Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Day 365: The Meaning of Natto

As a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that our entries started to taper off at around day 30--or about 335 days ago. Looking back, we didn't really do a good job of documenting how or why this happened, but the answer is simple: eating natto became ordinary and sometimes enjoyable. We set out to acquire a strange and foreign taste, and it took about thirty days.

Somewhere around day 28-30, eating natto no longer became a chore or something to dread. There were moments when I looked forward to eating it, but mostly it simply blended into the large category of "foods-I-like-but-don't-love-and-don't-bother-to-eat-very-often." Given that it's somewhat hard to procure (even though this is Manhattan there are still only a handful of places to buy natto, and none of them are near work or home), eating natto on a daily basis no longer seemed necessary. I had satisfied the goal of the project: I had acquired the taste.

In the last 335 days I have had natto a handful of times both at home and in restaurants. On those occasions I had a genuine desire to eat natto, and was glad to find that I still liked it. Nonetheless, when Valerie and I decided to commemorate the one year anniversary of The Natto Project's inception by eating natto together again, I approached the moment with trepidation; would my natto-nerves fail me at the critical moment, causing me to gag on the neba neba after so much hard work? It seemed unlikely, but nonetheless we took precautions and ate our natto like civilized people. We started by choosing one of our favorite brands, the "happy-natto-woman" natto. We prepared the natto in a simple fashion: with plain soy sauce and topped with scallions and seaweed flakes.

Valerie took it from there, rounding out the meal with plain sushi rice and salmon and tuna sashimi. It was yummy. I will eat natto again.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

leftovers - day 33

i am eating natto with leftover rice, scallions, daikon, and tsuyu. it's better with freshly made rice, but it's worse without it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

i doubt i will keep this up, though - day 31

this morning i ate my natto over rice, with tsuyu, scallions, and grated radish. it really is a good breakfast, but it is time-consuming.

Monday, May 08, 2006

bad start - day 30

well, here i am, day one of my new natto phase and i had plain natto (with the tsuyu packet) again this morning. it was ok for breakfast after an (unusual) early morning jog along the river.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

4 weeks of natto - day 29

we have been eating natto for 4 weeks today, this is the state of things:

i can honestly enjoy a bowl of natto over rice with scallions, shizo, daikon radish, and tsuyu.

i don't like the mustard that comes with the natto packages (today i ate my natto with both packages of tsuyu and mustard, but the taste of the mustard puts me off).

i still don't look forward to eating my daily natto, but that's just because i'm too lazy to make rice every morning, and too disorganized to constantly have on hand a supply of daikon, scallions, and shizo, so i usually eat natto just lightly seasoned with tsuyu, which is not very exciting. rice makes a huge difference.

so, my plan for the next couple of weeks is to try to stock my fridge and make rice.

natto should always be eaten this way - day 28

steve invited us to a homemade sushi party last night, and chad had the good sense to bring natto. since he wanted to offer it to all the guests, he planned to buy a trusted brand, my good "knitting grandmother" kind - which, as you may recall, i had described as: "orange packaging, mostly japanese characters but picture of small, bespectacled grandma figure in top right hand corner. i always imagine her to be knitting, but she isn't." with this description in mind, chad bought natto with green and white packaging, the picture of a bowl of natto with scallions, and a little hello-kitty type figure in the top left hand corner...

but it was fine. it was a new kind of natto where the beans are pre-chopped, and it tasted very mild (apparently the mildness was advocated on the package, which yoko was able to translate for us).

we made a big bowl of natto over rice with finely chopped scallions and shizo leaf, grated daikon radish, tsuyu (from a newly purchased bottle), and mustard (from the little packets that come with the natto).

nearly everyone had some. i thought it tasted really good; i hope the others will post their impressions...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Day 28: Natto for Everyone

I ate natto twice today. Once in the morning before a nice bike ride in the sunshine, and then later at Steve's sushi party where Valerie and I made natto for everyone. Look for details from Valerie...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Day 27: Nobody Eats Natto

Day 27 was a tough one, I guess. I woke up too late to eat natto at home, then had breakfast at the diner once I got to work. I was going to eat it for lunch but forgot it was in my bag. Oh well.

day 27

thomas says i can't lie to the web so i must confess that, once again, i did not eat natto today.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Day 26: Shiso

