Japanese food has become so popular here in Australia that we can even find sushi rolls in coles. The country offers a wide array of cuisine – and is known for its many delicious and beautifully presented dishes, from decadent Kaiseki to even a simple obento sold in a convenience store.
However, not all Japanese food can be called ‘beautiful’, as the country has for centuries enjoyed an affinity for foods with a variety of textures – and not always ones that are appealing to non-japanese diners. Some foods are slimy, sticky and ever so gooey -looking, known as “neba-neba” foods – an onomatopoeia word used for food with a sticky slimy texture. Although they lacking in visual appeal to people who have never tried them before, many of these foods are an essential part of the Japanese diet.
Japanese people will boast of the neba-neba foods many health benefits, which include them being low-calorie foods that are high in soluble fibre (said to help keep the kilos off) while being very gentle on the digestive system, these foods are also very rich in vitamins, minerals, and many other nutrients.
We went to Tokyo Mart in Northern Sydney to find three of these foods and deiced to test them out on some unsuspecting Aussie boys.
The foods we had them try were:
Natto (Fermented Soybeans)
Natto is commonly served mixed with a small amount of yellow mustard and a sweet soy sauce. It is a very popular food that Japanese people enjoy for any meal of the day over a bowl of white rice, by itself or mixed into other dishes – there even is a natto sushi roll! Due to its popularity in Japan, it can be considered to be the most well known of the neba-neba foods. Although natto lovers won’t admit – its very strong odour and the runny glue-like appearance it takes when mixed can be somewhat offputting for those who haven’t seen it before.
Takowasa with Mekabu
Takowasa is a very popular side dish that can be found in most izakayas in Japan and even in some Australian ones. The dish is made from small pieces of raw octopus flavoured with wasabi.
Although for those who have never seen it before it may appear like a bowl of mysterious grey-ness – the strong taste of wasabi masks any bad odour of the raw octopus, allowing you to enjoy the refreshing taste with the chewy texture of the fresh octopus. The Takowasa we found was mixed with mekabu – the flowering part of wakame seaweed.
Neba toro Sankai mix
This is a special mix we found combining all the neba-neba you could imagine mixed together! It includes neba-neba vegetables such as sliced okura and nameko mushrooms as well as mekabu seaweed and kazunoko (herring roe). This mix can be used on the top of rice or on drained soba noodles in the summer.
Our first contender, Vinay tried all three of the neba-neba foods. First, he tried the natto.
Despite pulling some amusing faces, he commented: “It looks a lot worse than it tastes – it tastes better than it looks. It’s not bad”. He later commented, “I dont mind it – I can’t have it on its own though. I’d have to have it with some rice or something to mellow out the flavour.”
He next tried the takowasa. At first, he seemed to be enjoying the flavour but then got a kick of the wasabi. “It’s nice but in small amounts – I can see why people have this as a snack at as izakaya!”.
Lastly, Vinay tried the neba-toro Sankai mix which he enjoyed the most. He commented, “That’s not bad – that’s good. I could eat that!”.
Grant, our second contender was too put off by the smell of natto and only tried two foods. He first tried the neba-toro Sankai mix which he commented that “It keeps slipping off my tongue! Its very bitter… but not too bad… JUST TOO SLIMY”.
Grant lastly tried the takowasa – which he needed to wash down with a sip of his beer before he could comment. He mentioned it had a strong aftertaste. “that’s a Nah for me – I’m done!”
Conclusion? Its really up to who is eating it. But if you love Japanese foods and are brave enough to try some neba-neba foods, you might be pleasantly surprised (or not!) Good luck!