it its mushroomy aroma), natto soybeans are fermented with the so-called bacillus subtillis, which is responsible for natto’s pungent smell and incredibly slimy texture. They are often part of a traditional Japanese breakfast, paired with mustard and spring onions. Intrigued as we were by this description and urged on by fellow Japan enthusiast and good friend Chris, who had already tasted it, we decided to set out to get some natto of our own. We found this packet in the freezer of a large Asian supermarket, and as you can see the natto is divided into three separate foam containers. Each little container also comes with a mysterious little sachet of sauce; probably a mixture of soy sauce, something sweet and a whole bunch of additives.
What we did:
After deciding that in order to properly assess this food we should eat it on its own rather than mixed into rice, we transferred the natto to an appropriately Japanese-looking bowl, added the sauce and dug in. Below are our respective facial expressions just after and during the consumption of these slimy little beans.
Eli (moi): While the beans are solid, the stuff that binds them together is very very slimey. I do like the texture though, it might be the best thing about it. I’m less enthusiastic about the taste. It was less savoury than I’d expected and for some reason, it reminded me a lot of liquorice. I’m slightly biased though, because I ate some Parma ham right after, so I might have to try it again to really savour the aftertaste.
Pim: The texture is super slimey and this gives it a really weird mouth-feel. Not sure I like it that much. It does have that old-cheese umami (think Parmesan) flavour though, and especially the aftertaste is very umami.
It’s definitely an acquired taste, but we still have two containers in the freezer so I might try one more, just to see if I can get past this weird liquorice sensation (after all, it might just be me) and really taste those umami notes in there.