Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mushrooms and Natto-or-Tolerable and Intolerable

I love to cook and bake.

Well, the truth is…I love to eat.  Fortunately, I also enjoy making the food I eat.   I love the process.  I wish I had hours everyday to cook and bake.  But I don't. 

I have never received any type of formal training in cooking and baking, but I started learning when I was quite young.  My family life was unique: I am the second eldest of nine and we were/are all home schooled.  One of the things that my mom made sure we all knew how to do was cook and bake.  I even learned how to make and can things like salsa and jam. 

And I loved it.

My siblings and I were also fortunate enough to be raised in a house were we didn’t always have the stereotypical Midwestern food of meatloaf and hot dish (or casserole, or whatever else you call it.)  One of my dad’s favorite things to do was (and still is) cook Chinese food.  One of his college roommates was from Hong Kong.  My dad still talks about how much they cooked Chinese food together.

I remember going on trips to Asian grocery stores and being so excited to gets things like canned dace with black beans.  Basically you just open the can and eat the fish as is, bones and all.  And it’s delicious.  Salty, oily and amazing.  I think it is fairly safe to say that most kids would have turned up their noses at that.

Another benefit was learning how to use chopsticks.  I was so young when I learned this that I honestly don’t even remember learning.  My Japanese coworkers and students are constantly impressed by my proficiency in chopstick use. 

One thing I didn’t like about Chinese food nights were the shitake (after being corrected numerous times, we have learned the proper pronunciation is shi-ta-keh) mushrooms.  I hated the rubbery texture.  In fact I didn’t really like mushrooms at all-of any kind.

Then I moved to Japan.  And I got over it.  Fast.  Because in Japan during lunchtime at school, you eat what you are given or you starve (in addition to being rude.) Plus mushrooms are a staple of the Japanese diet.  They are everywhere.  All shapes and sizes too.

I never really considered myself to be too much of a picky eater.  If I was, I am definitely not now.  I don't like certain things, like liver and other “innards.”  Yuck.  But, if I have to eat them, I will.  I am fortunate to not suffer from any food allergies either. In other words, I am an excellent candidate for eating Japanese school lunch. 

Usually school lunch is perfectly normal (albeit interesting at times): curry and rice, salad, rice, ramen, milk, bread…I think the strangest thing I have ever eaten in a school lunch are little packets of dried minnows shrimp at almonds.  I am not particularly fond of them, but they aren’t bad.  They just taste salty, fishy and are crunchy. 

There has been one instance where I refused to eat something during school lunch…that something was called natto.  If I haven’t before described natto, I will now.  They are fermented soybeans.  I don’t know the process of the fermentation, but the finished product is positively revolting.  The beans are stuck in a stringy, slimy sort of goo.  You are supposed to take your chopsticks and stir the natto to try to free some from the goo.  Most people eat it with rice. 

I don’t eat it. Ever.

From what I have learned and observed, natto is either a you love it or you hate it item.  And the general public seems to be split right down the middle on the issue.  This is good, because then I don’t really look bad when I refuse to eat it during lunch! (I gave mine as to a student who loved it.)

Don’t think I am knocking something I haven’t tried, because I have tried it.  It’s just that once really was enough. 

There are many other opportunities to be challenged with in regards to food here in Japan.  Including raw liver, intestines and (perhaps the most shocking) raw horse.

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  1. Kate,
    I am so very much enjoying your posts! There is something new for me to learn with each post as I live vicariously through your experiences!!

    Natto is something I'm pretty sure I could live without ever trying, especially since you made it sound so 'appetizing'! Thanks - so glad you did that for me!

  2. HA! You are finally eating shitake! Are the predried ones better than the dried ones?

    And would you try Marmite now?