Every country has its own love-it-or-hate-it foodstuff. In England it’s Marmite, in Malaysia it’s Durian, and in Japan the polarizing comestible is called natto. It’s made from fermented soya beans and, according to Wikipedia, ‘is an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor and slimy, sticky texture.’
After coping with the smell of durian, and then the strong flavour of stinky tofu in Taiwan, I reckoned natto would be well within my capabilities, so I went off to the supermarket to buy some.
It comes in a little polystyrene box with some soy sauce and super-hot Japanese mustard to jazz it up, and it has the weirdest texture of anything I’ve ever eaten – it’s very slimy, but sticky at the same time, and separates into a million tiny strings when you lift a forkful –
– a bit like saliva, or lots of tiny baby hairs. And once you get through the slime, it has a bitter flavour. I was undecided at first, but when I found out that it’s the latest superfood and really good for you, I persevered. Then someone recommended natto with avocado – presumably the Japanese hipster breakfast of choice – and I loved it – so I’ll be researching natto stockists when I get back to the UK, to feed my new addiction.
One thing that’s been puzzling me since I arrived is the reputation that Japanese food has for being healthy. Apart from natto, they seem to eat only protein and carbs and an awful lot of sweet stuff. Eating out is generally reckoned to be cheaper than cooking at home, and I think that’s partly due to the exorbitant cost of fruit and vegetables.
At my local supermarket you can buy a beautifully wrapped, single stick of celery –
which costs approximately £1. No wonder they separate it into sticks – at those prices nobody could afford a whole head of the stuff.
Similarly, apples are individually packaged and cost somewhere between £1.50 and £2 each. And why are they so big?
In a country which tends to serve small portions, it seems perverse to grow apples until they’re the size of your head.
And apples are cheap compared to some other fruit. I saw this melon in the food hall –
very nicely packaged, you might say – and so it should be … 10,800 yen is £77.27 at today’s exchange rate.
But if you really want to impress someone, you have to give them cherries. This box –
– contains 40 perfect and beautiful cherries, and will set you back £154.55.
I know they’re intended to be bought as a gift and not scoffed in the car on the way home from the shops, but even so, I can’t help wondering who would buy them, and whether the recipient would fully appreciate the gift, unless you left the price tag on.
The best way to eat fruit is probably in a sandwich, along with custard and whipped cream –
– I haven’t summoned the courage to try one yet, so can’t report back on their deliciousness or otherwise.
In contrast, sushi is much more reasonably priced – and I have a cheap and cheerful sushi restaurant just around the corner, so had to try it out. The ordering is all done via ipad –
and the sushi arrives on a little train which whooshes along a track next to the tables –
It’s all absolutely delicious. This is the tuna – my favourite –
and costs less than a pound per two pieces.
In the interests of research, I also went to a posh sushi place, where there’s a conveyer belt of ready-made sushi –
and a chef in the middle, who makes things to order. Here she is –
– putting the finishing touches to our seared scallops.
You can also get a fantastic selection of sushi at even the most bog-standard supermarket –
After two years in Malaysia, it’s nice to be in a country where drinking isn’t frowned on – and to celebrate my birthday last week, we went to a typical Japanese-style pub called an Izakaya.
We sat on tatami mats – no shoes – but there is a footwell, so we didn’t have to sit cross-legged all night. We were surrounded by salarymen, all out for Friday night drinks, and the atmosphere was loud and buzzing –
I thoroughly approved of the size of a gin and tonic –
Most Izakayas in Nagoya are famous for chicken wings –
– and they’re so moreish that they must be coated in MSG or cocaine –
The menu also offers some unusual offcuts –
– and I like their straightforward approach to wine –
But I decided to try the sake, and managed to expertly ping an edamame bean straight into the glass –
A jolly good evening was had by all – and the bill was less than £20 a head … about 5 cherries-worth.
If I meet anyone looking for careers’ advice, I shall advise them to start a cherry orchard in Japan.