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).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

is this kosher? - day 18

this morning i delved into my fridge looking for something to accompany natto. all i found was some cucumber. it seemed fairly appropriate (better than tomato, parmigiano, or strawberries, but i may be misguided). so i left out the mustard and had my natto with soy sauce and thinly sliced cucumber. it tasted fine, but still i couldn't help but wonder whether i wasn't commiting an inexcusable natto faux pas...

Day 18: Last of the "Good-Natto" natto

I screwed up and didn't replenish my natto supply, so I'm still stuck on the "good-natto" brand natto (I found a box in the fridge that I missed yesterday when I fell off the wagon). I ate it with the soy sauce and mustard from the foam box. It's amazing how the condiments change the quality of the neba neba. I'll post a before and after shot soon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

back on track - day 17

this morning i had a new brand of natto (i don't have a digital camera so i can't show a picture just yet, but i'm sure chad will tomorrow). i mixed it with soy sauce (from bottle) and mustard (from styro-box). there was good neba neba. i concur with chad on this - the soy sauce seems to increase the goo. i will have to rethink the mustard. i don't like it very much. or perhaps i added too much (half the tiny packet).

definitely no comparison with the delicious dish of natto, rice, and scallion we had sunday.

Day 17: Off the Wagon

I missed a day today also. There isn't a Japanese supermarket on every corner in NYC, so I had some re-supply issues. I am going to California this weekend and may have similar problems, but I'm hoping for a natto-in-restaurant experience. I neither missed the natto nor felt a sense of relief regarding its absence.

Monday, April 24, 2006

shhhhhhhhhhhhh - day 16

(i didn't eat any natto today because i didn't have any left this morning, and tonight i am sick and have to go to bed and read bill buford's article in the new yorker about being a butcher in tuscany...)

Day 16: Eating Inside the Box

Today I ate the "good-natto" natto with the little packets soy sauce and mustard that were in the carton. It wasn't as nice as rice and scallions, but it did make the natto more interesting. I think the soy sauce also increased the neba neba factor (I have a feeling that adding any kind of liquid creates the possibility for more gooey-ness). So while you might think that adding soy sauce would make natto easier to eat, I would content that it only makes it more it more neba neba (i.e. slimy and disgusting), which is what most people seem to have a hard time with in the beginning.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Day 15: Eating Natto Like Civilized People

As Valerie outlines below, today we commenced to eat natto as most people do, i.e. with other stuff. Many people have told us that we were crazy to eat the beans by themselves, and that this was not proper and that no real natto aficionado would do this. Whatever. The point is that by Day 15 I was able to actually enjoy a bowl of natto with soy sauce, scallions and mustard--despite the fact that two weeks ago I was choking on the stuff. I honestly believe that we would not have gotten to this point if we had not forced ourselves to eat the natto in its raw form. It's true we could have forced ourselves to eat natto with scallions and soy sauce, but I think it would have taken longer than 15 days to acquire the taste. My anecdotal control group (Mariya), still found the natto disgusting even when mixed with the other ingredients. I think if she had been force-feeding plain natto to herself for the last two weeks she would feel differently. But she is not stupid enough to do this, so she still has the appropriate reaction to natto, which is that it is gross. For my part, I am a convert. I'm not saying that I want to eat it every day (though I will do so for some time as we define the next steps in this experiment), but I can definitely add it to the list of foodstuffs that I will enjoy from time to time.

the natto project - phase 2

we began eating natto 2 weeks ago.

the first time chad and i ate natto, it made us gag. this was a stronger reaction than either of us had ever experienced while ingesting something edible. i'm still not certain exactly why, but we decided to make an experiment, and see how long it would take our tastebuds to get used to a food which initially was so violently repulsive. interestingly, it took us both about 10 days to get rid of the aversion. though neither of us would admit to really liking natto - let alone crave it - we can now eat half (for me), or a full (chad) box without flinching.

in less than two weeks we came to tolerate a substance which initially made us want to vomit. i think we were both quite surprised at how fast this went.

but we all know that natto is not intended to be eaten unseasoned. in fact, most natto lovers we have talked to can't imagine eating it plain. (i love steak tartare, i often crave it, but would i want to eat raw beef without the mustard, capers, anchovies, parsley, ketchup, and cornichons?) to see whether we can really learn to like natto we must eat it as the japanese do: with rice, soy sauce, mustard, scallions, squid sahimi, maguro chunks, etc...

