By the time the morning sun roused me from my futon, Misako was hard at work in her cramped little kitchen. As my host mother, she was determined to show me Japanese courtesy. She made me fish and curry, rice and pickled vegetables. And she made me natto.
Natto! I’d never had it before, but I was hooked. And Misako was utterly shocked by my taste for this stinky-gooey-slimy mess in a bowl.
That trip to Japan was many years ago now, but I’ve always retained a great affinity for these fermented beans, full of protein, vitamins and disease-fighting properties. Lots of people don’t like natto. Even my Japanese friends raise their eyebrows when I mention the word. You know those squooshy, oozy banana slugs that populate the Pacific Northwest? Well I’ve never eaten one, but I imagine their slimy trails to have the same consistency of natto. I understand why people turn their noses — but not I. I like just about anything a bean will do.
When we lived in Oregon, I’d hit the Asian markets in Eugene and stock up on little packets of natto (easily kept frozen). Japanese ingredients were common there. But here in Thailand, non-Thai Asian ingredients can be tricky to find. So I was delighted to discover these nifty natto containers at a local supermarket the other day.
There’s a trick to fixing natto. It needs to be whipped. Stir and stir and stir with a spoon or chopsticks until you’ve made a gloppy mound of bean goop. Add hot Japanese mustard (usually included in the package), soy sauce, chopped green onions or flakes of dried seaweed. Serve with rice, and get yourself sticky. What a breakfast!
It’s a rather rebellious dish for Japan, ancient though it is. I think that’s why I respect it so. I mean, you can’t eat natto and not get dirty. You’ll leave the table with little strings of bean hanging from your chin, little tendrils devouring your face. Not exactly the picture of Japanese daintiness. I love it.