We Say No To Natto

Posted by on Oct 7, 2011 in Ibaragi, Travel Volunteer Journey | 11 Comments
We Say No To Natto

hyperbole

1. an obvious and intentional exaggeration.
2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally.

As we’ve travelled around Japan, we’ve been treated to loads of local speciality dishes. The “Genghis Khan” in Hokkaido, the thick-cut beef tongue in Miyagi, the boiled “platinum” bacon (shabu-shabu) in Iwate… The list is getting longer, and already we have half a dozen recipes to take back home.

Most days we’ve eaten something memorable, and we’re making a point of trying everything that’s put in front of us, even when we know it might not be to our normal tastes. With a few rare exceptions (mountain potato being one; uni being another), we’ve been lucky. But now, having visited Mito City in Ibaraki prefecture, fate has turned against us. Though natto – fermented soybeans – is sold up and down Japan, in Mito it’s the dish of choice, making Ibaraki’s capital the culinary equivalent of Mordor. A bit like Marmite back in the UK, or blue cheese in France, or anchovies on a pizza, natto divides opinion in Japan. But not in Mito: here they love it.

On the surface, the city looks quite normal, with a sprawling park and lake, and a trendy art tower visible from miles away. But when we picked a restaurant at random and ordered a set-menu of six natto-based dishes, we realised that the real evils are being hidden away.

What’s the problem? Natto has the colour and consistency of regurgitated peanut butter, covered in the mucus of a sickly alien; it has a formidable scent that stings the nostrils, in a bad way; and then there’s the taste. For Katy it has a boozy-nutty flavour, a taste so foul that it dwarfed the accompanying onions. For me it’s something like a strong French cheese encased in plastic, then melted with a blow torch.

And that was just the standard dish. An especially foetid one had been mixed with translucent little fish-worms, which combined to make a taste so repugnant we could feel the bones in our skulls reconfiguring themselves to get away from it.

It didn’t stop there: there was also a bowl of miso soup polluted with natto and next to that, tempura. Over the last month we’ve come to love tempura – deep-fried anything – and its crispy deliciousness. Not today. Today, next to a piece of battered squid (which was tasty), there was what looked like a dainty fritter. But there wasn’t banana inside. Nor pineapple. Nor peas, nor even potato: it too had become a vessel for natto – and the deep-frying had not dulled its toxicity one bit.

It all proved that when natto is on the menu nothing is safe. Even trying to eat plain rice with natto-tainted chopsticks was a vile experience.

Among its many alleged health benefits, natto is said to help reduce cholesterol, lower the risk of cancer and heart attacks and act as a natural antibiotic, all the while containing plenty of protein and virtually no calories. But frankly, it could give us the ability to fly and we’d still give it a wide berth.

We left the restaurant making solemn vows learn the kanji for natto, just in case we ever found it on a menu again. As we walked through Mito train station, back towards our hotel, a cheery vendor selling a dozen or more natto-based snacks smiled and invited us to look at his goods.

“Hah!” We thought: “You’re not fooling us…”

 

誇張とは・・・
1、 明らかにそして意図的におおげさに表現する事
2、 文字通りではないが表現として誇大な表現や数字を述べる事

日本を旅する中でそれぞれの土地ならではの食を堪能させてもらってきた。北海道での“ジンギスカン”、宮城での“牛タン”、岩手では“白金豚のしゃぶしゃぶ”など、一つ一つ挙げればきりがなく、料理のレシピは増えるばかりだ。 そのほとんどはとっても素晴らしいもので、なかには食べ慣れない味のものや、あまり得意でなかったものもいくつかはあったが(山芋やウニはあまり・・・)、全般的にとてもおいしくいただいている。

が・・・今日茨城県水戸市に来て、私達は食における“幸運の女神”にそっぽ向かれてしまったようだ。
日本中で販売されている納豆だが、それがここ茨木県の県庁所在地、水戸市を私達にとって“悪魔の街”に変えてしまった。
イギリスでいうところのマーマイト(イギリスではおなじみのトーストやクラッカーに塗って食べる食品)やフランスでいうところのブルーチーズ、もしくはピザにのっているアンチョビのように、日本でも納豆に対する意見は分かれるところではあるらしいのだが、水戸では納豆が生活の一部なのだ。

水戸市は“ぱっと見”普通の街だ。公園や湖、そして遠くからでも目につくモダンアートのオブジェなど、リラックスできる素晴らしい街だ。だが、適当に入ったレストランで適当にメニューを頼んだところ、なんと定食の中の6品に納豆が使われていたのだ。 恐るべし悪魔の街・・・!

