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Natto master (Birth of NYrture New York Natto. Part III)

A student must seek out the best teacher possible.

On the hottest day of the 2014 summer, I went to visit the oldest natto business in the city of Tokyo.  There, I was to meet Hiromitsu Amano, a fifth generation natto maker to learn about his methods.

Amanoya is located down the street from the famous Kanda Myojin Shinto shrine in the busy Akibahara/Ochanomizu area of central Tokyo.

Amanoya is located down the street from the famous Kanda Myojin Shinto shrine in the busy Akibahara/Ochanomizu area of central Tokyo.

The Amano family has owned and operated Amanoya, which produces premium natto as well as a number of other traditional Japanese fermented foods (amazake, koji and miso) since 1846. The small corner shop in front sells all the specialty foods they make; behind and underneath it are the facilities where they are created. The building and its underground fermentation rooms (similar to cheese aging caves) have been designated an official historic preservation site by the local ward government.

The Amanoya production facility includes specialized underground fermentation rooms over a century old.

The Amanoya production facility includes specialized underground fermentation rooms over a century old.

Amanoya is the oldest natto producer still operating in metropolitan Tokyo. His family's Amanoya natto is a top-tier small batch product, available only in Tokyo in their own Amanoya shop and in a few local gourmet retailers and restaurants. In the 170 years since the Amano family began making natto, the basic technique has remained largely unchanged. Though technical advances have improved equipment, his natto is still made by methods passed down through generations and packaged by hand.

Hiromitsu Amano kindly invited me into his home to learn about his family's work producing natto and many other traditional fermented foods.

Hiromitsu Amano kindly invited me into his home to learn about his family's work producing natto and many other traditional fermented foods.

"Selecting the best available soybeans is key to making the best natto." shared Amano-san.  He said he sources his soybeans from the northern island of Hokkaido, where cooler temperatures produce high quality beans--sweeter and larger than most native Japanese soy varieties. From year to year he may buy from different farms, always looking for the best crop of that season. 

Dry soybeans from Hokkaido. Interestingly, soybeans when dried are almost spherical and elongate upon soaking into a typical bean shape.

Dry soybeans from Hokkaido. Interestingly, soybeans when dried are almost spherical and elongate upon soaking into a typical bean shape.

Amano-san shared his knowledge and brought us inside his natto workshop to see how his natto is created.  There, I saw the simple set-up where he was able to produce such wonderful food, and I was inspired. He explained his natto-making process as his sons worked around us. But finally he said, "There is no great secret; the difficult part [of making natto] is in the simple doing with consistency and care". How modest, yet true of so many things.

Amanoya includes a beautiful little cafe where we sampled some fantastic amazake, a traditional fermented rice drink.

Amanoya includes a beautiful little cafe where we sampled some fantastic amazake, a traditional fermented rice drink.

Much gratitude to Amano-san and his family for their kindness and generosity in opening their doors and sharing their wisdom. 

Amanoya's fabulous natto

Amanoya's fabulous natto

Taking Amano-san's teaching to heart, we at NYrture have done our best to look far and wide across America for the best GMO-free soybeans to use in producing our natto. We will continue to do so.

Ann YonetaniComment