Boogers. Dirty socks. Puke. The only comparisons made to natto, or Japanese fermented soy beans, are unflattering ones. It's simultaneously sticky and slimy. When brought out of the freezer to room temperature and mixed, strings of what looks like natto mucus form around chopsticks.
But for those who grew up on it, natto is one of life's great comforts, simple to prepare but complex in flavor. Thought to have been invented when a soybean farmer left out raw soybeans in straw mats for several days, the fermentation process develops a funkiness reminiscent of blue cheese. In honor of Natto Day, celebrated every year on July 10th, we rhapsodize on the top 5 culinary uses for natto.
5. For Japanese home cooks, fried rice is often an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink dish. Leftover roasted pork, the last carrot of a bunch, scrambled eggs and natto are all fair game to be combined with stale rice and sautéed to perfection. When faced with a refrigerator full of disparate ingredients, natto fried rice is the solution.
4. Ground pork with natto may be the best introduction for those unfamiliar with natto. Add just a touch of sesame and vegetable oils to a saucepan and quickly fry grated ginger. Next comes ground pork, browned until almost cooked through. When chopped green onion, sake, soy sauce, tofu and natto get added and simmered together gently, even the nattophobic will ask for seconds.
3. Natto sushi is a dish we admit to not really getting. Most always in makizushi form, seawood wrapped around rice wrapped around natto, it shows up often in budget sushi sets and kaitenzushi, sushi restaurants with a revolving conveyor belt. Its inclusion is mandatory given its huge popularity amongst both the Japanese and this writer's little sister, but as much as we love natto, given the choice between natto sushi and sea urchin, we're picking sea urchin every time.
2. Nothing has the power of making an entire house smell like stinky fermented bean like a natto omelette. When bare natto hits oil and browns quickly before the inclusion of soy sauce and beaten egg, its aroma is all-consuming. While we may have a soft spot for it, rioters in Vancouver would have quickly dispersed if only a few skillets had been cooking up these omelettes.
1. When it comes to pure satisfaction, nothing matches plain natto. It's not for everyone. We vividly remember Anthony Bourdain sitting down for breakfast at a traditional Japanese inn, unable to take more than one bite of it. But when combined with the accompanying packets of tare — sweetened soy sauce — and Chinese mustard, draped gently over a steaming bowl of freshly cooked rice, perhaps mixed with chopped green onion or even a raw quail egg, natto is a unique pleasure unlike any other food.