I tried natto for the first time at a friend’s house on a warm summer night in Hawaii. I heard laughter coming from the kitchen as his Mom came into the living room and asked if I had ever had natto before. I followed her into the kitchen and saw a giant container of what I could only describe as sticky brown beans. Before I could say anything, I was promptly given a spoonful and cautiously took a nibble. After everything I’d heard about natto, I expected to hate it. But despite the slight slimey-salty-stinkiness of it – I didn’t. I mean, I definitely didn’t like it enough to go out of my way to… but let’s just say I could if I had to. After finishing the spoonful, I swallowed hard and wrinkled my nose while my friends broke into laughter.
For those who aren’t familiar, natto is a traditional Japanese dish made of fermented soybeans. It’s commonly eaten for breakfast in Japan. The taste of natto is an acquired one (kind of like beer but on a whole ‘nother level). In the years to come, I’d try natto again every so often. Always curious to see if I’d finally start to love it as much as my friend Steph does – but then again, she’ll eat just about anything. It wasn’t until Roy started ordering something called Sutamina Natto at a Japanese restaurant we frequent in Little Tokyo that my tastebuds finally fell in love with natto.
There are many ways to serve natto. It can be eaten as is with a bit of hot mustard and soy sauce, served over a bed of warm rice, or in sushi. In Japanese, sutamina means energy or stamina. Hence, Sutamina Natto essentially means energy natto, which is a very fitting name considering all the ingredients in the dish. There’s a bunch of healthy protein from the tuna, natto, and egg yolk as well as all the added health benefits from the mountain yam and even fiber from the okra. I love the taste and I love that it’s good for the body. Fermented foods are great for gut health! Just a little disclaimer: if you’re not too familiar with natto or mountain yam or don’t enjoy the consistency of okra or runny egg yolk, the texture might be a little off putting the first time you try it. I did nickname this dish the “slimey bowl” the first time trying it. It took several months of sneaking bites from Roy, but now I finally do enjoy eating natto!!! I think it’s delicious, and I hope this recipe inspires some of you to try natto if you haven’t already 🙂
1/3 cup of sashimi grade tuna, cut into chunks
1 packet of natto, store-bought
3 okra pods, sliced and boiled for about 30 seconds
2 stalks fresh green onion, chopped
1/4 cup grated nagaimo, mountain yam (about 2 inches worth)
1 yolk from a quail egg
2 small pieces of nori seaweed
soy sauce to taste
1. After prepping all ingredients, choose a shallow bowl for serving.
2. In a counter clock-wise order, add the okra, sashimi, and natto. Leave room for the mountain yam between the natto and okra. Carefully pour in the mountain yam. Add a heaping tablespoon of green onion to one side of the natto. Carefully place the yolk near the center of the dish so it rests on the mountain yam.
3. To garnish, slide the two pieces of nori underneath the natto and sahimi. Add a dash of soy sauce to the mountain yam and place a bit of wasabi on the natto. Serve immediately. *Pro tip: Use chopsticks to stir everything together and season with a little more soy sauce if desired!