Natto is made from boiled soybeans left to go mouldy. The taste is bland, it`s sticky and it stinks. It is controversial.
Some Japanese struggle with natto; foreign visitors almost universally loathe it. On a recent tour, 13 out of 14 voted it as the worst food on the trip – even worse than shark gristle, boiled locusts and pig ears.
Perhaps because of natto`s poor reputation, I have recently become fascinated by it. I can`t keep away from the sticky stinky stuff. On Wednesday, trawling the internet, I even came across a 300 year old natto haiku.
夢人の If you grab the coattails
裾を掴めば Of the person in your dreams
納豆かな It`s natto
I could not get my head around this poem, as my vague translation reveals, so I went downstairs to the kitchen where a man I shall call Kyoto was sat watching TV. He helped explain the meaning a little.
In our kitchen, we have a small natto recipe book, I wanted to use it. Unfortunately, I can`t cook. After 18 months here, I still don`t know where the frying pan belongs.
Other guesthouse residents came to the rescue.
Che, a Korean exchange student downstairs, cooks very well. He knows where the frying pan and the saucepan goes. But, he didn`t want to eat just natto. He wanted to add his own kimuchi (Korean pickled cabbage).
“Shall we make natto and kimuchi fried rice?”, he suggested.
Before long, all the men in the guesthouse were involved. Kyoto made a vegetable soup starter. Kumamoto, coming in late from work, supplied some okra for the fried rice. And Old Man Tochigi sat at the kitchen table and drank a litre of shochu while chuckling at my incompetence.
The evening was a triumph, the first group meal we have had in the guesthouse for a long time. I even composed a haiku myself to commemorate the occasion. Perhaps, it could be stuck on my gravestone.
男には A group of men
何が必要？ What do they need?
納豆かな Natto of course