The mysterious Morgan continues to provide invaluable natto insights. As she explained, the "Crazy-Cartoon-Natto-Chef" natto comes with Shiso sauce, which I ate again this morning. Shiso is an herb in the mint family. Shiso sauce is a little more mysterious. Kikkoman lists a recipe for plum Shiso sauce on their website (using Kikkoman Plum Sauce, of course), but mostly what I found were recipes calling for Shiso leaves. Some recipes also call for Shiso sauce, which I presume is sitting on the shelf at the Japanese grocery. For the time being, however, I'm the dark about what is in my Shiso sauce, or Shiso sauce in general (besides Shiso, of course; I'm guessing the flakes I noticed yesterday are the actual chopped up Shiso leaves -- and it did taste vaguely sweet and fruity, so maybe plum sauce is a common base for Shiso sauce).

tsuyu - day 26

i am now eating bland natto with grated daikon radish and the small packet of tsuyu that comes with the natto. it's definitely better than the soy sauce. thanks morgan.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

natto as an appetizer - day 25

i didn't eat natto for breakfast. i have no excuse for this - except maybe that my mother's visiting right now - and i didn't find another good moment during the day. this evening i went jogging along the hudson river at twilight, listening to pulp and johnny cash. it was raining mildly, and everything was perfect. when i got home dinner was ready (how much better can it get?), but ... i still had to eat my daily natto. so i quickly had a few bites of plain natto on an empty, hungry, exercised stomach (as chad advised).

this is my take on it: eating natto when you're hungry may make a difference, but as an appetizer it doesn't stand a chance. the meal beckoned, was i to waste my time and appetite on soy beans? i did, however, eat enough to report the characteristics of this new brand: the neba neba is terrible - it's stringy rather than fluffy; the consistency of the beans is good - they are firm and crunchy; the taste, finally, is fairly mild. all in all a rather bland specimen.

Day 25: Not Soy Sauce; Return of Crazy Cartoon Natto Chef

Yesterday I went to the Jas Mart on the Upper West Side and bought a pack of the infamous "Crazy-Cartoon-Natto-Chef" natto. Last time we had this it started to go bad, so I wanted to try it again. This time it wasn't rotten, but I found it really, really bland. I guess that's a good thing, since I take it as a sign that I've developed some natto resistance and the ability to distinguish between nattos to some extent. It still tasted like natto, but didn't have the rich nuttiness or gooey neba neba. Avoid this brand, I say.

Also, it came with a thick paste (packet at left). This follows on an interesting thread started by Morgan, in which she informed us that the packets in most natto boxes are not soy sauce, as we had believed, but rather tsuyu. I have no idea what the packet in this box was -- it tasted a little bit like the bad "duck sauce" you get with cheap Chinese take out, and had little flakes of something (fish?) in it. At any rate, it didn't do much to enhance the flavor, and I definitely prefer the tsuyu and mustard packets in most natto boxes.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Day 24: Eat Natto When You're Hungry

Today I did a couple of laps around Central Park on my road bike before breakfast (natto). It was nice to eat natto on an empty, hungry stomach. It felt like a solid breakfast. I really like the "classy-packaging" natto and will be sad to move onto another brand. I did realize today that I still have a tough time with the first bite, just because the neba neba looks so much like snot. But once I stuff it in my mouth everything is good, and the rest of the natto goes down without a problem.

new natto with daikon radish and bonito powder - day 24

i have a new brand of natto this morning. it is all writing, no comic-book figure. yellow background, green and brown characters. the neba neba is not as abundant as the previous brands i tried, but the beans have great consistency. i forgot to taste it plain, but i will give you a thorough critique tomorrow.

i'm working on the proportions. i think i added just the right amount of daikon radish today, i still can't taste the bonito powder much, but i used a different soy sauce and it's much better. previously i used a bottle of naturally brewed kikkoman premium soy sauce. the taste is too strong and overpowering. today i used one of dozens of little soy sauce packs we hoarded from left over sushi delivery. it is naturally brewed yamasa less salt soy sauce. i like it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Day 23: Not Soy Sauce?

