Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans, fermented with Bacillus subtilis. It might have an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slimy texture-all the same it is the most popular breakfast food in the eastern regions of Japan, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido. The latter where I lived.
The discovery of the natto
Sources differ about the earliest origin of nattō. The materials and tools needed to produce nattō commonly have been available in Japan since ancient times. There is also the story about Minamoto no Yoshiie who was on a battle campaign in northeastern Japan between 1086 AD and 1088 AD when one day they were attacked while boiling soybeans for their horses. They hurriedly packed up the beans, and did not open the straw bags until a few days later, by which time the beans had fermented. The soldiers ate it anyway, and liked the taste, so they offered some to Yoshiie, who also liked the taste. It is even possible that the product was discovered independently at different times.
One significant change in the production of nattō happened in the Taishō period (1912–1926), when researchers discovered a way to produce a nattō starter culture containing Bacillus subtilis without the need for straw. This simplified production and permitted more consistent results.
Last week I participated in the Matsuri festival in the English garden in Münich and at lunch time I wanted to eat something with natto so that I chose a yakitori plate since this is one of the most popular Japanese dishes. I have many Japanese friend so they handed on the authentic recipe to me. Their additional instruction was that the tasty ginger and rice wine marinade can be used for meat or fish. This recipe can also be made on the grill using the marinade as a basting sauce. You should serve hot with rice or noodles.
Ingredients: 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces, 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root, 1 clove garlic, crushed, 3 tablespoons white sugar 2/3 cup soy sauca, 1 tablespoon sake, 1/4 cup mirin (Japanese sweet wine), 2 tablespoons cooking oil
Directions: Rinse chicken and pat dry. In a glass baking dish or bowl, stir together the ginger, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, sake and mirin. Place the chicken into the mixture to marinate. Refrigerate, covered for several hours, or overnight.
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken pieces into the pan skin-side down, reserving marinade. Cook until light brown, then flip and brown the other side. Drain off grease, and pour the marinade into the pan.
Cover, and reduce heat to low, and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue cooking, shaking the skillet occasionally, until marinade is reduced to a nice thick sauce and chicken pieces are fully cooked.