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
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!