Paia Eats: Iwamoto Natto Factory Natto

The very first stop I made on my recent trip to Maui was a walk through Ah Fook’s Supermarket in Kahului. After seeing the unique products they carried, it was also the last stop I made on my way back to the airport heading home to Honolulu. One of those unique products I brought back with me was this here Natto, made by Iwamoto Natto Factory in Paia, the same folks who make the undried saimin for Sam Sato’s.

Come to find out, the original Iwamoto family who founded the company were bought out in 1965 by the Yamashita family, with Robert and Patsy Yamashita, along with their son Daryl now operating the business. In fact, the noodle making equipment they still use to this day were given to them from Sam Sato himself way back when. This, according to Patsy, who I had a very nice conversation with over the phone a few days ago.

So here we have Iwamoto Natto Factory’s Natto, a Japanese delicacy that many outside of the culture may find repulsive, yet I think it’s absolutely oishii!…

Unlike the usual natto packaging in the form of a lidded square styrofoam container with a small packet of karashi mustard and soy sauce or other sauce, Iwamoto’s Natto is packaged in this here plastic container with nothing else included… not even instructions how to eat it. “Ouch” for those not familiar with eating Natto!

The proper way to serve Natto is to stir it vigorously with chopsticks to froth-up the gooey fermented slime that carries the soy beans. The best way to do this is by transfering it into a larger, sturdy bowl that won’t introduce any plastic or styrofoam matter into the Natto. Then you just take your chopsticks to it and stir away briskly until it froths up, which takes less than a minute…

After it’s frothed-up, this is the point where you can add more punch to the party, as Natto by itself is rather bland, save for its robust coffee bean-like element. A small drizzle of shoyu and chopped green onion (negi) works for me…

Then stir again to combine…

A very important key accompanyment that many (on YouTube) fail to understand is that the best way to enjoy Natto is by eating it atop a bowl of hot, steamed white rice…

Enhanced even further by the accompanyment of tsukemeno – in this case Takuan (pickled daikon) and Beni Shoga (pickled ginger).

Here you see Iwamoto’s Natto in all its ooey-gooey glory. Hai, itadakimasu!…

Notice the “hana buttah” like way the fermented “slime” pulls apart. This is good stuff my friends.

Just like this is winnahz, but even better when you mix the beni shoga and takuan in with it!…

Mmmmm.. oishikatta! As mentioned before, Natto is reminiscent of coffee beans that have a more legume-like quality to it. Think of taking boiled peanuts and soaking it in coffee, and it’s kinda what this tastes like. The clincher is that ooey-gooey slime they’re encapsulated in. If you can get over the “snot-like” texture it may remind you of, you’ll be fine. That’s why it’s important to eat it over a bowl of hot steamed rice. That helps to melt that slime over the rice, turning it more into a sauce than anything else. Some folks try to assimilate Natto with spoiled cheese, but I find that a much maligned description of it. In contrary, I find a really pungeant bleu cheese much more repulsive than Natto. Natto is really delicious if you eat it thinking “outside the box”. If you can do that, you’ll really enjoy it!

What? Hama Natto
Who makes it? Iwamoto Natto Factory in Paia, Maui
Where did you buy and how much? Ah Fook’s Supermarket in Kahului, Maui, $2.19 per 4 oz. container
Big shacka to: Robust and balanced bean flavor. Froths-up quickly when stirred. Carrier has nice “pull”. Very healthy.
No shaka to: The undeserving bad reputation Natto gets.
The Tasty Island SPAM Musubi rating: 4

Coming next, we’ll make Sam Sato’s Dry Noodles (a.k.a. Dry Mein) at home using Iwamoto’s Undried Saimin from Ah Fook’s!…

Iwamoto Natto Factory Undried Saimin – 1-1/2 pound package, $4.59 from Ah Fook’s Supermarket in Kahului, Maui

Here’s some fun YouTube clips of folks demonstrating their Natto eating skills…


28 thoughts on “Paia Eats: Iwamoto Natto Factory Natto

  1. Pomai, is natto very salty like miso? Last entry I only know Long Drugs sell Home Maid Manju but not sure of pineapple.

  2. Pomai, is it eaten for breakfast? I seen on Japanese tv serial they eat it for breakfast. My friend told me Trader Joes now have their own miso soup mix with no msg. But I think making own is still much more better.

    Last entry I do agreed kid menu have too much junk food in it. Most kids like grown up food just down size for small eaters. All comments of manju made me brought out the mixing bowl to make some pineapple manju now. I like to make it smaller for tea snack.

