Of Spies and Salads (Part 1)
It was by pure coincidence that Jean François de la Vinnie, from the Eastern Kingdom, walked through Izakaya Nobu’s doors.
As long as it was a store that an average resident of the town would visit, it was fine for Jean. In that sense, ‘Nobu’ matched his criteria.
Even though his outward appearance was that of a monk, Jean wasn’t actually a monk.
To be exact, monks had a secret role in the Eastern Kingdom.
Collectors of Mysterious Tales.
Also called ‘Otogishu’, they were a group of people who, in order to entertain the royal families of the Eastern Kingdom, collected and compiled strange and unusual stories from various places around the continent. All they had to do was recite those stories.
However, this type of work had another aspect to it.
Spying. In exchange for receiving support from the Eastern Kingdom, they reported information about local politics and circulating rumours to aid the king in making policies and plans.
As the right hand man of the Otogishu chief, Jean François de la Vinnie, who turned thirty five this year, was assigned to investigate the main territory of the Empire while undercover as a Collector of Mysterious Tales, due to his excellent capabilities.
He had probably been dispatched to the Old Capital because of the region’s importance to the Eastern Kingdom.
Jean was greeted with a pleasant welcome and a clean atmosphere when he opened the unusual sliding glass door.
As it was a store on the outskirts of the Empire, this resulted in the first passing mark from Jean.
Izakaya Nobu seemed like a suitable place for people to relax after a long day at work, making them more loose with their words. It was a perfect place for Jean to collect gossip and rumours.
There were only a few customers, as it was still early in the day.
Jean decided to choose a seat by the counter, since he wanted to hear stories from the store owner.
The counter was clean, and he was able to make out the high quality woodgrains of the counter.
「Here’s the appetizer.」
A meal course called amuse gueule was served before the entree in the Eastern Kingdom. Maybe this was something similar. There were some slightly large beans in a bowl, shining an emerald green colour.
「They are boiled, salted soramame. Please try some. Would you also like to have a drink?」
(TL: soramame: broad beans/fava beans)
「As you can see, I am a monk on a pilgrimage.」
Even though there was a man in the garb of a priest by the corner of the counter drinking while hiding his glass awkwardly, Jean did not mind.
He had already abandoned his conviction as a monk through his various travels everywhere.
「Ah, I would like to have a salad.」
Asking for salad in a pub was Jean’s method of investigation.
Fresh vegetables could not be preserved, and they were not suited for long distance transportation. Therefore, by ordering salad, he could estimate the strength of the city.
「What kind of salad do you prefer?」
「Are there many kinds of salad in this store?」
Jea involuntarily asked, due to the waitress’s unexpected answer.
Normally, when one ordered salad in a pub, there was only one kind.
Unless there was an abundance of vegetables available in the city, making a variety of salads was difficult. Outside of royalty and nobility, only a limited amount of vegetables could be procured.
Even though Jean assumed that the Old Capital was a strategic location in the Northern Empire, it was merely an ancient historical place. He was interested in knowing what kind of salad they served here.
「Yes, this store’s Taisho has been devoted to making salads nowadays.」
「I see. Then I would like to try various kinds of salad. Even though the other dishes seem good, please only bring me salad.」
「If it is like that, do you want us to reduce the serving size for each plate, so that you can enjoy the different kinds of salad?」
「I would be grateful if that can be done.」
Even if there were different kinds of salad, they probably wouldn’t amount to much. When you looked at it closely, it would either come off as pretentious, or a bluff.
In any case, Jean just wanted to eat vegetables badly.
He looked around the interior of the store while drinking the glass of boiled water that had cooled down.
Apparently, this building had a foreign interior design. The atmosphere was also different from the pubs he had visited during his trip between the Eastern Kingdom and the Empire.
On the contrary, this kind of store was a good place to measure the status of the town.
That was Jean’s conclusion from his past experiences.
The first dish was a salad mainly composed of lettuce with soft boiled eggs sitting atop the bed of lettuce. This kind of salad had never been seen before in the Eastern Kingdom, which was considered to be advanced in the culinary field.
