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Friday, July 08, 2011

 

7/10 is nattō day in Japan. A good day to enjoy stinky, sticky, delicious fermented soybeans!


by Nanette Geller

I love the Japanese penchant for numerical puns. Seven can be pronounced “na” and ten can be “to” so 7-10, “na-to,” becomes the excuse for “nattō” day. That means our dinner this Sunday will definitely feature nattō.

When we moved to Japan, Larry’s company sent us to Berlitz for private lessons. Our teachers quickly learned that we already loved Japanese food. One teacher, a gourmet, delighted in trying to find something we wouldn’t eat. He described nattō, which we hadn’t heard of. He loved it, but was certain we would be put off by both the fermented smell and the sticky texture. One day Larry and I had dinner at a hole-in-the-wall place where we ordered a set meal. One dish was small beans. Smelly. Long, slimy threads that stuck to our chopsticks. Nattō! The next day I proudly told the teacher that he was wrong. We loved nattō. Hey, my mom was French. I’d been eating stinky cheese my whole life. After that, he gave up trying to find a traditional Japanese food we wouldn’t enjoy.

The stinky cheese analogy is apt. If tofu is the soy equivalent of cottage cheese, then nattō is like a nice, ripe camembert.

Even in Japan, lots of people won’t eat nattō. It’s popular in the East and North (including Tokyo) but generally shunned in Western Japan (Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka). As the Wikipedia article notes, it’s typically served at breakfast, usually with a raw egg and shoyu (soy sauce) to mix in before pouring over hot rice. Despite the aggressive smell, it is highly digestible. With high protein and low fat, it’s a good way to start the day.

Although we enjoyed Japanese breakfasts when we stayed in Japanese inns, we most often ate nattō for dinner. And while it does go well with rice, it is equally at home with sake or beer. To serve with drinks, it is often combined with other items. The accompanying shoyu may be mixed with rice vinegar or tart citrus juice. There is often a garnish of thinly sliced green onion or other herb. A bit of hot mustard may be on the side for the diner to add to taste. The bite of the mustard and acid helps to tame the pungent flavor, while the herbs mediate the smell.

Izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) often serve either thin strips of raw squid or cubes of raw tuna mixed with nattō.

Probably my favorite accompaniment is grated daikon radish (daikon oroshi). But then, I love anything with daikon oroshi! We don’t find the nattō texture objectionable, but for people who do the daikon oroshi reduces the stickiness and tames the threads. After grating daikon, drain it to remove excess liquid.

When we moved to Hawaii, we were delighted to find that nattō is readily available, even in supermarkets. Imported nattō from Japan is available frozen, but we prefer the locally-produced Aloha or Maui brands. Here are two preparations which I served as part of Japanese dinners. Both went very well with sake.

 

ika natto

 

Frozen, thinly sliced squid is available at Don Quijote or Marukai. Here, it is arranged with separate piles of nattō and daikon oroshi to be mixed by the diner.

The dressing of grated ginger, shoyu and rice vinegar is underneath the main ingredients, to avoid discoloring the daikon. I advise against using the dressing which comes with the squid.

On top is julienned shiso (perilla) leaf.

 



 

okra natto

 

A similar preparation with okra. Oddly, the sliminess of the okra and the sliminess of the nattō seem to complement each other. This is Larry’s favorite nattō preparation.

I was delighted to find small, tender okra at Pit Farm. Most of the okra I find in Hawaii is older and tougher than okra in Japan, and doesn’t work as well for this preparation. Instead of steaming or blanching okra, which tends to increase the sliminess, I microwave them whole, covered, with just a splash of water. Cool quickly in ice water and pat dry before slicing. As you can see from the picture, they are very lightly cooked. You can click on the photo to enlarge it.

The daikon is mixed with finely julienned shiso.

The dressing (calamansi juice and shoyu) is underneath the other ingredients. Calamansi isn’t used in Japan but I find it’s a good substitute for sudachi, a small, tart citrus used for both juice and zest.




Comments:
Given how much Natto comes out of the nuclear affected region, I would think staying local would now be an especially good idea
 
Good point. I hadn't thought of that. I don't know where the soybeans are grown though. I should check with the producers.

I wonder how many places on the US even have locally-produced nattō. It's one reason we moved here when we left Japan.
 

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