When it comes to the topic of Japanese food with travelers, I know everyone loves to talk about the fermented soybean dish natto, since it is the quintessential weird food of Japan with it’s gooeyness and smelliness. But I am honestly tired of hearing Japanese people always asking non-Japanese travelers if they have tried natto during their travels in Japan and if they liked it or not. I mean doesn’t every Japanese person already know that even some Japanese people born and raised in Japan can dislike natto? And I get more annoyed when people go bonkers with disbelief when the traveler actually does like it. Seriously, I wish people would come up with other things to ask like have you tried shirako fish milt, because although it might sound disgusting it sure is terrific!
Well, that said, I never was much of a fan of natto while growing up as a Japanese-American in Texas. Although I still don’t go out of my way to buy natto at my local supermarket in Tokyo, that doesn’t mean I haven’t grown to like it. When I first tried good natto, it was when my Japanese aunt introduced me to natto made in Ibaraki prefecture. I’m still no expert at this point when it comes to natto specifics, but I could really tell the difference because the flavors from the soybean itself was stronger than the pungent smell you often hear about making the natto quite pleasant to eat.
The way you eat the natto might also change your perspective. Depending on how much more sliminess you can embrace, you can mix and match raw egg, yamaimo mountain yam, okra, green onions, cucumbers, dried seaweed, shiso leaves or even kimchi and cheese. Natto maki rolls are very common but you can also find natto omelets, tempura, and even pasta.
So for those who have already given up on natto on your first try, it might just be that you haven’t found your best match. There are so many different kinds of natto from different regions, brands, and well even the size of the natto will affect the taste. Your local supermarket might have a good selection but make sure to check out a nearby depachika (the basemet floor of a large department store) or other specialty food stores you may stumble upon while you wonder the streets of Japan. Hopefully you will finally find your best match.