As a foreigner in Japan, I am often asked, “Do you like Japanese food?”
I love Japanese food. One of the major joys of living in Japan is the sheer variety of delicious food. All kinds of noodles, sushi, Japanese sweets, tempura, donburi, crackers, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.
As a follow-up question, some people ask, “Can you eat raw fish?”
Yes indeed, I reply, I love sushi and sashimi.
Then I see an eyebrow raised, and the killer question is unleashed. “Have you tried … nattou?”
Until recently, to my shame, the answer has always been, “No, I haven’t eaten nattou.”
Nattou is innocent enough, it is just fermented beans. However it packs a double-punch of repulsiveness: the long viscous strings of translucent whitish slime that stretch from your chopsticks to the bowl, and the smell, which is like a combination of vomit and smelly feet. Wikipedia says: “Nattō may be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slimy texture.”
A Google Image Search for “natto” will turn up many images like this one:
This picture captures the visual appeal quite well but the smell is left to your imagination.
On a previous attempt many years ago, I was defeated; I had it on my chopsticks but just couldn’t bring myself to put it into my mouth.
However, the time had come to rectify this ancient wrong. I had heard that it doesn’t taste as bad as it looks and smells. I made a nattou pact with Jonathan. Yuko brought some home from the store and we agreed that we would eat it for breakfast the next morning.
The fateful moment arrived. Two grizzled men sat at the breakfast table facing their destiny.
Yes, we met the challenge head on (though we didn’t finish it). How did it taste? Pretty awful, actually. But that’s not the point. From now on, I will be able to hold my head high and answer, “Yes, I have tried nattou“.