Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Natto: treasure box of wholesomeness (納豆)

NattoNatto is the food that the Japanese give foreigners to have fun seeing their disgusted faces. "Wa-ha-ha-ha, you canto eato Japanizu foodo!" Smelly, sticky and stringy, it looks like half-rotten eggs of an alien spider. In fact, natto (pronounced nut-toe) is half-rotten soya beans and is only popular with about half the population of Japan. The other half hate it just as much as most foreigners.

My first encounter with it was when I saw my Argentinian Nisei friend Patricia having it for breakfast. She opened a small styrofoam pack, squeezed mustard and tare sauce from the attached weeny bags, mixed it all in and tipped it on top of a bowl of rice. That and green tea started her day. I had only heard that natto is gross stuff (that's accepted public opinion in Osaka where we were at the time) so I made fun of Patricia.

However, when I tried natto myself, it turned out quite nice: nutty and somewhat reminiscent of strong cheese. With the extra zing of mustard or negi it actually tastes great.

Later I found out that natto is packed with scientifically proven health-promoting substances preventing a range of medical conditions from thrombosis, baldness and obesity to cancer, osteoporosis and Altzheimer's.

Natto is cheap and available from most Japanese food shops abroad. In London it costs me £1.19 for a pack of four.

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