Japan: Natto Maki

Place: Tokyu Food Show null
Address: 〒150-0002, 東京都渋谷区渋谷2丁目24-1 (二子玉川ライズSC B1F)
Area: Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
Nearest Station: Shibuya (渋谷)

Most major train stations in Japan (and other Asian countries) have a supermarket floor. Shibuya Station has a large supermarket next to a food court called “Tokyu Food Show” on the basement floor. There are many vendors at the food show, each stall specializing in sweets, fresh juice, rice rolls, croquettes, fish, dim sum, salads, rice paper rolls, and more!

One of the food I wanted to try in Japan was natto (fermented soybean). Natto is one of those foods where you either hate it or love it. It’s slimy, smelly, and has a strong flavor. First timers are encouraged to try natto in the form of a rice roll, called natto maki (納豆巻き) or natto sushi.

There was a rice roll shop that had natto maki for ¥222. Of course I got one to go! We ate just outside the station, next to Hachiko Statue.

Here is a pic of me, just before eating it! ^^

The first bite was slightly overwhelming, as it was stinky, slimy, and stringy. I also pulled away the first bite like melted cheese on a slice of pizza! The perilla leaf inside the roll helped balance the strong natto flavor.

I had become accustomed to the natto’s taste and texture by the last bite. So maybe it is more of an acquired taste for me. I don’t think I would ever be able to eat natto by itself.

Have you had natto before? Did you eat natto by itself or with other foods?

Wikipedia has some info on natto, including its fermentation process:

Nattō (なっとう or 納豆) is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis var. natto.

Nattō is made from soybeans, typically nattō soybeans. Smaller beans are preferred, as the fermentation process will be able to reach the center of the bean more easily. The beans are washed and soaked in water for 12 to 20 hours to increase their size. Next, the soybeans are steamed for 6 hours, although a pressure cooker may be used to reduce the time. The beans are mixed with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, known as nattō-kin in Japanese. From this point on, care must to be taken to keep the ingredients away from impurities and other bacteria. The mixture is fermented at 40 °C (104 °F) for up to 24 hours. Afterward the nattō is cooled, then aged in a refrigerator for up to one week to allow the development of stringiness.

Natto has a different nutritional makeup from raw soy beans, losing Vitamin A and several other vitamins and minerals. However, the calorie content of natto is lower than that of raw soy beans. While soy beans are highly nutritious, the nutrition is packed in the bean’s hard fiber. Natto includes the benefits of nutritious soy and softer dietary fiber without the high sodium content present in many other soy products, notably in miso. Natto contains no cholesterol and is a significant source of iron, calcium, magnesium, protein, potassium, vitamins B6, B2, E, K2, and more. When Natto is mixed with egg and eaten with rice, Japanese call the dish a perfectly nutritious meal, covering all nutritional needs.

Nattō has a distinctive smell, somewhat akin to a pungent cheese. Stirring nattō produces lots of sticky strings. Nattō is occasionally used in other foods, such as nattō sushi, nattō toast, in miso soup, tamagoyaki, salad, as an ingredient in okonomiyaki, or even with spaghetti. Sometimes soybeans are crushed and fermented. This is called ‘hikiwari nattō’. Many find the taste unpleasant and smelly, while others relish it as a delicacy. Some eat it as a breakfast food. Nattō may be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slimy texture.

In Japan, nattō is most popular in the eastern regions, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido. Nattō is known to be popular in the eastern Kantō region, but less popular in Kansai. A 2009 internet survey in Japan indicated 70.2% of respondents like nattō and 29.8% do not, but out of 29.8% who dislike nattō, about half of them eat nattō for its health benefits.

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