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Cook It At Home: Natto Okonomiyaki

Cook It At Home: Natto Okonomiyaki

“Smells like stinky feet …  It’s slimy … It smells rotten,” says Heidi Nestler, describing how people often refer to “natto,” or fermented soybeans. “Sometimes I’ve heard it called ‘snatto’ instead of ‘natto,’ ” she adds.

Nestler teaches cooking with a focus on nutrient-dense traditional foods and she incorporates natto, a traditional Japanese food often eaten with rice at breakfast, into many of her recipes.

Natto has many fans, but its flavor and smell are so intense and the texture is so slimy and sticky that quite a few people steer clear of it. 

Heidi Nestler and her husband, Daisuke Fukushima, who makes natto at home

Heidi Nestler and her husband, Daisuke Fukushima, who makes natto at home

John Kin/OPB

Although many Americans are not familiar with natto, it has been getting more attention in recent years as fermented foods gain popularity in the United States.

Natto is typically eaten with rice, but that’s not the only way to consume it. Whether you love the taste and texture or are wary of it, you can find a variety of different ways to add natto to recipes.

“For those who don’t enjoy natto or for children who are not used to the taste yet, a lot of moms make a savory pancake,” says Nestler. “That’s not typically served for breakfast … but more like dinner. When you put natto in this type of pancake, it masks the stickiness or the strong flavor of it.”

Nestler’s husband, Japanese native Daisuke Fukushima, introduced her to natto 25 years ago. Fukushima has always liked natto and now he makes it from scratch at home. Growing up in Japan, he had a bowl of rice with natto and miso soup for breakfast before he went to school. 

Watch this video to learn how to make a dish with natto and rice:

How to Prepare Natto

Several years ago, while he stayed in Kyoto, Fukushimi tried some natto that he found exceptionally delicious.

“I encountered this fantastic natto made by a local Kyoto merchant called Fujiwara Shoten … It was just so good,” recalls Fukushima. “Typically, natto from Japan or pretty much any store-bought natto [that you find in the United States] is once frozen and it just doesn’t taste right.”

Much of the natto sold at Asian grocery stores comes in a small container with a package of sauce.

Much of the natto sold at Asian grocery stores comes in a small container with a package of sauce.

Kayo Lackey/OPB

After he came back to Portland from Kyoto, Fukushima was inspired to start making his own natto. 

“Natto is very temperamental,” he explains. He gets different results each time he makes it at home because he does not have a controlled environment as commercial manufacturers do. Many factors such as temperature and moisture can create different outcomes each time. “It [natto making] is trial and error,” he adds.

If you’d like to learn how to make natto, you can join Nestler and Fukushima in one of her cooking classes on Sunday, July 21 at the Urban Farm Center in Milwaukee.

If you want to try natto, you can buy it at many Asian grocery stores including Uwajimaya, Anzen and Fubonn in the Portland metropolitan area.

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