「Caesar salad? I’ve not seen this before.」
「Please eat it by mixing the eggs on top.」
After mixing the small bowl of salad with the fork and spoon he was handed, he placed some on a small plate.
He did not notice when it was served, but there was finely chopped stir fried bacon, grated cheese, and fine fried bread crumbs in it, making this salad dish look lively.
「Shinobu-san, is that the salad I had before?」
The old priest by the counter asked the waitress.
「Didn’t the one you ate have schnitzel in it? Taisho has been saying he wants to practice other dishes besides his field of specialty ever since.」
「Hou? Isn’t that good?」
「It’s not good. He’s only been practicing salad recipes for some time now, so the salad menu keeps increasing.」
「I see. But, isn’t this a good opportunity? This guest here seems to like salad a lot.」
The priest seemed to want to ask something, but slightly bowed towards Jean instead.
He tried to remember if he had met the priest anywhere, but his mind only drew blanks. Jean returned the bow and turned his attention back to the salad.
The texture of the fresh lettuce intertwined with the taste of the soft boiled egg, changing its taste to a rich and deep flavour.
In addition, the slightly salty crispy fried bacon and the fine bread crumbs highlighted the crunchy texture even more, enhancing the flavour further.
「This is splendid!」
Using and combining these ingredients wasn’t that unusual.
It felt like the store was being a little greedy by serving food with these kinds of ingredients, but these ingredients could probably be gathered in large cities, too.
However, the combination of flavours and textures was really wonderful.
The technique used to draw out the maximum potential of this salad could be describe as a form of art.
In reality, Jean was not hoping to find this kind of salad in this pub.
If it was this Caesar salad, then it wouldn’t be strange if it was served at dinner parties of the Imperial Court in the Eastern Kingdom.
However, it was still just a salad.
They had focused on the technique, but on the other hand, it was only that.
It was not a significant enough plate of salad to use to analyze the condition of the Old Capital.
Jean did not know if it was a technique forged over the long history of the Old Capital, or if it was the foreign wisdom of this particular pub.
However, the Eastern Kingdom wouldn’t be intimidated by a simple plate of salad.
「Was it satisfactory?」
「It was really a wonderful salad. I am impressed.」
「That’s good to hear. It is also very popular back in my hometown.」
「I see. So, what is the next salad?」
The next salad that came out appeared to be a finely sliced white vegetable with a pinkish, creamy sauce over it.
This was also a dish that Jean had not seen before.
He timidly put a slice into his mouth and was surprised by the unexpected crunchy texture from the white vegetable.
At first, he had thought that it was a soggy salad and would have a weak taste. However, the slightly salty, yet smooth creamy sauce mixed with the salad, and the deep, profound flavour was enhanced many fold.
「What are these vegetables?」
「It’s a daikon, sliced into many fine slices.」
The waitress took out a stump, the only remaining part of the daikon.
Even though it looked similar to the white carrots found in the Empire, it was far thicker than them.
Jean knew that, unlike this daikon, no matter how long you left the white carrot, it would only grow as big as a child’s foot.
「This vegetable certainly has an interesting texture. Also, I would like to ask something else. What is this sauce on top? I have never seen a sauce with such a vivid pink colour before.」
「That is due to cod roe, the eggs of a cod fish. When you squeeze it and mix the sauce, it changes to this colour.」
Even though the vegetable called daikon was interesting, the problem was the fish eggs.
For instance, cod was a common fish that was eaten in the coastal states of the Empire.
Jean, too, had eaten the eggs more than once.
The problem was that the Old Capital was inland.
The town was a strategic point for the northern part of the Empire, and it was connected to the sea by means of water transport through rivers and canals that flowed north.
However, Jean wasn’t able to believe that marine products were easily transported from there to enter the mouths of the common people here.
Before visiting here, Jean had looked through all of the intel regarding the water transportation of the Old Capital.
It was no exaggeration that the daikon and cod roe used in this salad had overturned the expectations he had of the situation here.
It was unthinkable that the Empire or the Old Capital’s city council had purposefully hidden the volume of supply circulation through water transportation.
「This salad is also wonderful.」
「Did you like it? Next is…this salad.」
Jean started being wary and paid attention to the next dish, but what he saw was far from what he had expected.