Seriously Asian: Natto Day


[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

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"You're celebrating Natto Day in July, aren't you?' asked my Japanese friend the other day as we stood in line at the grocery store.

"You know you just asked me a tag question, don't you?" I replied.

A tag question, for all you grammar enthusiasts out there, is a sentence in which a declarative statement or an imperative is turned into a question by adding an interrogative fragment—i.e., the "tag."

So for instance, my friend could have uttered the tag questions: "You will be celebrating Natto Day, won't you?" or "We'd better buy some natto in preparation for Natto Day, hadn't we?" to get across the same point.

The most common way to answer a tag question is in agreement with the expectations of the asker. So yes, of course I will celebrate Natto Day, on July 10th, so named to fall on the date 7-10 because the numbers in Japanese make a pun with the word 'natto.' The Japanese have all kinds of number-related puns, some of which are date-related and some that are mnemonics, which my friend proceeded to explain in painstaking detail, no doubt to make up for my grammar lesson.


I was just going to eat some natto with my rice on July 10, but my friend suggested that I try cooking with natto, and I'm glad I did. If you already love natto, then you might wonder why you would take a perfectly malodorous, gooey batch of fermented soybeans and do anything with it besides eat it out of the box. (Sometimes I add natto to miso soup, but that was as far as I went with cooking natto.) As it turns out, natto is delicious in other cooking preparations as well. The heat takes some of the pungency out of the beans and transforms them into savory, cheese-like nuggets.

This recipe for Natto Spring Rolls comes from Elizabeth Andoh, one of my favorite cookbook authors. She pairs natto with green scallions and seaweed in the filling. I think that basically anything rolled up and deep fried will be good, but imagine biting into a freshly fried spring roll, its shell breaking off in crispy, golden-brown shards to a piping-hot center of natto beans. The taste is still distinctly natto-esque, but with a kind of maturity and softness that is really pleasant. Prior to rolling up the spring rolls I mix in the soy sauce and mustard packs that come with the natto containers, though if your package of natto come without condiments, then it's easy enough to add your own. In addition to seaweed and scallions, try adding to the filling parboiled shreds of daikon, carrots, or anything else you would want to eat with natto.

Natto Day on July 10th. Mark it on your calendars.