Mouthfeel (the way a food feels in the mouth), more than flavor symmetry (balance of sweet, salty, and sour tastes), helps define a food culture. We often speak of people who have “acquired a taste” for a food that was at first culturally alien to them. Actually, acquiring a mouthfeel for a food is even more challenging.
Many non-Japanese have acquired a taste and mouthfeel for sushi and sashimi, overcoming their initial reluctance to eating raw fish. The distinctive texture of fresh fish usually silky, often unctuous, occasionally springy is decidedly different from the flaky quality of cooked fish. The notion of consuming raw flesh may be intellectually demanding to some diners, but the real challenge will more likely be mouthfeel than philosophy.
Most Americans love things crunchy (think potato chips, crisp apples, cornflakes, and granola) and creamy (especially ice cream). The Japanese, however, favor slithery, slippery stuff that can be easily slurped. They describe these foods as tsurutsuru, essentially “slick” or “polished.” Slithery, slender sōmen noodles are a good example.
- Yield: 4 Servings
- 2 tablespoons Vegan Seasoned Soy Concentrate
- 2 tablespoons stock, preferably Basic Kelp Stock, or cold water
- Gingery Enoki Mushrooms with Carrots, chilled
- 3 packages nattō, about 1½ ounces each
- 8 to 10 okra pods
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Ice cubes
- Cooked Somen Noodles, for serving chilled
- 1 small knob fresh ginger, about ½ ounce, peeled and freshly grated
- 3 or 4 fresh shiso leaves, stems trimmed, then leaves stacked, tightly rolled lengthwise, and cut crosswise into very thin shreds (optional)
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, freshly dry-roasted, optional
Make the Dipping Sauce
- Combine the soy concentrate and stock in a small bowl and chill for at least 30 minutes. Ready the Toppings
- Have the mushrooms at hand. Open the nattō packages. If there is a plastic film covering the top, peel it back and discard; you can also discard the sauce and mustard that is usually packaged with the sticky beans; typically they are filled with preservatives.
- To prepare the okra, rub each pod with some of the salt to remove surface fuzz; the salt will also ensure a bright color when blanching. Trim off each stem without cutting into the pod. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, add the okra pods, and blanch for 1½ minutes. Drain, but do not refresh in cold water (this will keep them flavorful and help control stickiness). When cool enough to handle, thinly slice crosswise.
- Place a few ice cubes in each of 4 deep, individual bowls. Add just enough water to make the ice cubes stick together, then drape the noodles over them. Arrange the toppings the enoki, nattō, and okra on the noodles, but do not cover the noodles entirely.
- Divide the chilled dipping sauce among 4 small, deep bowls. Place a small mound of ginger on each of 4 small plates; for greater flavor complexity, include a small tuft of shiso shreds, and a small pile of sesame seeds, too.
- Each diner can nibble at the toppings before eating his or her noodles, though most prefer to stir them, especially the nattō, into the noodles from the start (much like tossing a chef’s salad before eating it). Each diner seasons his or her own dipping sauce with the condiments to taste, then lifts the noodles from the bowl, dunks them briefly in the dipping sauce, and eats with gusto.