Embrace the natto

This week in Omnivorous I checked out a few izakaya in the northwest burbs that have been quietly catering to the Japanese expat community for decades. Each one has a different personality, but one thing they have in common is natto.

Do you want to make a Japanese friend? Tell him you eat natto. Every time I’ve ever mentioned the mucilaginous fermented soybeans to a Japanese native, I’ve been met with astonishment, giggles, and slaps on the back. That’s because even the Japanese—who commonly mix it with rice and a raw egg for breakfast—recognize the stuff as a challenge. When you disturb it, its pasty, slimy surface extends into long, stringy, sticky threads. And it can smell and taste like a Roquefort right on the edge. Natto, it’s safe to say, is an acquired taste.