so today we met for brunch and had a bowl of natto over rice with soy sauce (kikkoman from a bottle), mustard (that comes with the box), and finely chopped scallions.

of course, we didn't forget to beat the natto to extract perfect neba neba:

it was really good.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

chad's birthday - day 14

today is chad's birthday. we did not eat natto.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Day 13: I am not the Robert Parker of Natto

I knew this would happen. While I also noticed that the new "good-natto" brand natto (at left) was easier to whip up into a foamy neba neba, I was not able -- like Valerie -- to discern any difference in taste compared to the "happy-natto-woman" natto. It is of course, better than the "crazy-cartoon-natto-chef" natto we were eating a few weeks ago, but that's just because that natto was rotten. I think I would have to taste them side-by-side in order to identify a difference in taste. I share Valerie's questions about the possible connection between taste and texture in natto and the extent to which true natto connoisseurs would say "the more pungent the better." My guess is that they wouldn't, since most of them seem to think you should eat natto with mustard or rice or scallions or tuna -- but never by itself like we are doing. I'm not sure any subtle variations in pungency would be distinguishable through all of those condiments, at least not to my blunt palate.

In case you're wondering, we'll be able to try out a few more brands if we so choose. Here is a shot of the natto section of the Sunrise Japanese supermarket where we buy our natto (gotta love NYC). As you can see, there are about a dozen natto brands, so I'm confident that Valerie will eventually parse the different flavor qualities of all of them. I will continue to think they all taste the same.

natto is not natto is not natto - day 13

we started a new brand of natto this morning. i'm sure chad will post a picture of the packaging of today's "good" natto. this natto is quite different. the neba neba is unctious, and barely needs beating to reveal its bubbly quality. everyone knows, by now, that lots of foamy goo is good. but is that all there is too it? i would say this natto definitely has the best quality neba neba so far. however, it is also more pungent. and this - in my world at least - is not so good. i prefered the slightly less acrid taste of the happy-natto-woman natto. is it ok to like natto of the less natto-y kind, or do real natto lovers accept among their ranks only those who appreciate very strong natto? and does the abundant neba neba always come with a sharper taste?

the more you learn about natto, the more questions arise. i am beginning to understand the fascination.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

return to civilization - day 12

i never eat anything out of foam containers. or plastic containers. or even paper boxes, for that matter. so why in the world was i eating natto directly out of the box (which can be foam or plastic, but up until now i haven't seen paper). one anonymous natto addict was appalled at the tought of it, and i completely sympathize and humbly apologize.

today i served my natto in a white ceramic bowl, and whipped it up to a foam. it was quite edible.

Day 12: Attack of the Neba Neba

If you've been following along (and I know you have been), you'll know that people have been telling us that we're not stirring the natto enough, and thus not getting the full effect of the sticky neba neba, which can be whipped into an even gooier form by essentially beating the natto with one's chopsticks. I put the natto in a nice little bowl this morning (why didn't I think of that earlier -- eating from foam containers is so lame) and whipped up the beans. As you can see, the neba neba factor was definitely increased, creating a thick, almost fluffy paste as opposed to a simple stringy goo. This did in fact make the natto more interesting. I think I've gotten over the goo factor, so this was actually an interesting variation, and on balance I would say a positive one. We switch to a new brand of natto tomorrow, and I have to say that I'm apprehensive -- I'm worried that the "happy-natto-woman" brand has been especially kind to us and that the new brand may bring a return of the repulsion if it is significantly more pungent or otherwise funky.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

it's a learning process - day 11

it's a good point about "beating" the hell out of natto (see link in chad's day 10 post). i'd read that before and forgot about it. or at the time i thought it would only release the strong and odious forces of natto. but at the time i was ignorant of the surprising qualities of neba neba.

i do mix my natto before eating it, but half-heartedly. i will try beating it into a foam tomorrow.

Day 11: Don't Eat Natto at Work

I still stick by my general statements yesterday about the extent to which natto has become increasingly palatable. Eating it this morning was no problem. However, I did eat it at my desk at work (I was late leaving the apartment and didn't have time to eat at home), which caused some co-workers to think I was cool and eccentric, and others to think that I was a disgusting heathen. On balance, I would recommend against eating natto in the workplace.

