Natto the toughest challenge

Natto. Whenever the topic of Japanese food comes up in a conversation (which is pretty much all the time because the duck and I love to talk about food), especially with a Japanese person, the talk usually unerringly navigates toward the stinky food that starts with the letter ‘n’ (that’s how the topic was introduced in the latest instance of natto-questioning) eventually. In fact, with fruit being so expensive in Tokyo, the duck and I had started doing research on this smelly and sticky but incredibly healthy fermented soybean delicacy even before we set off on our big journey to Japan. Inspired by this blog post from several years ago (with lots of info on natto, too – check it out!), we initially planned to try 30 days of natto ourselves. But we did not end up doing that because ① we are lazy and ② (spoiler alert!) it did not take us that long to get used to it because it was not as bad as we had expected after my first encounter with natto maki three years ago. Still, our initial fear of preparing natto was pretty intense.


You’re not convinced that I don’t think it’s the toughest challenge? Well, I do still have a vivid memory of the soy milk tasting gone wrong. In fact, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat because my taste buds had a nightmare of this sweet sake soy milk. But, back in text, here is a summary of our short journey to appreciating natto:

Some days of natto (because 30 are too much of a commitment)

When we came to Japan this time we decided to approach natto with an open mind (as opposed to the last time I had it, at a sushi restaurant, already expecting that I might not like it after having heard so many horror stories about its taste) because we might need some healthy food in the months that we are going to spend here. It was essential to our survival in the land of the expensive fruit and oats that we liked it (or something like that)! So, we started off with much enthusiasm and have since tried natto in different variations to figure out what works best for us.

Natto Maki

Natto maki

Our first planned encounter with natto this year was in the form of natto maki (oh, how nostalgic!), a friend’s recommendation. I decided to just forget my horrifying experience from three years ago. Because we are stingy, we went to our favorite Konbini and got a roll there. This was during the time of our being scared of using the microwave and cooker in our new place (why? Well, that’s a different story); unwrapping this baby sure was difficult enough. Surprisingly, apart from the smell, the rice and seaweed made the natto more bearable to eat. ‘Bearable’ is not the perfect word to be using when describing a food that you want to be able to like one day, but it’s a good start!

Natto Omelet

Natto omelet

When, in our early research stages, I had told my friend about our plan to start eating natto in Japan, she recommended turning it into an omelet with lots of veggies and soy sauce to mask the taste and texture a bit. And, when our housemate recommended the same thing, the duck and I went out to buy our first packs of natto and some eggs. We’re not great cooks and we sill were a bit scared of using the kitchen to actually turn that gooey mass into something to eat (which, actually, it is right out of the container – not for us, though), but we tried! Our omelet looked questionable and the natto was still pretty prominent in its taste and texture but it was not as bad as we had expected. In fact, I was more bothered by the eggs. They had a rather unusual taste (for our taste buds at least – but maybe they were still crying about the sake soy milk debacle).

Natto with Veggies on Rice

Natto with vegetables

Then we got lazy and just ate it with roasted veggies on rice – our go-to dinner whenever we’re not having pasta – and, what can I say, this worked for us perfectly! Since our sad little omelets did not manage to mask the taste and the stringy, sticky texture of the fermented soy beans we decided to just embrace it. Also, did I mention that we are lazy? Adding natto (mixed with a tiny bit of vinegar to rid it of some of the smell, soy sauce and the spicy mustard that comes with it) adds almost no preparation time to our rice with veggies staple!

Natto Salad?!

Natto salad?!

Sometimes, if we are feeling adventurous and happen to have some natto that has to be used up in the fridge, we’ll just add it to any leftovers that we have. Some time ago we still had some leftover daikon salad. So, we added some baby leaf salad and our natto-vinegar-soy sauce-mustard concoction. Our hopes that the distinct natto taste would lift some of the daikon’s bitterness did not proof true in the end. But it was still pretty edible. And that is more than enough for us (we have years of experience in lousy cooking), haha!

Conclusion: The smell of natto is pretty obtrusive and its texture is, let’s put it this way, not my favorite thing in the world. But mixing in a bit of vinegar and adding the mustard package and some soy sauce make natto a not half-bad dinner component. In fact, I do end up buying natto from time to time now because I sometimes actually feel like eating it these days (say whaaa〜?).

Natto bad, right?

Okay, that was one too many. I’ll go and stand in my corner of shame for a while.
See you next time!

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