The Neba Neba Boom

The cafeteria at work served okra again today. I’m Southern, so you’d think I’d be a big fan, but the sliminess makes me gag. (Though a large dose of cajun sauce might change my attitude.)

“You should eat neba neba foods,” says my manager. He’s a bit of a health nut — he runs marathons, plays American football, and takes breakfast bars on trips to eat instead of the hotels’ breakfast buffets. “They are good for your blood.”

“Never never,” I respond in English. He cocks his head to the side and gives his slow smile and a polite chuckle.

I seem to have arrived in Japan during the “neba neba boom (ネバネバブーム).” Neba neba’s most frequent translation is “sticky,” but we are not talking about caramel apples and gummy bears. Nope, everywhere you turn now, you’ll find okra garnished with bonito flakes, slimy yam grated on your soba noodles, wakame seaweed in your salad, taro and Egyptian jute (モロヘイヤ) on your rice, and, of course, natto, natto, natto (gooey fermented soybeans). The food service at work has embraced the fad wholeheartedly, no doubt encouraged by the employee food committee.

The claim is that neba neba foods contain beneficial proteins and acids, the main one being mucin, which eases digestion, prevents colds, and minimizes aging. Other health benefits include lowering cholesterol and strengthening joints and cartilage.

For natto, the claims are more extensive.

“You should eat natto,” my coworker says to me at lunch. “It’s good for women of a certain age, and we should eat a little every day.” I suppose she means it balances women’s hormones?

Natto has also been billed as a diet food. Eating two packs a day can bring about 3.5-kg or more per week losses, one study claims to show. I can well believe it. If I ate a whole pack of natto in the morning, I probably wouldn’t be able to eat anything else all day.

Natto isn’t a native Osaka food; it’s from Tokyo. In the past, my Osaka friends supported my dislike of natto as a kind of regional loyalty. Now, though, the fad has trumped that. But seriously, natto sushi in the convenience stores? Next it’ll be the McNattoBurger on Ronald McD’s menu.

Just for you, dear readers, I bought some natto today on my way home. I stirred it 100 times, as prescribed, to whip the white stringy sliminess into a frenzy. Here it is:

Now that I’ve bought it, I should eat it. It came with packs of soy sauce and mustard to make it more palatable, and to eat it properly, I should beat in a raw egg. A woman my age really should learn how to eat natto. Anyway, otherwise it’ll sit in my refrigerator from now until it’s moldy as well as fermented. I almost tried it when I took the photo, but I just couldn’t. I’ll think about it tomorrow.

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About July McAtee

American gal turned Japanese "salaryman" for a while. I'm blogging my experiences as my daughter and I move from Silicon Valley to Japan and beyond.
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12 Responses to The Neba Neba Boom

  1. Mr. *Reader* says:

    Looks… Uh, delicious.

    For the original publication by Dr. Sumi who discovered the effects of nattokinase see the following link:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/2123064/

    • July McAtee says:

      Wow, suddenly the tone of my blog has been raised to a scientific level. Thanks for the link, Mr. Reader.

      But, but, but, does this mean that I must now face up to oral administration of natto to enhance my plasmic fibrinolytic activity? Please, there must be another way.

      • Mr. Reader says:

        There are other ways of thinning the blood and reducing your clotting pottential… but you may not want to do that. I prefer foods that don’t have direct and significant pharmacological effects….well, except maybe beer…. and coffee…. and chocolate!

      • July McAtee says:

        🙂 🙂 Here’s to the good stuff!

  2. I think of two countries when I think of okra, Japan and India. I’m not sure when o-ku-ra entered the Japanese izakaya front (or Japan in general), but it’s certainly a mucilaginous buddy of natto. Do you have a preference (did you try the natto yet?)? Hmm, a nebaneba boom…better or worse than the summer Pepsi varieties?!

    • July McAtee says:

      Hi, I’ve heard it’s popular in India, but I never saw it in Japan when I lived here in the 80s.
      The first place I think of when I hear okra is Louisiana and yummy Cajun food!
      That natto stares at me every time I open my fridge. No, I just can’t. Still, I’ll take a nebaneba boom over Pepsi potpourri any day.

      • Oh, right! Cajun cuisine too…you can probably find it in Japan, but even if they call it supremely spicy you know it’ll just be the biggest letdown since a heaping of natto! Are there any other major food trends happening there now too? Thanks for liking my post about gunpowder, by the way!

      • July McAtee says:

        Yeah! Fun post and beautiful photo.
        The only other food boom I can think of is the “tomato boom.” I’ll have to try to figure that one out.

  3. Onini says:

    I tried natto once and didn’t gag. If I lived there I could probably get to where I liked it: even preferred it. You shoulda eat it.

  4. Sachi says:

    I love it! Eat it at least once a week. But the way it looks in your picture, does not appeal to me at all. Where’s the green onion, soy sauce, the hot bed of rice? Don’t eat it if that’s the best you can do with it. I wouldn’t! I drool at the pics on ilovenatto.com ~. But don’t feel bad, I can’t pay my boyfriend to eat it.

    • July McAtee says:

      Sachi, you and I may have to agree to disagree. I’ll gobble up the green onion, soy sauce, and rice, but hold the natto. But I commend you for loving it. And I love that someone devoted a whole site to it. That’s devotion.

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