Overall, I'm surprised at how quickly the natto aversion has passed. The ninth or tenth day seemed to be the tipping point for both Valerie and me. I still wouldn't say I've "acquired" the taste, since I don't actually desire natto or even look forward to eating it. I'm basically at the point where I can tolerate it, which puts it on about the same plane as eggplant.

Today I also had some time to poke around for real research on the phenomenon of acquiring a taste. I think my unscientific assumption is that you're generally programmed to like the taste of things that happen to be commonly available and widely consumed in whatever community feeds you as a child. These tastes are acquired early on and relatively easily -- acquiring new tastes as an adult seems much harder. Strangely enough, the neurology of taste acquisition doesn't seem to have been studied as much as I thought it might have been. There is some research on general taste preference acquisition in infants (like this article), but this doesn't seem to answer our question, which is: How does one acquire a new taste as an adult? So I've started reading a little bit about the physiology of taste (beginning, of course, at wikipedia), which is fairly well understood. I'm guessing that what happens in the brain when you acquire a taste is the same sort of thing that happens in the brain when you learn other sorts of things, which is that new neural connections are formed and then strengthened over time. This is consistent with the general observation that acquiring tastes as a child is easier than acquiring them as an adult; it's like learning languages or anything else that requires the formation of new neural connections, which happens much more easily in young brains than in older ones. Anyway, I'll keep you posted if I manage to dig up more evidence to back up this general assessment of things.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

going all out - day 10

after a tremendous sushi experience yesterday evening, steve and i decided to go to sakagura for one last glass of sake. i was fairly satiated by our dinner of fish livers, white salmon, freshwater eel, hamachi, toro, uni, three orders of mochi ice, and much much more - but i guess steve was still just a little hungry. in any case we ordered maguro natto: cubes of tuna sashimi topped with natto. this being a natto "bonus," if you will, i did tolerate the addition of soy sauce. it wasn't bad. i'd even say i enjoyed it. worse still, i think i was a little heavy handed on the soy sauce, which overpowered the subtle taste of natto.

funny thing is, maguro natto at sakagura is responsible for this experiment in the first place. a few months ago, chad, who obviously didn't know what he was getting into, tried to impress some kids from hollywood and ended up choking on the stuff. that's how it all strarted. so have we come full circle, after just 10 days?

apparently not. my appreciation of maguro natto was probably distorted by the delectable meal we had just barely finished. and today i couldn't bring myself to face natto until much, much later in the day.

Day 10: Say Goodbye to Repulsion

Natto, or at least the "happy-natto-woman" brand of natto is no longer repulsive. I let it warm up to room temperature this morning and ate the whole box without flinching. It's still a strange taste, no doubt about it -- and I have a feeling there are probably more pungent brands (we'll try to find a new brand for next week). I wouldn't describe eating it as a satisfying experience, and I think once you get used to it, the taste is actually somewhat uninteresting. I think this may be the real reason it's generally eaten with rice, soy sauce, mustard and other accompaniments (my initial assumption was that these things would hide the taste, but I don't think this is possible -- I'm guessing the best they can do is augment it). Ultimately I think the texture may be a bigger problem in the beginning than the taste. Getting used to the slimy coating and its corresponding neba neba is at least half the battle -- though some things I've read suggest that my natto could be even slimier (and thus even more delicious).

In other news, if you haven't been following the comments of Tomas, you should read some here. He is doing the hard work of scouring the internet for arcane natto knowledge.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Day 9: Natto is Not a Dish Best Served Cold.

My resolution today is to stop eating the natto right out of the fridge. Not only must this be considered extremely improper, but I think it does nothing good for the taste or the neba neba (and here I concur with Valerie -- the neba neba in this brand is thick and gooey as opposed to thin and stringy. This might sound like a bad thing, but somehow it's not).

neba neba - day 9

according to my very un-japanese husband thomas, neba neba is a term the japanese use to describe "slimy" food. i'll take his word for it. for the sake of this blog, neba neba will be slime from now on.

one of the first elements of repulsion when approaching natto is undeniably the sticky goo that resembles spiderwebs when the beans are pulled asunder. so here is a sign that the experiment is bearing some fruit: i am developing a certain fondness for the goo. and one of the striking differences between the old and new natto is the quality of the slime - neba neba, as we like to call it. while the beans remain firm, the new natto has more neba neba, which has a lighter, nearly foamy quality. yum!

apparently, we are getting somewhere... neba neba!

