In this world there are two continents, the Eastern Continent and the Western Continent.
The continent to the west has plains and forests stretching as far as the eye can see, and unlike the Eastern Continent where the now-ruined great kingdom unified the continent as one, it was a place that had never been unified even once and had a culture that was different in that there was no country but instead many provinces gathered together in one place.
From one of those provinces, which was more than half covered in mountains, Souemon, a royal samurai guard of the mountainous province, had started to visit the Other World Dining Hall about five years ago.
Around that time, Souemon had by chance become intimate with a certain halfling. That traveling small man was traveling here and there all over the Western Continent while composing verses to make a song and receiving small change from people traveling along the roads or villagers who were starved for some small entertainment. Calling himself a minstrel, he was a suspicious and shrewd man who was like a rat.
The two of them got along well, and Souemon welcomed the small man into his estate. It was at that time that the small man quietly told him. In a place that was close to the mountainous province’s capital, where the location of a magical door that connected to an otherworldly restaurant. At first he was half-convinced… No, the feelings of doubt were much stronger in him, but Souemon, who had a samurai-like sense of strong duty, decided to visit that place just once on the specified day out of obligation to that small man.
And so, he came across it. The other world’s dining hall and wondrous food… and also a customer he couldn’t stomach.
The time was evening.
Souemon, who had just entered the Other World Dining Hall like always, heard a jingling sound behind him.
(…Oh great. Is this going to turn into another fight?)
While feeling the wind filled with warm air drifting from the other side of the door and while guessing the true identity of that presence, he let out a single sigh and turned around.
“So it’s you again. Pale-faced onmyouji of the seaside province.”
Just as he thought, what he saw there was a face he was accustomed to. Whether he simply never went outside or he simply never went out into the sun, even though it was natural that all the commoners in the seaside province had pitch-black skin from being roasted in the sun, his face was slender and white to the point that you couldn’t tell his age. Souemon wasn’t fond of dealing with him, this restaurant’s regular customer.
“Well, well. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the mountain monkey who has no talent besides swinging his sword… my apologies, if it isn’t the mountainous province’s Sir Samurai.”
The man who had the personality traits of a fox and ran business of performing rites in the seaside province’s court as an onmyouji, Doushun, narrowed his already narrow eyes even more as he spat poison back at Souemon. A feeling of anger welled up from those words, but he couldn’t draw his sword in the Other World Dining Hall so he relied on his mouth to continue the exchange.
“Hmph! I see you’re an unlikable person as always. For what reason did you decide to come as at the same time as I?”
“That’s my line. I’m busy with my own welfare as an onmyouji of the imperial court. What about you? Since you’re normally in charge of security at the imperial court, you can just come whenever you’d like.”
At Souemon’s words, Doushun shrugged his shoulders and returned with words filled with thorns. What flowed between the two of them was a dangerous atmosphere. The customers invited by the ‘door’ that showed itself in any place sometimes became entangled with ‘customers with a bad affinity’ for them just like this. Elves and dwarves. Knights and sorcerers. People from the kingdom and people from the empire. Customers such as that.
Souemon and Doushun were the prime examples of such customers.
Facing the sea, the now peaceful seaside province, which had put its power into learning and onmyou in order to make sure that there would be safe travel across the seas so that trade with the east can prosper, and the mountainous province, which was half-covered in mountains and had a long-time strong trait of valuing martial arts in order to protect the populace from ogres and monsters and to clear away the land when necessary, were known to have the most volatile relationship in the continent to the west. On top of valuing extremely different things, they were neighboring provinces that glared at each other side by side. And to finish it all off, their province’s power were roughly equal so it was natural that they would bad terms with one another.
For Souemon, it was inconvenient that Doushun also apparently heard from a halfling traveling through the Western Continent about the location of a door in the seaside province, and once out of every seven days, he would usually visit the Other World Dining Hall. To top it off, because of work, the time that the two of them would come was generally the same, during the evening when the sun was just about to set. And so, this was how these two regulars would often come to the restaurant at the same time.
…Even if they didn’t get along, if one of them waited for a short time before visiting the problem would be solved, but each of them felt that if they did that they would lose. Therefore, it always turned out this way.
“Welcome. The two of you, please take a seat anywhere you’d like.”
