There are plenty of Japanese foods that meet little to no resistance on the Western palate. Soba noodles and beef bowls tend to go down easily for new arrivals, and while the weirdness factor may take some time to get over, not too many people have complaints about the flavor of things like raw fish and cod roe.
There is, however, one hurdle in Japanese gastronomic assimilation that is so high that some people never clear it: natto, or fermented soybeans. Recently, we took on the notoriously challenging (and smelly) natto with the help of a powerful ally, honey.
Natto has more than just a powerful, unwashed sock-like smell, as it’s also packed with nutrients. For many Japanese people looking for a healthy and quick meal to start the day, there’s no better breakfast than a glop of natto mixed with a bowl of steaming white rice.
But still – and we can’t stress this enough – the stuff reeks. Natto is also incredibly sticky and stringy. Both of these checks in the negative column mean that natto can’t even find universal acceptance in Japan, as the farther west you head from Tokyo, the less likely you are to find people who eat it regularly.
One such natto holdout is our Japanese-language correspondent Meg. Meg grew up in Kyoto, Japan’s old capital where the people speak in refined tones, cherish their culture, and aren’t quite sold on the custom of putting fermented beans in their mouths. Since moving to Tokyo she’s adapted to the point where she can bring herself to eat natto, but it’s still not her favorite thing in the world. Maybe it would be if it were mixed with honey, though.
Meg first came across this sweet and stinky combo on foreign health and beauty blogs. Seeing as how you can never be too healthy or too good-looking, she decided to give the unlikely concoction a shot, and assembled the ingredients.
First, of course, you’ll need a some natto, which should be mixed (ideally 424 times!) with a pair of chopsticks before eating.
Next up, give those beans a generous squirt of honey. You can also add in some soy sauce for a more old-school Japanese vibe, although we decided not to.
You can’t make honey natto toast without making toast, so pop a slice in your super-versatile and awesome Japanese toaster oven.
▼ Unless you happen to have one of these nifty bread grills, like we do.
Spread a pat of butter on the toast.
Plop the natto/honey mixture on.
Sprinkle on a few sesame seeds, and you’re done!
Wow, that really doesn’t look too appetizing, does it?
Even Meg, who made the natto honey toast with her own two hands, referred to it as “a strange devil riding a piece of bread.”
But just as we’d never criticize the Mona Lisa for its lack of cream filling, we didn’t care about how our cooking experiment looked so much as how it tasted. Taking responsibility for her actions, Meg went first. The first sensation is the crunchy toast, she reported after her first bite, followed by the melty butter, and then finally the natto honey mix. The flavor is something like peanut butter mixed with honey, or or the Japanese sweet bean paste anko. “You’d never imagine it tastes so good from looking at it,” she concluded.
Next we passed out sample to our staff members who love natto even in its unaltered form, who were universal in their rave reviews. There was one complaint, though. As we mentioned before, natto is the ultimate in stickiness. Honey is ultra sticky stuff too, as you know if you’ve ever spent much time baking (or transformed into a bear due to a gypsy curse). So what happens when you mix sticky and sticky together? Exactly what you’d expect: ultra ultimate stickiness!
Once a dollop of natto honey attaches to your fingers, you may as well give it a name, because it’s going to be sticking around for a while. It’s really the kind of thing you need a knife and fork for, because while natto honey toast’s flavor makes it surprisingly easy to stomach, it’s also undeniably hard to eat.
[ Read in Japanese ]