This was the day I had been dreading…the day in every ALT’s school life where natto appears on the school lunch menu…
I was sitting quietly at my desk in the teachers’ room when I heard the first whispers from the lunch ladies…had I heard correctly? Did they really say natto? Perhaps I was imagining it? But the whispers became statements and statements became exclamations at the other teachers trickled in and saw what was on their lunch trays.
So it was true, this was to be the moment of truth…my first natto experience…and in front of an audience. As I held the little plastic cup in my hand and inspected the label, the teachers sensed my trepidation. They quickly confirmed that I was indeed holding natto in my hand and of course they then asked the inevitable…do I like it?
Confiding in the them that I had never tasted natto before, Shib Sensei in a show of solidarity, pushed his natto aside claiming a strong dislike of the stuff. Of course that didn’t stop him encouraging me to try it…setting me a ‘natto challenge’. Challenge being the trigger word in teaching language to get the kids to do something they don’t want to do. Well hey, I am a competitive person and since Shiba Sensei threw down the gauntlet…
For the record, before I give my opinion of natto, it is described in my Lonely Planet Culinary Dictionary as ‘sticky, fermented soy beans’. Mmm, appetising thought. The teachers demonstrated the natto eating process for me- add soy sauce and mustard and ‘stir 100 time’. I did as I was told and while I could get past the smell my natto cup contents now looked like something out of ‘Alien’.
Reminding myself that I was a grown woman, I quickly dipped my chopsticks into the gooey, smelly, stringy mess and shovelled some in my mouth (quick like a band aid right?!). My audience seemed suitably impressed with my ‘daijobu’ (ok) response to the mouthful after I fought my way through the spider web to speak. I am pretty sure they were expecting an automatic gag reflex. They went back to their own lunches and I had one more scoop of natto before politely sliding it to the side of my tray and hiding it under some rubbish.
I had survived my first natto tasting and while it wasn’t the worst thing I have ever experienced I still passed on Shiba Sensei’s kind offer to give me his unwanted tub of ‘sticky, fermented soy beans’.