Eat This

I Tried the Natto at Fort Worth's Little Lilly Sushi, and Now It's Your Turn

By chance have you heard of Natto? The Japanese delicacy hasn't enjoyed much popularity in the States, possibly because the few people who tried it were so horrified they never spoke of the experience again.

If you need evidence of the challenges of eating natto, just head over to YouTube and watch a few clips. It's a bit like a more worldly version of the cinnamon dare for food nerds.

But unlike cinnamon, which in large quantities causes violent upper-respiratory irritation and an excess of snot, natto is actually good for you. The Japanese claim all sorts of health benefits of this oh-so-probiotic food.

Natto starts of innocently enough. In the old days workers boiled soybeans until they were soft and then packed them in bins with hay. The hay contains bacillus subtilis, a funky bacteria, which chews on the soybeans a touch and leaves a stringy white goo in its wake. And then there's the smell. Try natto and the next time you hear a beer snob use "barnyard" or "horse blanket" to describe a naturally fermented beer, you'll belly laugh. A single natto bean contains an entire farm's worth of funk.

Nowadays, massive bins of cooked soybeans are artificially subjected to the bacteria before they're packed into Styrofoam boxes and shipped around the world. You can find it in a few Asian markets and often at sushi restaurants, though it's rarely on the menu.

This past weekend I was at Little Lilly Sushi, a newish sushi restaurant in Fort Worth that's getting some attention. Jesus Garcia, who spent time at Five Sixty and Stephan Pyles among others, has become the area's go-to sushi chef. I gave Garcia carte blanche, and worked my way through a number of interesting sushi and sashimi preparations. But when my neighbor at the bar requested a natto hand roll I interrupted the omakase procession and requested the same.

Garcia didn't do anything overwhelming. Instead he rolled the natto up in a rice-lined piece of nori, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. A few slender sticks of cucumber were the only other embellishment. His treatment really let the flavor of the natto (ahem) shine.

When you bite into the hand roll, white strings of spider silk will stretch from your hand to your mouth. It's impossible to eat this stuff and not smile -- even while you're a little squicked out.

If Little Lilly is too far, Teppo on Greenville Avenue sells natto, as do many are sushi restaurants in the area. You just have to ask for it. And be ready.