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Japanese Food Onomatopoeia: Neba Neba

February 6, 2011 · 41 comments

in Japanese Food Onomatopoeia

cut okra image on sasasunakku

Neba neba means sticky and slightly slimey. Anything with neba-neba-sa (neba-neba-ness) usually makes strings between your chopsticks when you pull them apart. Things like natto, okra and yamaimo are neba neba.

Audioscript: “Natto ga neba neba suru” (The natto is neba neba).

NB: If you click the little arrow below, the audio will play! Jus’ saying, because a few people missed it.

neba neba

More Japanese food onomatopoeia

Can you think of any Western food that’s neba neba? I’ve failed to…

Thanks to Banana for help with onomatopoeia brainstorming.

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amber February 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Anything my Nanna cooks…?

I can’t really think of any sticky foods except toffee/soft-ball candy stage. Not the sticky you mean, though.


shaz February 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm

The okra looks like perfect little star, so cute. Hmmmm, is melted mozarella considered neba-neba? Probably not slimy enough?

Sasa February 7, 2011 at 11:14 am

Didn’t think of that but yes, not really slimey. neba neba means, dare I say it, somewhat mucosal in texture.

Anita @ braisedanatomy February 6, 2011 at 5:09 pm

You have a pretty voice! I can’t think of anything :p

Sasa February 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

Thank you *^_^*

hungryandfrozen February 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm

What about GELATINE! The neba-est of all! Especially when you are 10 and trying to make neenish tarts and fail miserably with the incorporation of soaked gelatine into buttercream and you end up with stringly, chewy streaks instead of a softly set sugary filling.

Not that I’d have eaten them with chopsticks :)

Sasa February 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

Possible! I’ve never had that happen though, sounds pretty depressing ^o^

Alessandra February 6, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Golly, it is a while since I heard the expression neba neba… and I thought that it was only for natto!!! I hate natto.

But I like okra, and yes, they are neba neba, still, could not think of a term in English, I think that Japanese is quite a rich language when it comes to these kinds of descriptions, and I love the fact that the words are double (easy to remember)

Can you say natto ga neba neba desu?

Sasa February 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

I don’t think so…neba neba is sort of an adjectival verb.

Plum Kitchen February 7, 2011 at 5:19 am

Hi Sasa, hope you enjoyed the pop up restaurant:) My Mum used to make rice that was both sticky and slimy (?!), but I dont think it was intentional…… I did think of a vegetable I had in Egypt, I think it was called Malachia or something like that, slimy and green (it was meant to be like that apparently). Neba neba but not in a good way…….

Sasa February 7, 2011 at 11:18 am

Interesting, I’ve never heard of that vegetable. I Googled it but no luck…

Plum Kitchen February 8, 2011 at 5:22 am

Sorry, my dodgy spelling may have foiled Google, it is molokhia :)

Honey @ honeyandsoy February 7, 2011 at 9:17 am

How cute! It definitely sounds better than ‘slimy and sticky’. Hmm, I can think of another, but it’s Asian- sweet potato leaves. Have you had them in stir fry? They have a neba neba texture when you bite into them.

Sasa February 7, 2011 at 11:19 am

I haven’t! I’d like to though, neba neba stuff is usually good for the gut.

Sue February 7, 2011 at 10:26 am

Love that term neba neba – I’ve never heard it before – realise I’ve never eaten okra either. I think you’re right – I can’t really think of any Western food that’s neba neba – melted mozzarella is probably as close as we get :-)

The Grubworm February 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Oh, I love okra – so good in both Indian and Creole food, essential to gumbo. Yum. That’s a gret pic you have of the glorious green spears too Sasa.

As for western neba-neba (great word btw), i would say custard comes close, and maybe rice pudding. Some raw fish (particularly mackerel bought from the supermarket in those sealed plastic boxes *shudder*) and, hmmm, what else – jellied eels? They definitely have the mucus factor.

Sasa February 8, 2011 at 11:08 am

Jellied eels, never had those, they sound…disgusting, frankly. Rice pudding, slimey? Y’all are not cooking it right!

Su-yin February 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm

What an interesting phrase, I like it! Having said that I have never been able to warm towards okra, just can’t get myself to like it, even when it’s deep fried.

AML February 8, 2011 at 6:32 am

That is one texture that Americans just hate. I can’t think of one thing we eat that even slightly resembles it. Obviously we eat okra, but always fried, or stewed, so we cook out that “neba neba” part of it. I never really thought it was that big of a deal, but you know… I gotta say though, my favorite way to eat okra is fried, and drowned in salt.

As for my dotage, well…

Meena February 8, 2011 at 12:55 am

I do believe if you add lemon juice when cooking okra it takes away the neba-neba- ness! Although you may not want to do that…

The stickiest food I’ve had okra aside… rice pudding maybe…hmm….