evening snack - day 8

initially we were going to eat our day8 natto together. then in a very uncharacteristic (*) moment of weakness i called chad and pleaded (pleaded?), no, let's say i asked, off-handedly, whether we would allow ourselves a day of respite. it being the lord's day and easter and all. unfortunately, it was late afternoon and chad had already thoroughly enjoyed his day's ration for breakfast.

so in the end i had my natto some time after dinner, and washed it down with valerie b's delicious creme caramel left over from easter dinner. not bad at all.

new natto - day 7

i'm writing this monday morning because this weekend i was too busy worrying about the whole (including severed head) milk-fed baby lamb my butcher sold me for easter dinner. i did not cook or eat the head. the rest was very tasty. but back to natto.

as you recall we were eating bad natto last week. so although chad was in charge of getting this week's supply, friday afternoon i braved the drizzle and rushed to sunrise mart in the east village (4 stuyvesant street, 2nd floor; between angel's share and st. mark's bookstore), the "japanese specialty market" where everyone speaks the language and can give you first hand, personal advice on the different kinds of natto. the gentleman who recommended the "happy-natto-woman" brand obviously knows what he's talking about. it was incomparably better than the rotten thing we had been choking on all week.

saturday i noticed that it was more palatable, today i started to discover why. but that'll be covered in day9.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Day 8: I Might Be Getting Somewhere

Today I had the "happy-natto-woman" natto for breakfast. I still didn't like it enough to eat the whole box, but this brand definitely has a better flavor than the others we've tried so far. It's hard to say if it's a more mild taste, or if I'm just getting used to it. I think it's definitely a more complex taste -- I'm starting to think that coffee and nuts are the closest flavors I can come up with to describe it. I totally disagree with the oft-cited comparison to strong cheeses -- I think this just comes up because pungent cheese is an acquired taste in much the same way that natto is. So I'm embracing the nuttiness of natto; hoping it will lead me to the natto promised land.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Day 7: Yet Another Natto Brand

On the advice of a natto expert where Valerie has been buying natto, we switched to "happy-natto-woman" brand natto today. I was in somewhat of a rush when I ate it, so a full report will have to wait until Day 8. However, it does seem clear now that Valerie was correct about some of our previous natto boxes being rotten, though the white mold was I think less prevelant in my supply than in hers. At any rate, this brand of natto does seem to have a different tast which at first blush is more palatable (which could, of course, be due to the rotten state of our previous natto batch). I still only ate half a box, but I'm actually looking forward to Day 8 when I have more time to ponder the flavor and texture of this new natto.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Day 6: For Better or Worse

I ate the whole box this morning. I did it quickly and purposefully. This in no way suggests that I've come to find it more palatable (I was gagging by the last few bites -- I now think this is the result of slime buildup in the back of the throat), but merely reflects my belief that this is one of the first psychological barriers I needed to break through in order to achieve natto nirvana. I'd like to be able to parse the taste and understand its component flavors so I can begin acquiring it, but it was starting to seem like I wouldn't be able to do this without eating more than 2-3 mouthfuls at a time.

A major difficulty (I believe) for me in acquiring this taste will be that I'm really bad at parsing taste in the first place -- I'm not one of those people who can tell you what spices are in a dish by tasting it; I'm very bad at describing the taste of wine even though I like wine quite a bit, and so on. So without some serious examination (i.e. many mouthfuls), I'm not going to be able to tell you what this stuff tastes like. Now, I'm making a big assumption here that describing the taste is essential to acquiring the taste. This is because I have a feeling that the acquisition of a taste has something to do with creating relationships between the new taste and tastes you already know. If that's true, then "parsing" the taste -- either at a conscious or unconscious level -- should help in the acquiring of it. And if that's the case, then because this is a very intentional attempt to acquire a taste, I think it would be interesting to explicitly map the relationships between natto-taste and other tastes if possible.

Now: I have to admit that forcing myself to eat the whole box ultimately may be counterproductive. Like that apocryphal story you always hear about the kid who gets caught smoking and so his dad puts him the closet with a pack of Lucky Strikes no-filters and makes him smoke the whole thing so that he'll never look at a cigarette again without retching. I did that with Cool Ranch Doritos once (not that I have any desire to eat Cool Ranch Doritos now, but if I did it would be impossible).