“…Umu. I’m in your debt.”
“…Understood. I’ll trouble you for a bit then.”
As they glared at each other, the owner had at some time came out from the back of the restaurant and greeted them. They replied to the owner’s words, and going through the various eastern people and different races that they could see in the restaurant’s interior, they arrived at the same table. They glared at each other for an instant, but they soon averted their eyes from one another and called for the owner without looking at the menu.
“Owner, I have an order.”
“Owner, would it be alright if you could take my order?”
At any rate, the two of them have decided what to order. It’s been around five years since they started visiting the restaurant, and they have eaten a variety of things. All of them were delicious and they enjoyed every last one, but in the end, they settled on this.
“Alright. Is your order the same as always?”
The two of them nodded at the owner’s question and placed their orders.
“Umu. I’d like okonomiyaki with pork*. With plenty of sauce.”
“Yes. I would like okonomiyaki. Seafood. With extra bonito flakes**.”
The two of them ordered the dish that they believed would let them savor the alluring Other World seasonings known as ‘sauce’ and ‘bonito flakes’ in the best possible way.
“Understood. Please wait just a moment.”
The owner raised his voice and then pulled back into the back of the restaurant.
“Hmph. Seafood as always I see. You should be sick of eating things like that that since you’re from the seaside province.”
“The same goes for you. Wild boar meat isn’t uncommon in the mountainous province, right?”
After nitpicking at each other’s orders, while drinking this restaurant’s famous lemon water, they started to gossip with one another to amuse themselves.
“…Hou. So the seaside province is increasing its trade with the empire?”
“…I see. So a dwarven swordsmith has come.”
Of course, it wasn’t simple gossip. They were gathering information about each other’s country. Information about neighboring provinces. This was something that would become extremely valuable when the time. Even if they didn’t get along, to each other, sitting at the same table with each other could prove helpful.
On one hand serving the seaside province’s royal court was an onmyouji who operated a business on inner court affairs and had a deep connection to merchants and nobles.
On the other hand was a samurai who managed numerous military achievement in the mountainous province and worked his way to the top into becoming an imperial guard of the emperor while still maintaining a deep connection with the lower classes. The ways of life between these two people were extremely different, but to each other, their talks were something that were very fresh and helpful.
And then, that talk was suddenly interrupted.
“Here you are. Thank you for waiting. Your okonomiyaki.”
The owner came while carrying two black metal plates in both of his hands at the same time and placed them in front of them.
“Ooh. So it’s finally here.”
“Fuu. I got tired of waiting.”
With the savory smell coming up from the hot metal plates, Souemon and Doshun unknowingly smiled broadly. The freshly-made okonomiyaki was placed on a hot black metal plate in order for it to not cool and the faint sound of sizzling could be heard from it.
With a mixture of wheat and pale-green cabbage, okonomiyaki had various ingredient such as wild yams and so forth added to it and then cooked. On top of that mixture of pale yellow and green, after being dyed black with plenty of sauce, was white mayonnaise with a shade of yellow which painted the dish in a checkered pattern. At first glance, something that looked like wood shaving taken off by a plane were fluttering and being lifted up by the heat with the faint scent of the ocean wafting off of them while they danced.
And finally, what was lightly covering that, as if dyeing it a different color, was deep green seaweed powder. All of these mixed and added to the vivid color of the okonomiyaki. And the smell. The smell that came from the cooked and scorched sauce that was drizzled on top of the okonomiyaki rose up from the heat of the black metal plate and stimulated Souemon and Doushun’s stomachs.
“Umu. Then… itadakimasu.”
“Well then… itadakimasu.”
No longer able to bear their hunger and taking their chopsticks in hand, Souemon and Doushun had started to eat quickly as possible at the roughly the same time. Fluffy and soft like a brand new cushion, the okonomiyaki were cut up by their chopsticks.
From the cut gaps, the sauce covering it fell on top of the plate and made a faint burnt smell. While enjoying that burnt smell, Souemon raised the okonomiyaki with his chopsticks and stuffed his cheeks.
The first thing he felt was the heat. The freshly made okonomiyaki that was placed on the metal plate to keep it warm was hot.
“Well well, as always you have an unrefined way of eating, Sir Samurai of the mountainous province.”
