Shelton on Natto

This article was written by Joshua Shelton. It originally appeared in "Ibaraki Report" No.32 published in January 2001.

Profound Profundities (3)

A column devoted to the useless and trivial

"Beans, beans the magical fruit! The more you eat, the more you toot!" (Ancient Japanese proverb, author unknown)

When originally asked to do a piece on natto I protested that I wasn't the right person for the job, because I have eaten natto a grand total of two times. How in the world can I say anything substantial and meaningful with such limited experience? It would be the equivalent of calling yourself a wine snob after two glasses of wine (and not even the good stuff but more like that wine-from-a-box Franzio stuff). I was told, however, that having eaten natto two times is one time more than 99% of most foreigners.

I suppose that makes me some sort of rampant hedonist.

But it's not my intention to regale you with lurid stories of forbidden and lustful dining experiences. Nay, my only humble purpose is to share whatever crumbs (or in this case strings of saliva-like residue) of natto knowledge as the gentle readership of the Ibaraki Report might find useful. For starters, eat natto in Mito. Why? Because it's the local specialty, just like Russia is known for its vodka and Columbia is famous for its neckties.

This city is buck-wild for natto. Old women knife-fight in the grocery aisles over single packages of the stuff. It's like gold. Or blood (if you're a vampire). Or dilithium crystals (if you're Captain Kirk and the Klingons are ridin' your butt at warp 8).

Forget about mikans. They have all the wrong things to look for when selecting a favorite snack, i.e. they're sweet and tasty and healthy and really cheap when they're in season. No, trust me, natto has everything you want, mainly it tastes awful. Why eat something fresh when you can let it sit for a while, get kinda funky, and then eat it? Makes perfect sense to me. I always make sure my milk has that two week-old chunky, gelatinous look before I put it on my cornflakes. And fish and pork just ooze with juicy goodness after a few days of neglect.

The main thing to remember, though, is to stir up your natto, like, 200 times before putting it on your rice. I've heard a number of theories, none of which make any sense, but, as the old saying goes, "when in Rome, stir up your natto hundreds of times." Also, remember to breathe on people as you eat, and try to emit as much spittle as possible while you talk with your mouth full. This is similar to slurping your tea during the tea ceremony but even more polite (or as we writing professionals would say, 'politer').

So, be adventurous! Eat things that would make you reel and vomit in your home country but that suddenly become culturally broadening experiences once you set foot on foreign shores! After all, you only live once (unless they've changed that one stupid law against zombies), so enjoy as much rotten food as you can before you croak.


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