  3. Nate, then I assume you must have at least eaten it when you were inebriated. lol

    Erica, no there’s no salt at all, as you can see by the ingredients on the container. That’s why adding shoyu is a must to bring out the flavor. And Natto taste NOTHING like miso paste. Very different flavor. You can add Natto into Miso soup as a “filler”. Really oishii like that too!

    Amy, yes, Natto is commonly eaten for breakfast in Japan, which in that case you can add a raw egg. I’d like to try eating a bowl of natto and rice along with some diced Portuguese sausage added on top. I’m willing to bet Natto would also taste good on Kona Coffee and/or Macadamia Nut Ice Cream due to its roasted coffee bean-like flavor.

    It’s ironic we were discussing children’s menus on Maui, as tonight on Sam Choy’s Kitchen, he featured the executive chef from the the Four Seasons in Wailea, who made organic baby food and a children’s mac ‘n cheese kicked up a notch. Looked good!

  4. I’ve tried a bite of this but never more, though I’ve heard that mixing in chopped up kim chee is supposed to take away the smell…

  5. Oh Sweet Jesus. Natto. My Japanese mom LOVES this stuff! I just can’t get past the smell. She’s going to love this post. Can’t wait to show it to her. 🙂

  6. My mother made a batch of natto at home once when we were kids. After she heard our complaints of the smell she never made it again. She still buys the packaged stuff to eat. On her last visit she bought a container from Uwajimaya to enjoy on her own. Never could get my self to try it. Harm ha on the other hand….mmmmmm!!!!

  7. Pomai, Korean have their own natto also called chung gook jang. Taiwan have it too. I am trying to create a low salt miso soup with healthy products since miso made with beans I will use other beans in it.

  8. Ice cream with natto is found in Yokohama and in Hong Kong natto potstickers. I like kim chee with rice and natto .

  9. Pomai:

    I love the stuff too. You just have to have been brought up on it. Adding the mustard jazzes it up somewhat. If I am going to eat a whole box at one sitting, adding a raw egg and shoyu while mixing is great, especially if you are putting it over hot rice. If you make a whole bunch of it (because it is easier that way) and will save some in the fridge, use miso, green onions, and shoyu. It will keep a long, long time in the fridge and tastes good too!

  10. Oh man, I don’t think the Mister would never to kiss me again if I tried nato again. Heck, I wouldn’t kiss me again either! It’s a good thing I wasn’t too fond of the taste and the smell.

  11. Another foreman who eats lunch with us is on a diet. He eats a container of natto (like in the video of the guy eating it the first time) plus a smalll container the same size of tofu. That’s his lunch! And he loses weight!

  12. With all this natto is To Be or natto be? I did not like poi when little which funny now can’t get enough of the stuff. I will give natto a try and like ideal of kim chee with rice and natto also.

  13. Ah, natto. When I haven’t had it for a while, I crave it!

    I never understood the revulsion that people seem to have to the smell. To me, both in smell and taste, it has a very buttery element to it. I don’t even bother with rice; I just eat it alone (though I’ll usually use the mustard/shoyu-based sauce that comes with it, but I’m okay without it, too).

    In Honolulu, you have two great natto dishes: natto and bacon spaghetti at the Angelo Pietro on Kapiolani, near Shokudo, and curry rice with natto at CoCo Ichibanya Curry House.

    Best natto dish I ever had, though, was a natto croquette at the restaurant of Iron Chef Nakamura Koumei in Tokyo. The perfectly greaseless, crispy coating shattering into the gooey natto center was perfection. I still dream about it!

  14. Natto is the only food I’ve come across that I can’t eat. I’ve tried forcing myself to eat it to hopefully acquire the taste, but that didn’t work out too well…..

  15. elemenohpee, anytime you have to force yourself to eat something, chances are psychologically you’ve already counted it as tasting bad even before tasting it at all. Try flavoring it with the various additions and condiments folks have suggested here, and you just might change your mind!

    Keoki, glad to hear you figured it out. Sometimes my photo server host goes down for maintenance, but that’s been far and few between so far that I’ve experienced.

    Debbie-chan, same here – I’ve never understood the revulsion so many folks seem to make of Natto. They oughta’ watch a few episodes of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. Most of which would make Natto seem as normal as hot dogs and hamburgers! I’ll have to take you up on those suggestions at Angelo Pietro’s and Shokudo; both places close to home!