While ignoring the words of Doushun who was sitting next to him, he hurriedly puffed out the gathering heat in his mouth out while he chewed.
What spread in his mouth after the heat left his mouth was fragrance and sourness of the scorched sauce.
Once it finally reached the level of heat where he could chew, what he felt in his mouth was the crispy, savory surface of the okonomiyaki and, thanks to the cabbage which helped it trapped plenty of air, the soft, fluffy interior.
And then, various smell and flavors mixed and become one as they filled the inside of his mouth. The smell of the shore came from the seaweed powder. The flavor of the ‘bonito flakes’ which looked like wood shavings at first glance.
The soft flavor of fatty pork which resembled boar meat but did not have the bad smell that came from wild game.
The savory taste of wheat filled with plenty of oil mixed with the cabbage’s sweetness, the abundant flavor of egg, and sometimes occurring spicy taste of something red. And what wrapped them up completely was the sweet, spicy, sour, delicious flavor of sauce, and what wrapped up them gently was flavor of mayonnaise.
What an extravagant flavor it was. To take countless flavors from the mountains and seas at once and make them all into one harmonious flavor. Every time to savor this flavor, Souemon readied himself for the heat as he stuffed it all into his cheeks.
At this restaurant, after ordering many different things on a whim, once he found this dish, he would order and eat it every time, and there were no signs of him getting tired of it.
“You could at least act with a little grace when you eat.”
Speaking of Doushun, he was cutting and taking small bite-sized pieces of okonomiyaki, carefully blowing on it to cool it down, and then bringing it to his mouth.
“…Un. Delicious as always. There’s no bad smell whatsoever. The cleaning of the bounties of the ocean are perfectly done, but what’s really magnificent are the bonito flakes.”
While nodding at the flavor of the small pieces of schripe and kraako*** that were puffing about, he let out his impressions. Doushun had a never-fading fascination with bonito flakes, and although he could tell that they were made from fish, he had no idea exactly how they became this shape or this flavor. If by chance someone could solve that mystery so that the seaside province could make it as well, it would no doubt push the seaside province’s culinary arts to greater heights.
Thinking that way, Doushun would every time order okonomiyaki with bonito flakes in order to directly taste them himself. Of course, he wouldn’t deny that they also taste really good.
And so, after a short time, the two of them finished eating their okonomiyaki…
“Owner, I would like to request seconds!”
“Owner, I would also like another helping.”
The two of them gave their orders at the same time.
“Understood. Okonomiyaki, right? What kind of toppings?”
He asked the two of them. Every time, he knew what they would answer.
“…I would like one seafood.”
“…I would like pork.”
As he thought, the two similar customers averted their eyes as they ordered. When they saw each other eat it so deliciously, they started to feel like eating it as well. It was something that normally happened to people sitting at the same table.
“…Fuu. In the end, we ended up bickering again.”
After finishing eating, Souemon, who had returned to the outskirts of town, let out a sigh filled with the scent of sauce. Time and time again, the fact that he came across that unlikable face was something he could call the restaurant’s only fault.
“Good grief, if that pale onmyouji wasn’t there, it would be such a better restaurant.”
Without thinking, he let those words out. As if he were making excuses as to why he felt bickering back and forth felt ‘fun.’
“Well, I guess I better keep trying tomorrow as well.”
He muttered that as if he were fixing his mood and returned to his daily routine.
Seven days later, while looking forward to the day he could go again.
…And once again, having a feeling that he would run into that man again.
*Pork here refers to butatama which literally means pork ball and refers to the type of okonomiyaki.
**Bonito flakes also known as katsuobushi is dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna. It’s used for a variety of things like making stock or just as a topping in okonomiyaki. They are also known to dance from being lifted by steam due to their light weight.
***Kraako is what people in the other world call squid.
Souemon speaks in a samurai-like way, ending his sentences in de gozaru and referring to himself as sessha. I left those out because keeping de gozaru in is like keeping the word desu in and doesn’t really fit with the style guide I’ve been keeping for this series. To me, this is one of the things lost in translation such as Doushun saying the word seafood in hiragana instead of katakana, which gives the word a meaning of unfamiliarity. If some of you think that it’s really important to keep it in, I might see about putting them in.