Cost: 128 yen
Found at: 7-11
Natto. Please don’t tell me that I have learned to like natto.
Natto is the pungent and distinctive local dish made from fermented soybeans. The slimy beans are covered with a slimy, mucusy goo – a result of the fermentation process – that creates long spiderweb strings of goop as you ferry it to your mouth. The taste is somewhere between the smell of body odor and overtones of soggy cardboard. For flavor, a little soy sauce and mustard are added, which adds some salty, mustardy overtones to the smell of an old shoe on a hot day. It might be the kind of thing otherwise relegated to the “novelty horrible local food” category except that it’s a genuinely popular dish in Japan. They even serve it in schools, and the children devour the long streamers of fermented bean juice without even a hint of complaint.
And as many times as I tried it, I just couldn’t quite see the appeal. Until one day, for no particular reason, I opened up the packaging to find that I didn’t mind it anymore. Maybe it was a vitamin deficiency, maybe I just got used to it, maybe some of my taste buds finally gave in to old age and mistreatment but it wasn’t a subtle change or a process of slow acclimation – it was the flip of some internal switch. I now like natto – and I don’t know why. This might be a sign that I have stayed too long – it might be time for me to return home to the land of non-rotten legumes.