Hopefully forcing down the whole box of natto won't make me hate it more than I already do.

moldy natto? - day 6

you know that "gritty" texture chad saw on the "crazy-cartoon-natto-chef" natto? that's mold. i'm pretty sure. i've noticed that every day the mold expands, and the beans seem more shriveled. i know the soy is fermented and becomes coated in a slimy gooey web, but i'm not sure whether it's supposed to develop white fuzz. one packet mentioned that natto should be eaten within 7 to 10 days, but unfortunately, there is no date on the packaging - at least no english transcription. since natto cannot be found at every corner deli, even in nyc, we decided to get a supply for the week. but maybe the natto had been sitting on the japanese supermarket shelf for 5 days already. so maybe we are now, in fact, eating rotten fermented soybeans.

the taste is pretty much the same, though. it's the texture that has changed: the beans are less crunchy.

(i ate half the box of moldy natto, regardless. i'm way beyond that now.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Day 5: Worst Day Yet

Maybe it’s one of those things like starting to exercise after having been lazy for a long time, or going skiing for the first time in a year -- the first few days aren’t that bad, and then it really hits you, and then you get back in shape again. Athletes call this the “something something effect” -- I'm sure they have a name for it. Anyway, I hope that’s what is happening because I was back down to one bite today. I had the intense gagging experience that Valerie has mentioned after the first mouthful and I tossed the box almost immediately. I feel bad about tossing the mostly-full box. Maybe tomorrow I’ll see if my cats want to eat the leftovers. Or maybe tomorrow there won’t be any leftovers...

on the sunny side - day 5

four ways to better savor the delicacy that is natto:

1. first, drink coffee. if you happen to finish the cup because in a blissful, absent-minded moment you forgot about the impending natto, don't panic:
2. toast some bread and take out the butter, peanut butter, and whole dark cherry jam for later
3. relax
4. while you're eating the rotten soybeans, read momofuku chef david chang's cooking philosophy: "...we just try not to make anything vegetarian. we're just doing the food we like, and we like meat. we don't make a vegetarian broth, because we don't want to, and we don't make vegetarian versions of things because they just don't taste as good as the versions we do make." amen.

before you know it, you'll have eaten half the box.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Day 4: Different brand, same bad taste

Thus far I've been eating this brand of natto:

I have no idea what it's called because there is no English on the packaging whatsoever. I call it "faux-wood-grain-packaging" natto.

Today I switched to this natto:

I call it "crazy-cartoon-natto-chef"natto. It tastes more or less the same. It did have a slight "gritty" texture, like the beans were coated in some salt or something. I wish. Today I tried eating the natto "absent-mindedly" while reading the paper. This helped. I ate about half the natto.

In other news, the site now has a FeedBurner RSS feed. Click on the icon over there on the right to get fed or just click here to subscribe.

grapes vs kumquats - day 4

on the basis of my recently developed slime-coated-palate theory, i tried something slightly different this morning. i took a smaller bite. not a tiny mouthful; i would say, the size of a grape, as opposed to that of a kumquat. now this, undeniably, does help. the first mouthful is less vile, given its new reduced size, yet has the same effect of laminating the palate, thus making it less sensitive to future natto. i managed to eat five chopsticksfuls (the equivalent of about 4 kumquat bites), and most importantly, this time, for the first time, i didn't feel as though i was about to vomit.

re comments: a growing number of natto aficionados on and off the blog have commented on the fact that natto is not meant to be eaten alone. usually it is served with rice, but in any case it is always seasoned. while we were aware of this before we started the experiment, we decided in favor of straight natto for 2 reasons:

1. it was illusory to think that we would make rice for breakfast every morning
2. we're really hard-core

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Day 3: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

It's only day three and I've already broken the rules. I didn't wake up in time to eat the natto before going to work this morning. I will try harder, but a lack of discipline is one of my many faults. So instead I gulped it down at the office in the afternoon. Well, "gulped" is probably the wrong word. I only made it to two bites today -- backsliding already. Somehow I thought it would taste better if I weren't eating it first thing in the morning. I was wrong.

still nauseating - day 3

i managed three mouthfuls this morning. this may seem like a sign of improvement, in truth it is just a mark of my (reluctantly) increasing resolve. i tried chad's technique of eating the natto immediately after it comes out of the fridge. it makes no difference. i'd rather not be so repetitive, but once again, the first mouthful made me gag - and i will have to report this reaction every time, until it stops. somehow, the subsequent bites aren't as revolting. my guess is that the slime has already coated the palate, so the new intake of natto doesn't register as quite as offensive.

