Made with Japan’s most expensive beans, this dish could sway even the biggest natto naysayers.

When it comes to Japanese cuisine, there aren’t many foods that are as divisive as natto. Whether it’s the smell, the taste or the texture, natto is definitely a ‘love it or hate it’ kind of dish.

On the other hand, you’d be hard pushed to find anything as universally loved as a ramen. Whether it’s tonkotsu ramen, miso ramen or soy sauce ramen — stick a steaming bowl in front of us and we’ll be as happy as a clam.

So what would happen if you were to mix natto with such a universally beloved dish like ramen? Would they meld together harmoniously in a delicious dish?

Well, if we’re going to test this theory, we aren’t just going to try it with any old run-of-the-mill natto. No, our palettes are far too refined to settle for anything but the best, so you can imagine our delight when we discovered Fukujiro — a natto specialty shop in Akita Prefecture and home to Japan’s most expensive ‘Black Diamond’ natto — were selling Natto Ramen. What’s more, it was available to order online, so our Japanese-language reporter Kohei decided to give it a try.

Including postage, two servings of Natto Ramen cost Kohei 2,074 yen (US$18.60) —  a little pricer than a normal serving of ramen, but even the sight of the product’s label made Kohei feel like he was buying a high-end item.

The natto ramen kit included fresh noodles, broth base and sesame seeds, along with a pot of natto. And not just any old natto, but natto made especially to accompany the ramen, with the pots displaying large, yellow stickers that read: ‘to be used with ramen only‘.

As he opened the pot, Kohei noticed the natto had been processed into an almost paste-like substance. It didn’t look anything like normal natto, and it was barely sticky at all. In fact, it looked more like miso paste than natto — perfect for turning into a natto-y broth.

But while the appearance was definitely intriguing, Kohei was keen to get started on the taste test. He added the natto to a bowl…

… added the broth base…

… poured in 300 millilitres (10 ounces) of hot water …

… and gave it a good stir!

As he was stirring the natto mix, he’d also been boiling the noodles for about two minutes.

For the final step, he simply added the noodles to the broth, sprinkled sesame seeds on the top and it was ready to eat! Fukujiro recommends adding spring onions, kimchi, and bean sprouts as additional toppings, but we wanted to experience 100-percent pure natto ramen, so we went without. So how does it taste?

Well, it gets two thumbs up from Kohei. The slippery noodles went well with the natto flavour. And as Kohei was slurping away, happily enjoying his meal, a thought struck him —

Can I make this myself?

This was the first time Kohei had tried natto ramen, and not only that but it was natto from the most expensive natto shop in all of Japan. Unless he knew what the normal, bog-standard version tasted like, he’d never truly be able to get a sense of the high quality he was enjoying.

So Kohei decided to recreate his meal using supermarket-bought items.

To recreate the ‘high-quality’ taste of the noodles, Kohei opted for some pricer-than-usual ramen — 486yen ($4.37) for two servings.

For a true natto quality comparison, Kohei went for some basic ‘Okame Natto’, three packs of which will set you back around 70 yen ($0.63)

Kohei ground the natto using a mortar and pestle to recreate the ‘natto paste’ from Fukujiro, but the natto was so gooey and slippery that it was hard to grind properly.

The grinding process took Kohei about ten minutes, but despite his hard work it just didn’t look as finely grounded as the Fukujiro natto paste.

But Kohei had started now, so he continued with the rest of the steps — he added the natto and miso paste to a bowl and cooked the noodles.

▼ Ta-da!

▼ Can you tell which one is which?

Apart from the sesame seed toppings, the two bowls looked almost identical! But now on to the most important aspect — the taste. Would Kohei’s recreation match up to the lofty standards of Fukujiro’s high quality natto?

It was delicious. In fact, Kohei was tempted to say that it was as delicious as the expensive Fukujiro ramen. There was one small difference, though, that Kohei noticed as he was taking his final sips of the broth. See if you can notice, too.

▼ Fukujiro’s ramen

▼ Kohei’s creation

In the Fukujiro ramen, the natto melded and blended perfectly with the broth, whereas Kohei’s ramen had bits of natto floating in it that had separated from the broth. This was the meaning of ‘for ramen only’ natto, compared with regular store-bought natto.

Still, in the end, while the Fukujiro natto ramen was certainly delicious, Kohei couldn’t help but rate his store-bought creation higher. Both bowls of ramen were delicious, though, and Kohei is keen to try the dish again with the recommended toppings. Why don’t you try it, too?

If the idea of eating natto still makes you balk though, this guy might have a sweet serving suggestion that could hit the spot!

Images: ©SoraNews24
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