Natto, I think, it one of those things every Western otaku hears about at some point. I first heard it described at last year's CONvergence by someone who had been an exchange student in Japan and had it forced on her for breakfast in a way that made it impossible to refuse without being beyond rude. It's a Japanese breakfast food (often sold in convenience stores) of fermented soybeans. If you Google "weird Japanese food," natto usually makes any top 10 list.
Innocent looking packaging:
The reason it makes so many top ten lists is because it's... stringy. Something about the fermentation process makes a kind of "special sauce" for the soybeans that's very, VERY reminiscent of snot. It's kind of a transluscently yellow and sticky and mucous-like.
It is, I will not lie, GROSS looking as all get out:
Because I'm THAT fangrrl, I ended up watching videos on how to eat natto as part of my 'research' for my fanfic. While watching serveral different Japanese and Western people filming themselves eating this stringy-snot looking mess of beans, I was overwhelmed by a desire to find it and try it for myself. My first part of the quest: figure out if anyone sells this stuff in the U.S.
The Internet said I could order a packet from somewhere in SanFrancisco. It would cost me three dollars, but shipping, no surprise, sucked. I started asking around. I asked some folks at my dojon, but this is Japanese food, not Korean, so no joy there. My friend Naomi, who is much more adventurous a cook than I am, suggested that I try a place called United Noodle over in Minneapolis. She said, "If anyone in the Twin Cities has it, it would be them."
Mason and I took off on a grand adventure yesterday around noon. I had instructions on how to get there from their web site and a few half-remembered tips from Naomi. Of course, I got lost. Ironically, I used to live very near where it is, as it's within a stone's throw of Augsburg College campus. But, as I've explained many times before, once you leave Minneapolis, the fairies of the place abandon you. I once couldn't find the downtown Minneapolis library! So, I must have driven around half of South Minneapolis before I ended up on the right road (TBF, Minnehaha changes and switches its directions SEVERAL TIMES.) But, United Noodles is actually also hidden in a back lot, so once I was in the right place it still took several circles around the block before I found it.
Mason, meanwhile, found this whole thing HILARIOUS. He giggled in the backseat every time I muttered, 'crap!' and had to turn the car arond.
But, it turns out it was ALL WORTH IT. United Noodle was the motherload.
We stocked up on ALL THE CANDY:
And there was an entire CASE of natto to choose from. I got two kinds:
These represent packages of three. The containers are really quite small and always come with a packet of soy sauce and hot mustard:
You have to pull off a little film to get to the beans:
Then, I smelled it. I was told that most Americans found the smell of natto at best "funky." I'd read descriptions ranging from "like pungent cheese" to "someone's rank sweat socks at the bottom of a gym locker." I actually am disappointed to report that, to me, natto smelled like cheese--like fancy, expensive cheese.
I was told in all the instructional videos that you hardly ever eat natto plain. So, I dutifully mixed in both the soy sauce and the hot mustard (after testing the mustard's hotness, of course.) The mixing is where you really get to experience the stringy stickiness.
Then, I tasted it:
Well, the most noticable thing is the texture. Little hard (chilled from the fridge) beans in a very mucous-like sauce. But... they really didn't taste like much beyond a litte cheesy. I can see why the thing is to add something because mostly I tasted soy sauce and mustard with an undertone of like an aged sharp cheese. Perhaps, tomorrow, I will taste them without pre-mixing first.
I can still, however, smell them on my hands. The sharp, pungent aged cheese really does describe it best.
Mason and I were deeply disappointed to not find them more disgusting. I will totally be eating the rest of them at breakfast.