- 3 min read

Natto: A Hate-Love Story

Fermented dish is cheap, healthy, weird. So, why not?

Staring down at the brown, slimy, nubby-looking food in a Narita hotel, I am jet-lagged and warned not to do what, of course, I am about to do. I ate it anyway, and, as foreseen, it was god-awful. The first time I tried fermented soy beans or "natto" was the morning after I moved to Japan.

Since then, over a year has passed, and my dislike for the traditional Kanto-area Japanese food has miraculously lessened. And that seems to be a theme among some expats' time in Japan.

(A lot of) Westerners (really) hate natto because it is, in short, freaky as hell. And I'm not disputing that, but I have acquired a taste for it and even like it now. Of course, many foods which are unfamiliar to us can seem strange. In reality, the dish just takes some getting used to. In particular, it has textures and smells which westerners rarely -- if ever -- encounter.

  • It's slimy and sticky to the touch, as if it has a thin gel coating.
  • Unwrapping it, the slime sticks to the wax paper creating a weird situation of gooey micro Silly String -- not quite a string, not quite a liquid but always messy. (Sorry for the 90s reference. Guess I'm feeling nostalgic today.)
  • Its aroma is like someone mixed old socks with moldy mushrooms.
  • Often, it requires sauce and yellow mustard to make it tasty enough to eat, or it has to have a complementary ingredient like rice or egg.

So, why eat it?

  • Healthy

Natto is a bean and is packed with protein and carbohydrates. It also contains probiotic.

  • Filling

I can see why people eat it for breakfast... I get a lot of energy for the day.

  • Cheap

It's 78 yen for three small containers of it. (Usually they are stacked, styrofoam containers with natto, natto sauce and yellow mustard. If you eat one for breakfast each day, that's a 26 yen meal. If Japan is anything, it's resourceful.

  • Convenient

You can buy them pretty much at any convenience store.

So what's the verdict, here?

All of these things, for me, overpower the strangeness (from what my taste buds are used to) of natto and helped me acquire a taste for it. But, this isn't to say all Japanese people love natto, either. (Remember: Every situation is different.)

According to an article by the Japan Times Newspaper, "People from the west and south of the country tend not to like it. But people from the east and the north usually love it." It seems to be an all-or-nothing sort of deal.

Still, I've met plenty of people from the eastern Japan, who don't prefer the pungent food. Additionally, using the Question function of JapanTravel.com (as useful as it is interesting!), I asked for people's responses about if they like the fermented food. Those who said they acquired a taste for it relayed that it was mostly for health reasons. If this hasn't yet inspired you to try natto, maybe these natto dishes will. Be brave, people.

6 ways JapanTravelers eat natto

  1. On toast, with cheese
  2. Over rice
  3. With soy sauce
  4. Omellette natto
  5. With cheese
  6. Top it with avocado and strips of dried nori (seaweed paper)
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Sleiman Azizi 2 years ago
The verdict? Thumbs up!
Katie Jackson 7 years ago
My first encounter was in high school during a Japanese lesson. Didn't like it then but every once in a while I will give it another go because as you age you palette changes. Plus I hear they now make a less pungent version which is the aspect I have always struggled with... Though I did find a berry flavored natto ( べりーべりー納豆) that is meant to be eaten with bread? I did not eat it with bread but it wasn't too bad? Not a very strong flavor in either aspect, not very berry nor natto...
Katie Jackson 7 years ago
It is the only natto I have been able to eat. Again, not too berry and not too natto. It was oddly light...
My first encounter with natto was during breakfast at Lake Akan. I saw it, and dreaded it, but I told myself that I had to give it a chance. I was so scared because of the reviews I have been reading about it! So when I took the small dish of natto, I started taking a little bit with a fork and tasted it. It wasn't bad at all. In fact, it was so good! My only problem was the texture, since it left lots of 'spiderwebs' around my mouth while I was eating it. Surprisingly, a lot of the Japanese ladies I've spoken to (including my Japanese language teachers) don't like it! Here in the U.S.A., I just buy it in the frozen section of the Asian Market, then pack it as part of my breakfast at work.
Victoria Vlisides Author 7 years ago
I honestly can't believe they have it in the USA. That's great!
I can image what you said :aroma is like someone mixed old socks with moldy mushrooms. Hahaha. But still, I am curious to mix it with fried rice
Victoria Vlisides Author 7 years ago
Honestly, it's just the smell that is so strong! It's not too bad!!
Sarah Endarastya 8 years ago
Well, it's an anomaly! I don't like it very much, I only try it once and I think it's enough hahaha
Victoria Vlisides Author 7 years ago
Maybe try it a few more :)

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