UMAMI MART MATSURI FESTIVAL
Megumi Natto

I was greeted with a pleasant surprise on April 19 when I opened my Gmail account. There was to be a debut release party for an organic natto product the next day at San Francisco's Ozumo. This almost felt like when I heard the news for the release date of the latest Pavement album in the 1994 (Wowee Zowee). I could already imagine being in a room full of natto-heads - obsessing over the stretchiness of the fermented soy bean strings instead of say, Steve Malkmus' improvisational lyrics.

In a overexcited flurry, I contacted Kayoko to see if she could make it, then I called my sister. It seemed that I lacked a date to this "gig" but it did not hinder my enthusiasm when I thought of indulging in tasty natto bites over flasks of sake. In less than 24 hours I was riding the BART over to the Embarcadero. The entrance to Ozumo was just how I remembered it when I went for dinner nearly seven years ago - hip-snazziness circa 2000 for the dot-com singles scene. The event was held in the front bar area, and a big poster was placed at the entrance - Megumi Natto.

Ozumo, San Francisco entrance

Megumi Natto

Ozumo bar tabletops with organic Megumi Natto

Megumi Natto

Megumi Natto

Appetizer menu for the event. Sadly, I did not get to try all of them. Just the rolls.

Megumi Natto

Unfazed by my friendless state, I indulged in little rolls of natto-maki and sake. I had to say that I was impressed by the quality of the natto. Firm and really stretchy, these soy jewels tasted nutty and full of umami. Since they were not frozen, they exhibited the same "life" that my home made natto does, they were not mushy or mealy.

Megumi Natto

Megumi Natto

Natto with shiso and ume

Megumi Natto

I later talked to the founder of Japan Traditional Foods, Mr. Sato and his colleague "Dallas" who make the natto and found out that I was holding the first ever organic natto sold in America. They make one batch a week and deliver it to several West Coast locations including the Berkeley Bowl West, Nijiya Markets and UWAJIMAYA Seattle, just to name a few. Mr. Sato also advised me to smell the natto - he said that they are also sensitive to making the natto smell less pungent. I do not know whether this is a result of the organic process, but it was true - organic Megumi Natto smelled less strong than the varieties imported from Japan (although as a natto-head, I really love that smell).

"Dallas" and Sato-san

Megumi Natto

Organic Megumi Natto

Megumi Natto

By the end of the night, I was able to satisfy my urge to talk passionately about natto, make friends and have three glasses of sake. My BART ride home was a happy one and as soon as I got home, I went to the Megumi Natto website where I found a video of Mr. Sato demonstrating different natto recipes. I commend them for trying to break into the non-Japanese market, but the recipe for "Natto Bagel" is not one I am in a hurry to try. I still think that natto over rice is the best way to savor this food.

The release party for Megumi Natto signaled a new era for me. It's time that natto enters the American vernacular - it may take a while, but it is happening thanks to people like Mr. Sato and the readers of Umamimart. If one does decide to plunge into the world of natto, I would say that the less pungent-smelling organic Megumi Natto might be a suitable choice.

A friend of mine who recently tried natto for the first time mentioned that he had it with shiso which kind of "canceled-out" the signature natto smell - therefore making it bearable for him to eat. Using foods such as shiso and mustard as "training-wheels" for natto seems like a pretty good idea. Although, I would say that in an ideal world, only people who love natto should eat it just as I see no need to force mashed peas down a crying baby's throat. It's an insult to the peas that enthusiastically grew under the sun and to the person who carefully mashed them.

One last roll for the road

Megumi Natto
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9 comments

  • I am salivating so badly right now. Do you know what I am having for dinner? Natto/shiso/ume over rice. I can never make my own natto due to the fact I live with a regular American person, but I may start the project at my office.

    Yamahomo on

  • enjoyed the article. great pictures. do you know of any restaurants in the bay area that serve good natto? i see a lot on yelp (http://www.yelp.com/search?find_desc=natto&ns=1&find_loc=San+Francisco%2C+CA#bbox=-122.522964478%2C37.6930576983%2C-122.315597534%2C37.8569650205) but don’t know which ones would be good. maybe you could try and give us a review? :D

    j on

  • Oh yeah, dropping a raw egg in there will really enhance the “neba-neba” sliminess. I did that sometimes but not lately. I should start doing that again.

    yoko on

  • Your pics always get me sooo hungry! Do you ever drop a raw egg into your natto/rice mix? That’s what I grew up eating.

    seri on

  • J – thanks! I am glad you enjoyed the article. You know, I don’t know of any places yet that serve good natto. I would think that it’s all in the preparation since I suspect that most places probably just use Okame or some other imported frozen natto. I personally love natto at home the best on a bed of hot, steamed white rice. You don’t have to get fancy with natto. Another suggestions is my 88 cent meal that I wrote about last year on UM
    http://www.umamimart.com/2009/06/um-recession-88-cent-meal/

    Yamahomo – yeah, making natto in the house would be an intrusion for nostrils that do not favor the natto aroma. Workplace?! I hope there is enough ventilation because these little babies need their breathing room as well.

    yoko on

  • Hi Nancy,

    Thank you for the comment. I am looking on Megumi Natto’s site http://www.meguminatto.com/order.html and it looks like they don’t ship to AZ. Is there a Japanese market there in Tucson? If not, you might want to check in at your favorite Japanese restaurant and ask the owner or chef.

    yoko on

  • Please, looking for organic Natto inTucson. Would love to know a source, want it organic.
    Thanks for the wonderful article and photos.
    Dr. Mercola also have said how terrific a product this is.
    Desert Blessings,
    Nancy

    Nancy Evans on

  • Yamahomo- I think I just realized that Natto, Ume and Shiso would be my last meal, if I had to choose! YUM

    tomo on

  • ippuku, in berkeley, serves megumi natto with abura age, which is pretty damn good. ozumo and ame, both in SF, also serve megumi — but i haven’t gotten out to try it yet.
    if you’re in the north bay, sushi hana in rohnert park and yao-kiku in santa rosa serve it too.

    ricky on

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