Alli February 8, 2011 at 7:07 am

Hi Sasa, I think that is what put me off okra, that slimy texture! I have seen it in a few Middle Eastern recipes lately and thinking I should try it again.

sally February 8, 2011 at 7:54 am

love the picture! bravo

Sasa February 8, 2011 at 11:09 am

New glass! ^_^

sally February 8, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I’m going to guess something along the lines of a 28mm f.28 or a 35mm f.28? Regardless i like the colour, very natural muted hues but really, really balanced. And you do all the shots now?

Sasa February 12, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Yes, all the food ones – have for a while now. It’s a 50mm f1.8 I think. What’s happened to sallyismycat?

sally February 17, 2011 at 5:56 am

Meh teh flog wasn’t goin anywhere. Working on a dot-com to tie in with business cards, and such.

I’m telling you primes are the way to go. Stay away from the zooms, the shots are lookin’ kick ass now. It’s that low F stop, the glass is better built.

Lana February 8, 2011 at 10:54 am

I love the repetitiveness, like you really want to accentuate the sliminess:) Yes, okra is slimy – it does not bother me so much, even though I have never eaten it before I moved to U.S.
I am thinking that the cactus fruit is pretty slimy – nopales, they call it. I am fine with it, but my husband hated it, even though he loves okra. Go figure:)
And where did you find such perfect okra? Beautiful.

Sasa February 8, 2011 at 11:10 am

There’s an Asian shop here that has great Thai stuff and things like okra (even green papaya!) though it’s not so hot on the Japanese goods.

Lana February 8, 2011 at 10:59 am

BTW, I have a Stylish Blogger Award for you on my site, just because I enjoy coming over and visiting with you!

Sasa February 8, 2011 at 11:10 am

^o^ Thank you!

Marietta February 8, 2011 at 11:32 am Greece, when something is a bit-sticky and feels a bit yike-ish (for some cause I personally LOOOOOVE natto ) we say: it’s “nya-nya ”
(yes…the way japanese describe cat talking or something?)

Anna Johnston February 9, 2011 at 12:59 am

I love how different languages manage to give such exact descriptive of things that the English language simply just doesn’t have words for, so this is one cool word. I’m not sure if its neba neba, but I can still remember opening a packet of bacon that no girl should have ever opened, it was slimey & sticky that’s for sure…. nearly turned me off bacon forever…nearly… definitely didn’t :) :)

Liam O'Malley February 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Hm slimey and sticky… does it have to be a finished dish?

What about fats? Like duck fat or pig fat… fat that’s somewhere between the solid refrigerated state and the oily room-temperature state. It seems to pass through a state of neba neba sa there, maybe?

Grace February 10, 2011 at 4:42 am

I and my father-in-law are the only ones who eat okra on my in-law’s side. I love it with patis. My husband and sister-in-law don’t like the sticky feeling. Reminds them of something else :)

stefanie February 10, 2011 at 10:34 pm

haha. i know an austrian sticky dish: pickknödel. you see, even the name already says sticky. i think they are pretty normal potato dumplings my grandmother prepares but they are really sticky. never tried to eat them with chopsticks so not sure if they would stick to those ones. overall hard for me to judge because it is one of the very rare things my grandmother cooks but I do not like them at all, since a child already. However, the name says sticky dumplings and they look really sticky when they are lying in a pot. So, here is your western sticky dish. i will propose a new name for the dumplings to my family: neba neba knödel.

Zoë February 11, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Stewed rhubarb’s the closest I can think of in British cooking – gets a bit sticky from the sugar and a bit stringy if it’s old…

Emma February 15, 2011 at 1:47 am

I’ve been pondering this for some time myself, but it seems that mucilaginous is simply not an appetizing texture for most Westerners. Generally, I think Westerners (or maybe just Americans) tend to value crunchiness, or the contrast between something smooth and something crunchy… Personally, I’ll make an exception for raw okra though. :)

Carola March 31, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Oh, I can think of another neba neba dish: “Käsknöpfle” (or “Kässpätzle”) which is a typical dish from western Austria. It’s made from something like rather liquid noodle-dough, and lots of grated cheese. The smellier the cheese, the better the taste – and of course, stickiness is crucial! ^_^ It’s delicious.
Have you ever tried it?

Dylan May 13, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I was thinking, is there a sound involved in any of these? I looked at another “japanese food onomatopoeia” page, but it was the same problem. Onomatopoeia is a word for a sound, which sounds like the word itself, right? Like splash, or bang, or buzz, or beep. That kind of thing. So what makes a neba neba noise?

Sasa May 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Perhaps you’re right – in fact, gatsu gatsu is not really onomatopoeia but I put it in with this series as this is the category in which it fits best – but I think when you move your chopsticks apart, neba neba stuff makes a neba neba kind of noise. Onomatopoeia is quite culturally specific – for example many of my students say “what!?” when I tell them that pigs in Japanese say “buu buu.” I don’t think that water ever sounds like “splash” particularly either, for example.

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