This dish is pretty much the definition of ネバネバ (neba neba)—the experience of eating something slippery and sticky. A Google image search might further elucidate the concept.
Combined here are two quintessentially neba neba items, natto and okra. Others include nameko mushrooms and tororo, which is made from grated nagaimo (a potato). Just for fun, I pasted a previous mention of tororo below. See more about neba neba this page (mid-way down).
So this brings us to natto. I’ve written before that it is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted. Thanks to the legions of natto enthusiasts, the wikipedia article on the subject is very good. I’ll borrow its description: “nattō (なっとう or 納豆) is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis. It is popular especially as a breakfast food. As a rich source of protein, nattō and the soybean paste miso formed a vital source of nutrition in feudal Japan. Nattō can be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slippery texture.”
The first bite isn’t bad; it’s the after-taste that gets you. I hope you’re not eating as you read this, because the only way I can describe it is vomit-ish.
Natto is beloved by many Japanese people and reviled by others. It has also become quite popular elsewhere because of its health benefits from the soy, protein, and beneficial bacteria (especially for folks into macrobiotic diets. See more info here and here).
So despite the taste, I’m determined to acquire a taste for natto, and I asked Yusuke to make this dish so that I can give it another go. I’m interested in the health benefits, as well as being a gaijin who can eat natto.
Natto is usually sold in small styrofoam packages. There are lots of ways to eat it, but Yusuke usually mixes it the special mustard that comes with it along with soy sauce. For this dish, he just boiled and chopped the okra, mixed it with natto, and served it over rice.
So did I manage to eat it? Yes! Although my natto-to-okra ratio was weighted to the okra side. I think I can manage small quantities to develop the taste. Yusuke says that you can put natto in miso soup, so that’s what I’d like to try next.
The Natto Land website has some good pictures of natto on its English side, and as always, Just Hungry has a nice post. I also came across an interesting blog called the Natto Project, which describes one couple’s quest to make themselves eat lots of natto.
This dish above is yamakake, which is the combination of maguro (tuna) and tororo. Tororo is essentially nagaimo or yamaimo which has been ground up. Did you follow that? In other the words, the white stuff is a root vegetable that becomes extremely sticky and, well, slimy, when it’s grated or ground. It might be unappealing to some Westerners because of the stickiness. Here it was mixed with an egg, increasingly the sliminess factor. I liked the combination with the maguro, though it’s wise to keep rice nearby when eating it. (Original post)