Not to be confused with annatto, a red coloring central to several Spanish-speaking Caribbean cuisines, natto are black soybeans (a smaller variety than familiar green soybeans) that are fermented using the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. These beans originated in China, but have become much more popular in Japan and Korea.
The results of fermentation include generation of an odor that has variously been likened to garbage or dirty socks, and the formation of a mucus-like material that adheres to the beans and causes them to pull away in long tendrils.
In Japan, these beans are often eaten for breakfast, sometimes mixed with egg whites to make a particularly rich and slimy repast. Another common usage involves depositing the natto in nori rolls.
Natto is made in many small factories around Japan. The fermenting beans are usually wrapped in straw, as shown in the above picture.
Typical natto meal would include (clockwise from eleven o’clock) natto omelet, natto with raw squid and tuna, natto tempura, natto miso soup, natto salad with jujubes, pickled radish, and rice.
There’s a method for making natto beans at home using a yogurt maker.
And there’s also a video about how to play a trick on your friends by making natto cola.
A list of restaurants that serve natto:
Blue Ribbon Sushi, 278 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-840-0408
Curry-Ya, 214 East 10th Street, 866-602-8779
Go, 30 St. Marks Place, 212-254-5510
Hakubai, 66 Park Avenue, 212-885-7111
Matsu, 411 East 70th Street, 212-744-5454
Momoyo Amsterdam, 427 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-580-0007
Sapporo Haru, 622 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn 718-389-9712
Yakitori Toto, 251 West 55th Street, 212-245-4555