    I also heard Gyotaku makes what they call “Nattochos”, which as it sounds, are Natto Nachos with an asian twist (nothing Mexican at all about it, save for the guac’). Look up “Gyotaku Hawaii” and see their menu for it.

    Kelike, “To be or Natto Be?” That is the question! Good one! Would make a great name for a restaurant specializing in Natto.

    Yoro, shame, you get Japanese name and you don’t like Natto. How you figgah?! lol

    Nate, indeed Natto is touted as a very healthy food. To be honest, I haven’t eaten Natto in a while, but after having it here again, I’m certainly going to start eating it more regularly. It’s one of those “feel good foods”. You just feel good after eating it. Not weighed down, but energized.

    C, whoah, whoah, now Bagoong is WAY WAY more an acquired taste than Natto, that’s for sure! Still, I love that stuff too! Load ’em up in da’ Pinakbet and hook me up!

    CAB, I really can’t fathom how Natto would give someone bad breath. You must have smelled some really foul Natto to have that impression.

    Alan, I never thought of adding Miso paste. Good one! I’m gonna’ try it next time!

    Mike, funny you mention Kim Chee, as I was really tempted to add that some to my Tsukemono on the side, but I didn’t want it to overpower the Takuan and Beni Shoga, which I’m sure it would have. What flavor of ice cream would you suggest would taste best with Natto? I’m thinking Macadamia Nut.

    Betty, thanks for the tip on the Korean and Taiwanese Natto! I’ll check Palama Market up the street to see if they carry Chung Gook Jang. Surely they do. Now to taste how it compared to Japanese Natto, that’s another question!

    Kobi206, like Bagoong, I think Harmha is in a different category of foods compared to Natto, as they’re just flavorings, and not a dish in itself. But I love me some good Harmha stir-fry pork with watercress and bak choy. Broke da’ mout’ dat buggah!

    Syndrax, you really should give Natto another chance. Make sure you add at least shoyu to it. Even better with the chopped green onions. And stir it up really well until it froths up nice and gooey, yet light. Very important. Makes all the difference.

    Jodi, glad you enjoyed the visuals. Yum! lol

    Kat, yet another Japanese person who doesn’t like Natto. Interesting. I’m curious what’s the percentage of young folks in Japan who eat vs. don’t eat Natto, and how that compares to the older generation.

  16. pomai: i’m trying. i’m in japan now, so it’s always available. i havent tried it with daikon or ginger yet, maybe i’ll give that a shot.

  17. Nattochos — man, do those look great! And it’s funny, because a friend who grew up in Oahu just came back from a visit, and her friends took her to their favorite Japanese restaurant, Gyotaku! She gave me a business card, and I had looked at their website, but I obviously skipped the appetizers page. Now I’m really going to have to add that to the places to go in September!

    Another good way to eat natto is dried, as otsumame with beer. Don’t worry though, it’s individual beans, just like regular dried soybean snacks, not one huge natto-ey clump!

  18. my Japanese friends at home titter whenever I mention eating natto – they find it incredibly funny that I even tried it! Thanks for the information about stirring it up, I did not know that the goo needed to be activated 🙂

  19. LMNOP, hope to hear back from you after you give it try. Let us know what you think. Make sure to ask the clerk which brand and style is the most popular. There’s tons to choose from!

    Debbie-chan, indeed those Nattochose do look great. I’m going to have to make it a point to get to Gyotaku soon and try it. I’ll probably go to the one in Niu Valley Shopping Center.

    Gudrun, yes stirring it to froth-up the fermented “goo” is very important. It helps it to coat the rice better and makes it less clumpy.

    I just bought a 4-pack of Shirakiku brand Natto from Don Quijote at a budget-busting 1.99. Talk about a cheap lunch! I’m gonna’ try going on a Natto diet to lose some weight. Seriously! Nate said his coworker lost a lot of weight eating just Natto and rice for lunch, so I’m gonna’ give it a shot.

  20. I was always fascinated by all the different varieties of natto that you can find here in Seattle. But like others, I just can’t get past the smell. I’m a fairly adventurous eater, but to me, natto is just really really wretched. I have a theory that it’s one of those “you have to grow up eating the stuff” kind of things, at least for a lot of folks.

  21. Ian, as I always mention, the smell of natto reminds me of roasted coffee beans, which there’s nothing wretched at all about that. Quite possibly, I think that slimy texture is psychologically affecting your olfactory senses here.

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