When offered something sticky and slimy to eat, most diners would probably politely pass on the suspect dish. Then again, other folks would happily chow down on the same item. It all depends on how you feel about the Japanese delicacy called natto. Made from fermented soy beans, natto is produced when good bacteria called Bacillus subtilis are introduced to fresh soy beans for roughly 24 hours. The stuff is also a probiotic that aids in digestion and is very much a live food source.
In fact, this natto stuff is so alive, you can actually see it bubbling on the steamed rice if you opt for it as a part of a combo meal that accompanies your bowl of ramen at Santouka in the Mar Vista Mitsuwa Market.
Santouka specializes in Hokkaido-style ramen and tops off its tonkotsu pork broth-based noodles with ingredients like sour pickled plums, strips of crunchy bamboo shoots, and slippery, snappy jelly ear fungus. Moreover, it’s one of the few ramen joints in town scooping out probiotics as a rice topping.
The sensation of natto is a double whammy for even the most seasoned of epicureans. The fermented food’s texture is akin to that of melted caramel or chewed bubble gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe, depending on how vigorously the natto has been stirred and “activated.” As far as taste, natto can be quite challenging on that front too. Initially, it strikes with a slight flavor of yeasty alcohol, then it segues into a savory mustiness. Some liken it to sweaty gym socks.
Natto’s unique earthiness can be quite a pick-me-up (like several espresso shots), which may be why it’s traditionally served during breakfast. But, lucky for you, natto over rice is available all day at Santouka if you order it as a side with your ramen (it’s not listed on the menu).
My advice: Eat it first to get all that probiotic goodness, then slurp your ramen to get rid of all that natto nastiness. “Natto” tell you how to eat or anything, just a tip.
Santouka, Mitsuwa Market, 3760 S. Centinela Ave., Mar Vista, 310-391-1101