It may not look pretty, but natto (pictured above) is a culinary staple in eastern Japan. It’s so popular, in fact, that many Japanese schoolchildren eat the stinky goo during their snack breaks. But don’t think all of the locals have hopped on the natto bandwagon. Like cilantro or Vegemite, its taste can be quite polarizing and outright loathed by many Western travelers who are used to their morning bagel or Raisin Bran.
Famed chef and hunter of local, authentic cuisines, Anthony Bourdain is a certified natto hater. He once described the dish as “a mucus-like, stringy goop” that inspired him to “hurl [himself] through the paper walls [of the restaurant] and straight off the edge of the mountain." But before you allow an outspoken media personality to form an opinion for you, here's what you need to know:
What is Natto?
Fermented soybeans typically served with soy sauce, karashi mustard and onion. Natto is known for its pungent smell, strong flavor and stringy/slimy texture. Despite this unappetizing description (sorry!), it is a breakfast tradition in many parts of Japan. Additionally, it also boasts an impressive nutritional profile of vitamin K, high protein and large amounts of gut-loving bacteria. So it’s essentially something Kourtney will be in eating in an upcoming episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
What does Natto Taste Like?
It varies by the batch and fermentation process, but the taste has been compared to salty cottage cheese, foie gras or old Brie. Some have even said an earthy bacon, though the majority of natto-eaters can't seem to put their finger on a precise flavor. The smell is what typically turns people off, as it has been known mimic moldy socks and hot garbage. If those smells sound delicious, please consult a physician.
Where to Find Natto
Specialty grocery stores and restaurants. Or you can impress us all and make it yourself here. This isn't an "I'm going to cook breakfast for my date" food, though. Stick to bacon and pancakes.
How to Eat Natto
Generally, by itself. Aside from its mustard, soy sauce and onion garnishes, it can also be served on a bed of white rice or with miso soup.