The Adventures of Fatrick: Natto

September 25, 2009

Attrocity. Photo courtesy of jasja dekker on Flickr under Creative Commons

Attrocity. Photo courtesy of jasja dekker on Flickr under Creative Commons

Natto is the ultimate Japanese culinary test. Every foreigner in this country eventually gets asked “have you had natto?” and the answer says a lot about who you are. Not as a visitor, not as a wannabe-Japanese person, but as a human being. It’s a right of passage, though I’m not quite sure what it leads to.

Natto is a fermented soybean. It’s said to be incredibly healthy for you. It’s also incredibly divisive. Some Japanese love natto…others can’t stand it. You can’t not have an opinion on natto. It’s either one of the best Japanese foods you’ll ever eat or an infraction against the Geneva Convention.

Two months of life in Japan and I’ve been able to dodge natto. I came close to sampling the stuff at a dinner party, but I simply nudged the bowl aside and ate everything else in front of me. I’d put off the inevitable taste test…for the moment. I carried on a completely natto-free existence.

Until yesterday, when I ate natto. A Japanese friend (note: yes, I have Japanese friends here!) coaxed me into eating it. There were no other dishes on the table to distract with. My moment came. Out came the natto.

The first thing you notice after the seal comes off is the smell. It’s strong, and resembles industry-grade wood varnish. But so much worse. This would not be tolerated at Guantanamo Bay and it shouldn’t be tolerated at the dinner table in any country, especially a quote-un-quote first world nation.

Then you study the natto’s texture. It looks reptilian, and easily could have been peeled off of intergalactic bounty hunter Bossk. Yet then you stir it up, stir it until it resembles a still-shot of a Red Asphalt film.

At first, the taste isn’t so bad. Given the smell and appearance, I expected natto to kill me the moment I put it on my tongue. But at first it doesn’t taste bad, rather bland really. This is what everyone is making a fuss over?

Seconds later it hits.

The texture is horribly slimy and each bite feels like I’m eating varnish Jell-O. Swallowing natto isn’t easy. Taking a second chopstick-full…even more challenging. I’d rather not spend much time writing about the actual eating of natto as it constitutes a traumatic experience.

I realize everyone’s different. Some people like macaroni and cheese, some don’t etc. etc. Yet I honestly can’t comprehend how someone can enjoy natto. Tolerate…maybe. But actually get home from work and say “mmmmmm I sure could go for a nice plate of fermented beans tonight?” I find it reassuring that a large amount of Japanese people, who willingly eat mayo-and-corn sushi, find natto too intense. I truly have never tasted anything as vile as this stuff and would rather eat a wad of ketchup packets or a can of Crisco than be subjected to this again. The United Nations should do something about this.

So yeah, count me in the bracket that doesn’t like natto.

(Japanese Fun Fact #19 – OK, maybe not representative of all Japan, but my latest junior high school doesn’t have a basketball court…so they play the game on a dirt field. Huh.)

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