納豆は粘りのあるピーナッツバターみたいで、青白いエイリアンの唾液につつまれたような、鼻孔に痛みを覚える程の悪臭を放っている。そして味・・・ケイティ曰くそれは酒場で小動物が玉ねぎをつけて走り回っているような不潔な場所の味らしく、私にとってはフランスのチーズをビニール袋に入れてつぶし、炙ってとかしたような味だ。

そしてそれはいわゆる“納豆”に対する感想で、しらす(ちなみに彼らは“透明の魚の虫”と言っています・・・)と和えたものに関しては史上最悪の組み合わせで、とにかく少しでも遠くにやってしまいたかった!!!
だが悲劇はそれだけでは終わらない。定食にはおみそ汁も付いていたのだが、もちろん納豆入りだし、そして天ぷら。来日以来、カリカリと香ばし天ぷらはお気に入りの一つだったのに、それさえも・・・それは一見大好きなフリッター(衣揚げ)のように見えたのだが、中から出てきたのはバナナでもなく、パイナップルでもなく、洋なしでもなく、なんと納豆だったのだ。

これで、納豆の加工品・おかずに比べれば、ただの“納豆”は何でもないことが証明された。
そして最も危険なのはお箸。納豆の匂いとベタべたを身にまとったお箸は、ただの白いご飯をも食べられないものに変えてしまうパワーを持っているのだから・・・。

納豆はコレステロールを下げ、がん発症率や心臓発作のリスク回避にも効き、たんぱく質を豊富に含み、そしてカロリーもゼロだ。素晴らしい食品である事は間違えないのだが、できれば少しでも離れていたいものだ。

今日の教訓。今後同じ苦しみを味わないように“納豆”という漢字を覚える事、そう強く誓った私達だった。そして水戸駅からホテルに戻る道々、たくさん目にした納豆食品。
本当に参りました。

11 Comments

  1. Robert
    October 7, 2011

    Natto, that’s where i draw the line.

  2. Eric
    October 7, 2011

    You gotta be strong, very strong, to like natto… ;-)

    No seriously, it’s actually delicious! But you have to try it many times before you start enjoying it!

    … Or be spoonfed with natto when you’re still a toddler! That actually was the diet of our first boy and he loves it! Nowadays, when he’s in a “don’t-wanna-eat-anything” mood, a bowl of rice with natto works wonders!

    To conclude: Natto: 1 – K&J: 0 :-)

  3. Kat
    October 7, 2011

    I think each country has their own sort of “weird” food. Hehe. My friend lived in Singapore for two years and she grew to love natto. My Japanese friend eats it like its chips. Me? I’ll stick to edamame.

  4. seakson
    October 7, 2011

    i relly like it.
    u know i very good

    • seakson
      October 7, 2011

      *it

  5. Michelle
    October 9, 2011

    I couldn’t bring myself to even take a bite when I first encountered natto.. O_O

  6. Karin
    October 10, 2011

    I will try it when I am in Japan next year. I heard to many things (good and bad) about it that I am eager to know how it really tastes ;-)

  7. Yukari Kawai
    October 11, 2011

    I like your funny photos and story about natto.
    I, born in the West Japan, almost fainted when I ate natto for the first time at the age 18. But I love it now ! Natto is a delicious miracle food!
    You’re never too old to acquire a taste for natto. Keep eating! : )

  8. ami
    October 13, 2011

    Then perhaps the thing with natto is something like this: If natto likes u …then u will like natto :P LoolL…. still made me very curious :D

  9. Mini
    December 13, 2011

    You did natto hard-core way! I grew up in Mito but I don’t like natto with spring onion or in my miso soup. It’s OK not to like it. Just keep trying, though. It’s an acquired taste. Natto with nori & soy sauce on toast is nice. I still can’t eat Vegemite after 25 years in oz but I try every now and then.

    • Katy & Jamie
      December 13, 2011

      Thanks Mini. I think it’s totally normal not to like everything – there are plenty of foods in the UK that we avoid all the time. And neither of us like Vegemite either (although Katy loves Marmite, which is kind of similar) so don’t worry about it!
      Thanks for reading.