Japanese culture highlight: Natto (fermented bean curd)

By | November 5, 2014

One thing great about cultures of the world is that each has it’s own set of foods, and usually there are some that haven’t quite become popular outside that country.

For Japan, the wide variety of fish products and the many ways they can be used in cooking is very unique. When I first heard of eating raw fish (in Sushi) may years ago it was a crazy idea to me which I had doubts about, but since then I’ve eaten much Japanese Sushi (and never gotten food poisoning a single time). But if you go to a Japanese grocery store and head over to the seafood section I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the strange and mysterious items you see there. Fugu (blowfish) is another good example of a Japanese dish that is very unique and very ‘risky’ (in theory), due to the fact that the fish used contains deadly poison.

Japan has other unique foods apart from fish products, and one such interesting one is ‘Natto’ (written in Japanese as 納豆). Natto is fermented bean curd which is well, fermented, so it has the double punch of a rather stinky smell plus a characteristic “stringiness”, the latter which can be expressed in Japanese as “necho necho”. See the featured image to get a good idea for what this looks like. Fortunately once you get past the smell and the scary stringiness, the actual flavor is quite good.

From what I’ve heard, Natto is eaten pretty commonly in Japan, though I wouldn’t go as far to say everyone eats it. Before eating it, it is common to put the Natto in a bowl (possibly with some other ingredients like Soy sauce or some topping that comes with the Natto) and mix it vigorously with chopsticks. This ritual was a bit confusing to me at first, but having done it myself a few times I noticed it seems to change the consistency and make it easier to eat. One of the later episodes of the drama “Starman” had a scene where one of the main characters mixed a big bowl of Natto for his family.

Natto is also touted for it’s many health benefits to the heart and skin, and contains many vitamins including K1 and K2.

For those who are looking to really experience Japanese food culture, or just looking for something different, I highly recommend trying Natto out. It is commonly sold in Asian food stores in the refrigerated section, with one of the popular brands   called ‘umainen natto’.

Both my wife and son love these smelly beans, so I’ve managed to accustom myself to eat them on occasion. I try to eat them mixed in within rice which improves both the visual consistency and the odor.




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4 thoughts on “Japanese culture highlight: Natto (fermented bean curd)

    1. locksleyu Post author

      I’ll have to admit kimuchi isn’t one of my favorite foods (the spiciness and texture seem to not mesh well to me), but maybe someday I can try it (:

      Thanks for the comment!

  1. Pingback: Travels in Japan 2005 [Part 11: Make it as you like it with Japanese Okonomiyaki] | Self Taught Japanese

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