The Dish: Tuna Natto

Price: $5

Where to Get It: Izakaya Seki, 1117 V St. NW; (202) 5885841;

What It Is: Fermented soybeans paired with tuna sashimi

What it Tastes Like: Natto is an acquired taste, even in Japan. That’s because it tastes like a sweaty dorm room or a dish sponge that’s scrubbed one load too many. It’s stinky, sticky, and creates strings en route to your mouth, which requires a swirling technique with your chopsticks.

The Story: Hiroshi Seki, one half of the father-daughter team that runs this authentic izakaya, is from Niigata in northern Japan where natto is more common, because it’s a high-protein food in a region with less livestock. Seki’s mother used to make the dish by soaking soybeans in water, boiling them, and rolling them into a basket-like enclosure made from rice stalks where they would ferment overnight. The fermenting agent is a special bacteria, which gives natto its many health benefits, which supposedly range from cancer prevention to youthful-looking skin.

How to Eat It: Natto is served alongside tuna or squid sashimi at Izakaya Seki, plus the typical Japanese accoutrements of nori (seaweed) and negi (green onion). Mix everything together until a nice paste forms, then prepare to make a mess. In Japan, natto is most commonly eaten over rice for breakfast. This is not first-date food—you’ve been warned.

Photo by Laura Hayes