Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tokyo, Day 2: Run-In with Natto

Day 2 in Tokyo brought us to the hotel breakfast buffet table where they served both western and Japanese style breakfast.  I've only read in books and have been told what the Japanese eat for breakfast.  Things like natto, congee, pickles, fish, etc. are breakfast items on the Japanese menu, and the buffet table isn't far from the myth.  I picked up what I know I will eat from the western tables and picked up this little container for shits and giggles.




What on earth does it require to be in a disposable container and double sealed?  Why, natto of course. What is natto?  From Wikipedia:
Nattō (なっとう or 納豆) is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis. It is popular especially as a breakfast food. As a rich source of protein, nattō and the soybean paste miso formed a vital source of nutrition in feudal Japan. Nattō can be anacquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slippery texture. In Japan nattō is most popular in the eastern regions, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido.
"Powerful smell" is an understatement.  At worst, it can clear rooms as it did when some students of mine brought it in as part of the Japanese foods project; at best, it's as strong as Corsican cheese.

And here's another bit of strange history behind natto too:
Sources differ about the earliest origin of nattō. The materials and tools needed to produce nattō have been commonly available in Japan since ancient times; one source puts the first use of nattō in the Jōmon period (10,000–300 BC). According to other sources the product may have originated in China during the Zhou Dynasty (1134-246 BC). There is also the story about Minamoto no Yoshiie who was on a battle campaign in northeastern Japan between 1086 and 1088 when one day they were attacked while boiling soybeans for their horses. They hurriedly packed up the beans, and did not open the straw bags until a few days later, by which time the beans had fermented. The soldiers ate it anyway, and liked the taste, so they offered some to Yoshiie, who also liked the taste. A third source places the origin of nattō more recently, in the Edo period (1603–1867). It is even possible that the product was discovered independently at different times.
"Liked the taste"??  They must've been starved from the war.  No one in their right mind would "like the taste" in my opinion.

So, in that little container of natto, they gave you some mustard and soy sauce to season your natto, which I did.  While trying the mix it, the "aroma" that wafted up was already doing a number on my appetite.  Picked up a couple of beans and tried to eat it, the smell instantly intensified, the texture was strange but indeed slippery like some rotting food would have, the flavour was the worst of all - it just tasted of rotting sour and stink.  Couldn't down that stuff.  Packed it up, stuff some napkins in there and shoved it away.  All the while, Meow Father couldn't understand why I wanted to eat that stuff saying "the Japanese only eats it so they can go poop."

Rotting gooey goodness

The reason why I wanted to try it was because of all the hype that's been around this stuff especially the fact that it is an acquired taste even for Japanese people.  Most foreigners cannot stand the mere smell of it, let alone being able to swallow it.  Therefore...




Natto does contain many health benefits such as reducing blood clotting, may reduce chances of developing Alzheimer's Disease, but I guess most importantly, it contains loads of vitamin K which helps with the formation of bones and therefore prevent osteoporosis.

It is also said that natto can lower blood cholesterol, has an antibiotic effect, improve digestion, reduces the effects of aging, reversal of hair loss, cure cancer, prevent the zombie apocalypse.  Okay, maybe not the last two.

I'm sure natto has its benefits but I'm also sure that I can obtain such benefits via other foods and not necessarily have to eat this stinky stuff to get it.  Maybe try yoghurt.

 Mr. Meow having his French style breakfast of various pastries and croissants.
Ignoring Meow's natto adventures.

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