Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It's Natto So Bad After All...

Salmon and His Seven Friends (with his buddy Natto at the 8 o'clock position in this photo). From Guu with Otokamae

Okay, I finally did it! I tried natto, the infamous fermented soy beans in Japanese cuisine that sit in their own rotting slime. I've seen it referred to as "vegetable cheese" on a website, but somehow that doesn't make the whole thing sound any more appetizing to me. When a few are picked up with chopsticks, long strands of slime cling to the beans and drape down from them. I had watched Anthony Bourdain on television force down some sticky natto on his show, A Cook's Tour, and talk/write about it with repulsion, and this is from a man who travelled around the world to seek out odd things to eat. And didn't James Barber once refer to it as graduate level ethnic eating? And read what this blogger has to say about a box of the stuff! Even a Japanese friend of mine who has been exposed to it since childhood in her family, had told me she is disgusted by the stuff, and hates the taste. With all this background knowledge, I was prepared for the worst. Well, guess what, it really wasn't that vile. I wouldn't go as far to say that I enjoyed the taste, but it was surprisingly mild in flavour. Yes, it was stringy and slimy and looked generally unappetizing, but a little slime has never stopped me from touching a slug...

This gastronomic adventure took place in Guu with Otokomae in Gastown (105-375 Water Street, Vancouver, Tel: 604 685-8682. The Guu website seems to be down at the moment). Natto is included in the dish "Salmon and His Seven Friends," along with deep fried garlic chips, minced cucumber, fried wonton wrapper bits, green onion, and japanese pickles. These are all presented separately on a plate, so I was able to sample the natto alone first. Then you mix the cubes of salmon with the seven ingredients (plus a raw egg if you want it) together, and roll a scoop of the mixture up in a sheet of nori to eat with your hands. We opted not to have the raw egg. I ate the dish, but as I went along, I decided it really wasn't for me, and I won't be ordering it again. Too many friends at the party for my taste, and Salmon seems to get lost in the mix. But it was all worthwhile, because I finally tried the dreaded natto, and discovered what the fuss is all about. Potato Salad Boy didn't mind it too much either, surprisingly enough.

Potato Salad Boy and I had a few other dishes, including edamame, slices of pork tenderloin, some rice cakes (that's miso paste slathered on one of them in the photo below, served with some pickles), and okonomiyaki, sometimes referred to as Japanese pizza because of the multiple toppings in the eggy batter. As well, I had one of my all-time favourite Vancouver restaurant desserts - deep fried mochi balls (pounded rice) with a sweet black sesame filling. And we had to have a couple of their funky cocktails too, which is a fun part of the Gastown Guu compared to the other two. Floating in mine were frozen balls of lychee juice. Service was very hospitable, as always, and the meal was very satisfying.

Rice Cakes, one with Miso

Okonomiyaki Posted by Picasa

If you've tried natto before, I encourage you to share your thoughts. If you haven't, I challenge you to try it. In fact, here's a recipe for homemade natto for you rot-it-yourselfers out there (ick, check out the lovely photos, and questions like "White film is made around of bean. Is it normal?" Worse yet, the answer to this question is "Yes."). What's that? You want more fun with bacteria? Try making your own creme fraiche at home. I've done this with good results, but try it at your own risk. I take no responsibility for any consequences of growing these bacterial cultures!


Blogger SaabKen said...

Well I'm glad you've reached graduate level ethnic eating, finally. I can pretty much eat anything under the sun (well ok, insects/bugs/reptiles excluded), hey I'm Asian so we eat anyting with/without legs except tables and chairs. But I've had natto twice and both times I nearly, uh, expelled them with revulsion. Sorry but as far as natto goes I'm staying in the undergraduate program.

11:39 PM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger too_much_thinking said...

Hmmm, natto isn't so bad - but that could be the beer impairing my sense of taste. I've had it on two occasions: straight up at a friend's and at Guu's, exactly the same dish.

For something truly disgusting (or challenging), you have to try vegemite. I could eat it without spitting up, but I wouldn't say I enjoy the taste.

12:22 AM, January 05, 2006  
Blogger Dumpling_Girl said...

Yah, I'm Asian too, plus I can eat bugs. I don't think I've ever eaten a reptile, but who knows, since my mom would brew all sorts of concoctions for me when I was a kid, and then my parents would force me to drink the stinky brews. I always find it interesting when I hear about parents these days catering to their children's food fussiness. You should have smelled and seen some of the horrible things I had to ingest as a kid, protesting the whole time, but ultimately not having any say in the matter. I think I'm a better eater as an adult because my parents didn't tolerate finicky eating.

I heard that most people either love it or hate it when they first try natto, but I was kind of in between. I didn't like it though. Same thing happened when I tried vegemite. A little different experience there though because I actually knew someone who really liked it and missed it, and wasn't expecting something vile like I was with the natto. If you haven't had it, and try this, use just a light smear on the toast. This fermented yeast product popular in Australia (cousin to Marmite) is not meant to be consumed in great quantities.

12:18 PM, January 07, 2006  
Blogger Your cuz said...

Yes, natto is gross, but I found it wasn't so bad if it was eaten quickly, as opposed to lingering until the icky flavour set in. It's still not as bad as uni, which I think tastes like I stuck my head in the ocean and swallowed. Vegemite/Marmite isn't bad after a British friend explained you're supposed to spread it thinly on buttered toast. It tastes like spreadable soy sauce!

2:23 PM, January 07, 2006  
Blogger SaabKen said...

Yeah those stinky Chinese medicinal brews ..... bad enough to use as torture tactics for enemy combatants.

I don't think I should eat anything that requires quick swallowing "until the icky flavour set in" ;-p

We are all products of our upbringings and experiences, one person's natto is another's [your thoughts here].

I grew up eating and loving a dish called "Taiwanese stinky tofu". To this day the smells of it invokes fond childhood memories. Ironically I had a really really good sample at UC Berkeley while on vacation a few years back. Anyone who knows where I can go in Vancouver that makes decent stinky tofu please let me know. Thx.

8:13 PM, January 07, 2006  
Blogger Nelson Yee said...

Personally, I dig natto a lot. I actually tried it specifically because of all the talk about it, found it pleasingly tasty (I kind of like that ammoniac smell) and now I eat it pretty regularly when I need a light meal. Sometimes with rice, sometimes by itself, sometimes with spaghetti. I usually add some green onions and/or raw egg depending on my mood. But yeah, count me as one of the few people who actually likes it AND didn't grow up with it.

11:32 AM, February 27, 2006  
Blogger Nelson Yee said...

Also, to the previous posted who talked about vegemite. I haven't had that, but I also tried Marmite, which apparently is a lot stronger, and love the stuff. So it may just be I have a weird, overly adventurous palate?

11:32 AM, February 27, 2006  

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