When it comes to natto, you either love it or hate it. This Japanese dish is known for its stinky smell that’s almost as famous as the durian fruit. I personally love it so today I’m sharing with you my favorite ways to enjoy these fermented soybeans.
I think we can all remember the first time we tried natto – mine was in Tokyo at the tender age of 20, in a family restaurant, for breakfast. I had ordered the traditional Japanese breakfast of salted grilled salmon with tsukemono (Japanese pickles), miso soup, a side of white rice, a raw egg, and natto.
I was sitting in a booth with my then boyfriend and poured the stinky stringy soybeans over the virgin white rice. Next, I grabbed the raw egg and dumped it on top of the natto, finishing the act with a drizzle of soy sauce. “Here I go” I said to my boyfriend as I dug into my bowl of brown creamy beans and rice.
I was expecting to fully hate it.
After all, almost everyone I knew except for my friend Christopher in Vancouver hated natto. So you can imagine my surprise when I realized I actually enjoyed the taste of it, along with the slimy texture. Okay, it took me a minute to get used to the taste but there was something inherently addicting to this natto thing. I came back the next day and the day after that, and ordered the same breakfast. And that’s basically how I became obsessed with the stinky soybeans.
Nowadays I keep at least three packages of natto in my fridge since I eat it 2-3 times a week. Plus, there’s another big fan of it in the house – Ben.
Yep, who knew it would be possible to have this many fermented bean lovers under one roof!
What is Natto (納豆)?
Natto, or nattō, is a popular Japanese dish made of soybeans that have been fermented with Bacilus Subtilis bacteria over a certain period of time (usually between 24 to 36 hours). It’s often served as a breakfast food in Japan and has a very distinctive flavor and texture – stinky and slimy. It’s usually sold in individual portions, packaged in styrofoam that also include a tare sauce and yellow mustard.
Why is Natto Slimy?
The reason why natto is so slimy is because of the fermenting process that creates a sticky and stringy texture on the surface of the soybeans. The longer it ferments and the slimier and stinkier it gets. You think okra is slimy? Wait until you try natto, the texture will remind you of mucus.
What Does Natto Taste Like?
Natto’s taste is extremely pungent and unique. Nothing else on this planet tastes like natto is truly the best answer to this question, you just have to try it to find out. But to give you an idea, natto lovers (including myself) would compare the taste to aged cheese, foie gras, or Marmite.
And if you are wondering what it smells like, think of old socks, old cheese, sweat, despair (okay, I’m obviously kidding here). But here’s the crazy part – if you love it like Ben and I do, you will crave it all the time despite all the unappealing yet true comparisons!
Where to Buy Natto
You can buy natto in Japanese supermarkets and Asian grocery stores. In New York for example you can find it at Sunrise Mart and places like Hong Kong supermarket in Chinatown. It’s usually located in the frozen section or refrigerated next to tofu.
Best Natto Brands
There are a lot of brands to choose from, different flavors (wasabi, kimchi, pickled plum) and even types of beans. Some are broken up to be used in maki rolls while others are whole. While it’s fun to try a new brand or flavor once in a while, I do have a couple of favorites I keep going back to:
- Okame Kotsubu Mini – this brand is famous all across Japan. The brand is easy to recognize because of the traditional Japanese okame face mask found on the red packaging. What you get are whole natto soybeans with the traditional combination of tare and yellow mustard.
- Shirakiku “Kotsubu” Natto – again this brand offers the traditional tare and mustard flavor with whole beans.
Making Your Own Nattō
Yes you can make your own natto at home!
Kits can be bought on sites such as Cultures For Health and come with natto spores and a special measuring spoon. You will have to purchase the soybeans separately.
I have never attempted to make my own but if you decide to give it a try, make sure to leave a comment below to let me know how it turned out!
How to Eat Natto
There are so many different ways to eat natto that to list them all would require me to start a blog just for that. Especially nowadays since you can find anything from natto ice cream, candy, pasta, even pizza! So I’ve decided to only list the most popular ways to eat natto along with one of my favorite natto recipes.
Natto Over Rice with Scallions
Serving natto over warm Japanese rice (check out our guide to making perfect Japanese rice every time) with chopped scallions is the most traditional way to do it. Ben and I eat it this way often with a drizzle of soy sauce and a sprinkle of Ajinomoto.
Natto Over Rice with Raw Egg
This is almost the same as the traditional version except with a raw egg on top. I love this style because the egg tones down the flavor of the nato and adds creaminess to the dish. Eating natto this way feels decadent!
Natto with Avocado, Cucumber, Scallions, and Bonito Flakes
This is our favorite way to eat natto when we have it for lunch or dinner. It’s filling, tasty, and healthy!
You can find the recipe at the bottom of this post but basically it’s super easy – warm Japanese rice with diced cucumber, avocado and scallions. Add natto, soy sauce and top with plenty of bonito flakes (and a raw egg too, but that’s optional).
Natto on Toast
This is another popular way Japanese people enjoy eating nattō. Since it’s considered a breakfast food, it only makes sense that it would eventually make its way onto a piece of toast.
You can have toast with butter and natto, paired with mayonnaise, or topped with cheese (all of which are very popular combinations).
Other Popular Ways to Eat Natto:
- As a topping with silken tofu
- With kimchi over rice
- In Miso Soup – yup, you can add it in your soup!
What to Eat with Nato
Natto can be served as part of a meal or as a snack.
If you want to try your hands at making a full traditional Japanese breakfast, try pairing it with some of these yummy dishes:
Did you like this Natto Over Rice with Avocado, Cucumber, Scallions and Bonito Flakes Recipe? Are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!Print
Natto over rice with Avocado, cucumber, scallions, and bonito flakes
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 5 minutes
- Yield: 1 1x
- Category: Rice
- Cuisine: Japanese
- 1 package natto
- 1/2 cup warm, cooked Japanese rice (preferably short grain)
- 1/2 avocado, chopped
- 1/2 cup English cucumber, seeded and diced
- 1 scallion, finely chopped
- Raw egg (optional)
- Soy sauce for drizzling
- Place the rice in a bowl and top with the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately
If you bought natto frozen, leave it in the fridge overnight and it will be ready to eat the next day. Do not microwave!
Keywords: rice bowl, fermented beans, soybeans, dinner