Thursday, January 31, 2013

the marriage of ammonia and a tire fire?

As a kid I was a finicky eater. There were lots of things I wouldn’t even try. They didn’t look good, they didn’t smell good. Something. Gradually as I grew I allowed myself to be cajoled into trying new things, and, what do you know?, some of them I liked. I tried new things on my own. Sometimes secretly. And if I liked those things, yay, I could cross another fear off my food anxiety list.

There are a few things I’ve tried repeatedly. Beer. I’ve never yet been able to get past the bitterness of beer. I think I’ve forced myself through half a glass of beer, but I’ve never made it all the way to the bottom. I can get down vodka straight but I can’t swallow the most praised lager. Gin is pretty nasty, too. Ditto tequila.

I can enjoy some wines. And fruit drinks that mask the alcohol with sweetness and sparkling flavors.

Eggplant? If it’s cooked pretty darn thoroughly. Okra? Um. I had some deep-fried okra on our last road trip and it was okay. But I couldn’t quite finish what they’d put on my plate.

But I’m not really finicky anymore. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to clean my plate, although I usually do when I’m hungry, even when doing so isn’t a pleasure. I don’t refuse to taste anything. I’m game.

So when I saw an item on the breakfast menu at our resort in Hawaii, an item I’d never heard of, I asked about it. It’s popular with the Japanese, I was told. Popular, huh? Well, if it’s popular I can probably eat enough to stanch my hunger. I like sushi. I like rice. I tolerate tofu.

Let’s turn to Rachel Herz for a description of the dish (excerpted from Herz’s book, That’s Disgusting: unraveling the mysteries of repulsion):
Natto is a stringy (the strings can stretch up to four feet), sticky, slimy, chunky, fermented soybean dish that the Japanese love and regularly eat for breakfast. It can be eaten straight up, but is usually served cold over rice and seasoned with soy sauce, mustard, or wasabi and can also be garnished with green onion, fish flakes, raw eggs, or radish. The latest figures show that over 14 billion pounds of natto are produced annually for Japan’s population of 127.9 million people. Aside from its alien and complex texture, natto suffers from another problem – odor – at least for Westerners. To me, natto smells like the marriage of ammonia and a tire fire. … [T]here is not a Westerner I know of who at first attempt can get natto into their mouth.

I got natto into my mouth. One or two beans, I think. But, yeah, it was pretty weird. A bowl full of small red beans with yellowish threads running through them. Pick up a bean and the attached thread stretches and stretches. Like mozzarella cheese. Only, it’s not cheese. What is it? According to Herz it’s some sort of fungus. I don’t remember the smell. Except that there was nothing attractive about it. I turned to the egg, thinking at least I could have egg with my rice. I cracked the egg. The inside was raw. Raw egg? Raw egg is yucky enough. I’m losing interest in natto pretty fast.

I ate the rice. And there was probably some miso soup or something. Maybe I broke down and ordered pancakes. I forget. When I read Herz’s description of natto the mental picture of those beans on my breakfast table was immediately available.

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