I have finally found a shop in Budapest – it just opened – that promises to be a long-term source of natto. Until now I couldn’t buy natto anywhere and it must have been about 3 long years since I’d been able to indulge in this treat of fermented soybeans.
I suppose I’d best start by introducing it, because I don’t think many people in Hungary are acquainted with this rather foul-smelling dish that doesn’t look really appetizing either (given the stringy, slimy and sticky consistency many people find it rather disgusting. Since I think it is delicious, I beg to differ from that view! 😉 )
It comes in little plastic boxes covered with plastic foil (because it will stick to anything it comes into contact with). The box includes a tiny envelope of mustard and one of soy sauce, just enough for one serving. Before eating it you first need to thoroughly mix up the soybeans with chopsticks to activate the stickiness. It then begins to foam and the slimy cream takes shape. When it’s ready, you’ll find that as you lift the chopsticks the soy mixture will stick to them and leave behind a stringy residue (see Photo 2). After it has been properly mixed, you add the soy sauce and mustard and mix it some more. The sharpness of the mustard and saltiness of the soy sauce combine to yield a perfect taste.
One standard way of serving it is on top of rice, but I admit to often eating it just as it is, without adding anything (Of course, when I do that, I have to eat more than one package if I want a decent meal).
The traditional way of making it involved packing the soybeans into rice straw and leaving it in underground pits to ferment. This was actually an old way of preserving food. Today it is sold ready-made, in small plastic boxes (one box contains one portion and one package contains three boxes and costs about 100 yen).
The natto in this picture has been thoroughly mixed and is now stringy, sticky, and slimy. The box we see is the one in which it is sold.
If you are adventuresome enough, you can make your own natto. You simply take some soybeans, soak them in water, and then cook them until they are soft. When they are soft enough, you add the fermentation fungus (a culture containing bacillus subtilis), mix well, divide into single portions and leave in a warm place to ferment (I found that my yogurt-maker does the job quite well).
The photos come from the following websites: