Have you ever tried natto? If so, then you are most likely doing one of two things right now: salivating or plugging your nose and reaching to close your browser. Natto is one of those polarizing foods like cilantro and okra. People who have tried it tend to have extremely strong feelings about it. Natto is a traditional Japanese food consisting of soybeans that have been fermented with the bacteria, Bacillus subtilis. It is stinky in the same manner as some pungent cheeses (think Limburger). It is also known for its slimy, sticky texture. When stirred, natto develops lots of long, gooey strings. People go on and on about the smell, but I think it’s the unusual texture that really gets to folks. Don’t you want to try it now?

I saw “natto gnocchi” on a restaurant menu recently, and it got me thinking about natto. My mom used to eat natto when I was a kid. Of course, back then I thought it was the worst thing ever. I would run out of the kitchen in horror every time she opened up a package. As an adult, I have grown to love all kinds of fermented foods. Kimchi, fish sauce, stinky cheeses – the riper and moldier it is, the better! I decided it was time to give natto another shot.

I picked up a package of organic natto at Uwajimaya. In order to experience the true taste of natto my first time out, I decided to keep things simple by serving it over rice with soy sauce and a touch of spicy mustard. This is one of the most common ways of eating natto; so common, in fact, that most boxes of natto come with tiny packets of soy sauce and mustard inside. I can’t say that I loved it, but it certainly wasn’t terrible. It was surprisingly mild: stinky, yes, but not as much as certain cheeses. The beans themselves were quite bland. I think I enjoyed it less for its flavor and more for the thrill that comes with eating something others wince at. Plus, it is really fun to stir the natto and watch its crazy stringy texture develop. People typically either love natto or hate it, but strangely enough, I fall somewhere in the middle.

Today, I was feeling experimental. I had some extra odds and ends in my pantry, and I thought, “why not mix them all together with some spaghetti and natto?” In a small bowl, I whipped the natto into a stringy, bubbling frenzy. Then I stirred in spicy mustard, tamari and a raw egg. I tossed this with hot spaghetti until it thickened into a sauce and coated all of the noodles. Then I added some edamame and chopped kimchi (because the natto wasn’t quite stinky enough for me). A drizzle of sesame oil and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds completed the dish. It may sound horrific, but it was actually pretty tasty. It reminded me a little bit of sesame noodles, albeit with a slimier texture and a flavor only a natto fan could love. If you like unusual foods, I dare urge you to try natto!

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