Morgan claims that the little packets in the natto boxes are not soy sauce. I dunno. Looks like soy sauce; tastes like soy sauce; smells like soy sauce. But if you've been following along then you know that my capacity to doubt my palate is significant. I think Morgan should just post a comment and tell us all what is actually in those packets. I'm hoping it's something cool like clarified fish-eye extract.

natto with daikon radish and bonito powder - day 23

finally, after two suspenseful days, i am eating natto with daikon radish, soy sauce, and bonito powder! i think i grated too much radish (there was more radish than natto in the bowl). the bonito is barely perceptible. and i don't like my soy sauce very much; it's too strong.

so, there is still some fine-tuning to do...

Sunday, April 30, 2006

no natto - day 22

i slipped again today. i was too excited about the daikon and bonito powder to eat my last box of natto plain, but i only managed to go to sunrise mart late in the day. then one thing led to another and in the end i didn't eat natto.

but i can't wait until tomorrow.

Day 22: My Natto is Boring

Valerie's natto sounds so cool now. Then again, I really like my "classy-packaging" natto, and I've developed a whole technique for mixing it by putting the soy sauce and mustard in the bowl first and then dumping the natto on top, which I think provides for a better distribution of condiments throughout the neba neba. But I guess I have to start buying more exotic natto add-ons if I want to keep up with the Joneses.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

do we take natto too seriously ? - day 21

i finally send yuji - whom I knew to be a lover of natto - a link to thenattoproject and he responded with some valuable info:

"You are right about beating natto prior to adding anything. Very interesting to hear you two talk about my favorite thing in the world. (maybe you two take natto too seriously) My usual routine is to add a lot of grated radish and soy sauce and a little bit of bonito powder (available at Sunrise Mart under the name “KATSUO DASHI”). Try that!"

suddenly the idea of eating natto without bonito powder or radish (daikon, i guess, right?) seems so boring that i can't really enjoy today's bowl. but since i need to replenish my natto supply tomorrow, i will look for the other ingredients. i'm giddy with anticipation.

Day 21: Four out of Five Family Members Refuse Natto

I'm in California visiting my brother and his wife and my new niece, Mia. My parents are out here for the weekend as well. Mariya and I are staying with my brother, and the whole family was over here this morning while I was eating my natto. My dad was the only one who would try it. The neba neba alone was too much for everyone else. My dad's take: if there were a few more things mixed in (like, I don't know, maybe some rice and scallions?), it wouldn't be so bad. He was of the "tastes-like-coffee" school of thought.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Day 20: I Take Back What I Said About the Cheese

The new "classy-packaging" natto does taste different than other nattos I've eaten up to this point -- I may in fact be developing the capacity to tell one natto from the other. Until now I've resisted the idea that natto tastes like pungent cheese, as many others have claimed. But this natto does in fact have an aftertaste that is distinctly cheese-like. Like really strong Camembert or bleu. But again, my cheese palate is not good enough to make a fair comparison. It's just a natto with a strong cheese finish...

plain pure natto - day 20

today i am eating pure, unadulterated "knitting-grandma" natto.

i am enjoying it, and in the process of finishing the whole box (served in a bowl, of course). it is a first for me. before every mouthful i beat the beans to make neba neba, and i think i am slowly beginning to get the spaghetti-like-twirling chopsticks-movement down. slowly.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Day 19: Brands Diverge

Valerie and I had to source our natto from different stores this week, so I am eating what I call "classy-packaging" natto for the next few days. I guess it's not as good as Valerie's "knitting-grandmother" brand. I like the mustard sauce, but I wish they would give me more of it. Also, I've begun to feel as if my twirling technique for dealing with the neba neba strings that form between bowl and mouth is lagging behind. I still make a bloody mess eating this stuff.

best natto brand yet - day 19

this morning i beat the natto before adding anything to it. the neba neba was gorgeous: white, unctious, and fluffy. it was so beautiful i had to taste it plain. the appearance was not deceitful; this is definitely the best natto i've had so far. the beans have a crunchy consistency; the taste is natto, but not harsh; and the neba neba, well - see above. it was very good.

but then i added soy sauce. the sauce makes everything slimy. and when the original natto has such subtle taste and texture, it ruins it. it was better with nothing at all.

is it conceivable that i am already becoming an instransigent natto aficionado?

(i will try to find a way to post a picture of this great brand of natto, but in case you are in front of the assortment of natto boxes at the supermarket, here is a description: 2 x 50g styrofoam boxes per pack, orange packaging, mostly japanese characters but picture of small, bespectacled grandma figure in top right hand corner. i always imagine her to be knitting, but she isn't).