Can’t Say No To NattoOno, You Know
September 3, 2017
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Anthony Consillio
In the big, wide, flavorful world of cuisine, not every dish can be as universally adored as, say, pizza or pasta. Many striking ingredients and specialties stir up a more black-or-white reaction: People love them or hate them, with no room for anything in between.
For us foodies, that polarizing quality makes those dishes all the more intriguing, as we want to find out which side of the spectrum our taste buds move toward. So what’s the perfect bite to give ourselves a fun new dining challenge? None other than natto, of course!
The fermented soybeans are known for stirring up strong opinions. Many diners are resistant to try the sticky mass of beans that come with a strong smell reminiscent of aged cheese. Or, they simply don’t like the distinctive flavor that stems from the beneficial Bacillus subtilis bacteria that is added to natto as it ferments. Natto-philes, on the other hand, enjoy the beans’ earthy flavor and gooey texture, and they swear by the host of health benefits they provide.
Love it or hate it, natto is worth exploring, especially considering it’s been a traditional food in Japan for centuries. So whether you grew up eating it or are finally ready to try it for the first time, here are some Ono, You Know hot spots to get it:
THE TRADITIONAL TAKE
To expand a bit on the health benefits of natto, the soy-based product is praised for being an excellent source of protein, probiotics and key vitamins such as vitamin K, which, among other attributes, promotes good bone health and normal blood clotting.
It’s no surprise, then, that this specialty is a valued part of the traditional Japanese diet.
Here in the Islands, customers head to Kozo Sushi when they want a fast and affordable bite of their Japanese cravings, including a nice glop of natto. That’s one reason the popular sushi chain recently decided to add Spicy Ahi Natto Don ($8.25) to the menu.
“This is a classic Japanese dish that includes ahi and natto on top of white rice,” explains Miulene Pilanca, manager of the Keeaumoku Street branch. “The dish is very popular in Japan and we wanted to add a local spin to it, so we decided to use spicy ahi.”
Since natto can be a bit bitter on its own, this presentation is one of the best ways to try it for the first time, since you can mix it in with the other ingredients in the donburi, including tamago, nori, green onion and, of course, the ahi. The sushi rice also brings balance to each bite.
But for the natto-purists out there — and there are many who frequent Kozo — the soybeans also are available unadulterated in the forms of maki ($2.35) nigiri ($1.85 for two pieces) and a hand roll ($1.85).
In other Kozo news, the sushi spot has debuted a new vegetarian Tofu Poke Don prepared with tofu poke on top of your choice of rice or salad. Kozo also plans to reopen its Kahala Mall store, which is currently under renovation, around the end of the year — so stay tuned.
LOVE AT FIRST BITE
Those who didn’t grow up eating natto can often remember the first time they took the plunge and tried the richly flavored ingredient. For me, this happened a little while back at Teishoku Restaurant, where vice president Jason Zhang, a self-proclaimed natto-enthusiast, convinced me to give it a try.
“Natto is very popular here, and it’s so good for you,” he said, going on to share with me its various health benefits. He urged me to order the ever-popular Ahi Poke & Natto Don ($12.95) served with a choice of brown, steamed-white or sushi rice.
I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the actual flavor of natto — though unique, of course — was not as overwhelming as I thought it would be; the aroma is stronger than the taste. And as someone who pays attention to food textures, I also liked the stringy slime of the beans, as they reminded me of long strands of melted cheese — again, no complaints there.
These days, when I want to fill up on natto, I’m always drawn to the place I first tried it. Teishoku’s local-style poke served in this donburi is a lovely complement to the soybeans, which are sourced from Japan. As an extra treat, the Kamehameha Shopping Center eatery also serves up Natto Nigiri ($5.75 for three pieces, $9.95 for six).
Keep in mind: There’s more than just natto to look forward to at Teishoku. The restaurant — which offers tasty teishoku sets, sushi, curry, ramen and more at a great price point — will soon supplement its classic menu with more dishes to choose from, including fusion creations such as hamachi carpaccio.