Monday, April 10, 2006

What I learned on Day 2

1. I cheated a little because I forgot to take the Natto out of the refrigerator until just before eating it. I think it is slightly more palatable when cold. However, in this context, "slightly" is of little comfort. I still only made it to three mouthfuls.

2. You should brush your teeth after eating the Natto. The ineffable taste of this stuff was not enhanced by the lingering, minty Tom's of Maine still clinging to my tastebuds.

3. Brushing your teeth afterwards will not really help. The taste of Natto was still heavy on my tongue two hours after eating it. I am drinking orange juice right now and that seems to be cutting through it. A little bit.

4. The stringy goo is bad. At first I thought it was just a visual unpleasantness. But no, especially when you get a thick strand of goo, it creates a texture that is, well, repulsive. I am going to overuse the word "repulsive" on this blog. It cannot be avoided. Also, I still have no idea what to do with the stringy goo -- it is commonly described as spiderweb-like, and this is accurate. It's just not clear how one should handle the massive spiderweb that grows between the Natto and your mouth as you eat it. Certainly there is a technique, much as there is with eating spaghetti, but it seems far from intuitive.

it's worse than you think - day 2

i went to my fridge with a real sense of purpose this morning, determined to conquer the repulsion by strength of will alone. i chose a different brand (i have two kinds of natto stocked for the week), thinking - or rather hoping, somewhat desperately - that it would be better. after i opened the box, and contemplated the slimy mess, it took me half an hour before i actually managed to dig in. i slowly finished my coffee, sitting on the windowsill in the morning sun, overlooking sheridan square. the setting was perfect. but it happened again: i gagged. twice. and although the second mouthful did not cause the same nausea, i didn't dare a third. thank god tomorrow morning is a long way away.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

day 1

after a friendly brunch in harlem, we proceeded to open two little white styrofoam boxes, which are the typical natto packaging. the appearance alone is distasteful. the small ochre beans are covered in sticky, whitish, spiderweb-like filaments. the smell is neither too strong, nor too repulsive. the adjective that comes to mind is nutty. not in an agreeable, hazelnuts-roasting-in-the-oven way, but not sickening either. so here goes with a big mouthful. and i swear this has never happened to me before, but in this moment, i am nauseated. i only managed to summon up the courage for one other mouthful, so i would be hard-pressed to describe the taste in detail. but it is worst than anything i have eaten.

it is midnight and, needless to say, i am not looking forward to tomorrow morning.

Day 1: It tastes bad

You could describe the aroma as "nutty." You could call the flavor "cheese-like." You might, in the end, just declare it disgusting. You could say whatever you wanted, but ultimately you would fail to capture the true repugnance of this so-called food.* I will try, in the weeks ahead, to find better words for the taste of this thing. For now I can merely say that it tastes bad.

I have tasted it before, but merely a small bite, just enough to know that I didn't want a larger bite, let alone a whole mouthful. Let alone a whole serving (as defined by the amount contained in the small Styrofoam containers in which it is served). I was only able to choke down three mouthfuls, nearly gagging on the first two. Eventually I will like it, but not today. Tomorrow, of course, is a new day.

*No offense to natto-lovers -- I will join you soon.

natto is an acquired taste

natto is made from fermented soybeans. it is a japanese food that is traditionally eaten for breakfast. historically, steamed soybeans were packed in rice straw, which naturally contains the bacterium bacillus natto, and left to ferment in a warm place. today, cultured b. natto is simply added to the cooked beans. apparently, natto is very healthy. but mostly, natto tastes really, really bad.

i grew up in france, and in my limited experience, i would say there is nothing i have eaten that i have not liked. i eat snails, naturally. innards don't make me wince. i've eaten brain, i love blood sausage, i will eat kidneys. i grew up with blue cheese and i actually enjoy marmite. but natto, i have to say, i do not like. not even remotely.

now, i have always believed that one can get used to anything. aversions are usually cultural, and are triggered by the unknown or unfamiliar. so the question i pose myself is not: can i actually learn to like natto, but: how long will it take?

thankfully i am not alone in this dismal enterprise. chad tasted natto first and we will be going through this together. the experiment goes like this: eat cold, unseasoned natto every morning for breakfast. for as long as it takes. this blog will be our confessional.