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nihon no tatsujin HELLO NATTO

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of living in Japan, you probably have no idea what natto is. Neither did I a few years ago when I first came to Japan. My friend, Hiro, was kind enough to show me around my first week. I had a new apartment in dire need of food supplies. So he took me to the local supermarket. There he proceeded to introduce the various Japanese and foreign foods that I could buy. He showed me umeboshi ( which I LOVE! ), age tofu (which I also LOVE) , and one more food that I was told nearly all gaijin (foreigners) HATE. This was my first introduction to natto.


Natto is molded beans. (I could put it more delicately but that's what it is.) It gets worse. It's not the description of its make-up that makes this food disturbing. It is its smell. That is the reason most gaijin stay clear of natto. Imagine being locked in the trunk of a car for 24 hours with only a dozen rotten eggs and yesterday's socks to keep you company. I think you can get the picture...


natt package


The problem, back in that long ago summer's day, was that Hiro failed to mention the above point. ALL he said was most gaijin don't like it. So naturally I didn't want to be like many foreigners who refuse to try to fit into Japanese society. So I said to Hiro, "watashi wa rippana nihonjin ni naritai." (I want to become a great Japanese!) and bought the natto.


The following day, alone, I went with a hungry stomach to the kitchen to test the sincerity of the previous day's pledge. Full of confidence, I grabbed the natto with one hand and raised my other hand in a fist vowing, "Henceforth, I shall forevermore be a great Japanese!" Lowering my hand and realizing, shamefully, that I was talking to myself, I proceeded to open the Natto.


So there I was, all by my lonesome, with but a week's training in the Japanese doings of things. Propelled by my hunger and the will to be a ' great Japanese ,' I cracked the Natto open. With but a slit, my nose perceived the presence of a formidable enemy. Surprised, I ran to the nearest trash can and ridded myself of what I thought to be mold ( kabi ) . Which wasn't too far from the truth.


Today, as I write this some eight years after the said event, I have yet to eat this mysterious natto. I have a gaijin friend who claims it to be delicious. I will take his word for it, but I won't take his natto.

- By Clay

Update: Info from a visitor
Dear Clay,
Very nice site.

I'd just would like to come back on your thing about natto. I'm french and live in NYC. I've been quite exposed to Japanese culture, through trips and friends. I only hesitated to eat natto the first time. But the second time, it was at the Mitsuwa supermarket in New Jersey and there was this food demonstrator giving out free samples of natto with rice and nori, dipped with a touch of soy sauce. It was an instant revelation. I bought the natto on the spot and I've been eating it on a regular basis since then. I now have a deep passion for the stuff. Obviously slimy and stinky is nothing new for French people, what with their snails, frogs and runny cheeses. So I guess I come to natto with that background, even though I hate to eat snails and frogs.

Also, you don't mention what most Japanese invariably say about natto: it's good for you. I don't really know the exact effects, but I do feel satisfied and fortified after I eat natto and I fancy that maybe the sliminess actually has a cleansing effects in the body, as if all kinds of things could stick to the stuff and be evacuated.

And this: once I had very few things in my fridge and couldn't go out. So I invented the following recipe: soba with natto and cream cheese. It was divine.

As I'm writing this, I suddenly feel an urge to eat natto...


So there you have it... and you can keep it. Clay

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Well.. In Sweden they eat

Well.. In Sweden they eat fermented earrings, in Iceland fermented and smoked shark, here In Italy (my country) they eat rotten cheese with worms inside, and in France there are also cheeses with died ants inside. Well, every country has its strangenesses! The only difference I can see is that in Japan these tradition are still alive, here in Europe not much anymore...


Well there are a lot of foods that smell bad that taste good. Since we live in a land where we learn a lot of stuff like we know mold is bad, and molded bread or cheese is also bad for you. When we learn that in other lands that people eat those kind of foods, we feel disguisted. Like "Why would anyone eat Molded beans? Are they crazy?" Now I might understand someone not trying molded [insert name] in a poor country, etc, but this is Japan. The 3rd Largest Economy in the world, so if they're eating Molded, Slimey Beans, It must be okay. Because don't you think a Doctor might have came along saying it was bad for you? Besides, Beer is made from fermented Yeast. In other words, rotted yeast. And there are many other foods that may turn out to be disguisting when you find out how it's made. But it's good for you, and it might actually taste good. That's the thing.

phreadom's picture

I look forward to getting to

I look forward to getting to try some natto. :) I'm a bit nervous about being off-put by the smell, but I hope to give it my best shot. :)

(I wonder if, like Yves was talking about, it might be better to try it the first time as part of a mix?)


phreadom's picture

I didn't have long to wait!

I didn't have long to wait! :D

Thanks to my cousin for having us over for a great Japanese dinner with he and his wife. We had onigiri (with pickled plum, and salmon), daifuku, fried tofu (with smoked Gouda), miso soup, shouyu ramen with pork, and... なっとう!

The nattou was offered up after the onigiri, but I think before just about everything else? And honestly I didn't think it smelled bad... I put some soy sauce and a little mustard on it and tucked in. Mostly I just laughed a lot at how stringy the "snot" looking slime was, and the reactions of the other people at the table as I ate it. :P

Honestly, since I'm not into sweets much, I enjoyed the nattou more than the daifuku.

Overall it was a ton of incredible food and I'm very very grateful to my cousin for going to all that effort to prepare such a wonderful experience for us.




I love natto! I dont find it so stinky and smelly! The first time I was a bit surpised by the looks of it, and the difficulty I had in eating it (it stuck all over my chin...), but the second time I tried, it was simply nice and delicious! I would recommend everyone try it at least, you may like it as well...

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