The Old Man and the Fish (Part 1)
A long time had passed since Johann Gustav had visited this store.
If he remembered correctly, it had still been winter during his previous visit.
It was fortunate that they had come to this store when he brought his selfish niece out to make some good memories in the town before her marriage.
「Johann Gustav, is it this store?」
「Yes, dear uncle. It looks like quite an interesting store, doesn’t it?」
Johann Gustav had brought a companion with him this evening.
His companion was not as difficult to handle as his niece was, but he was still quite a challenge. Johann Gustav could not even imagine what this robust, silver-haired uncle would eat at this store.
The early summer’s sunlight still shone, even though it was dusk, making his forehead drip with sweat.
He had brought his uncle along to this interesting store, which he had just remembered, on such a day in order to enjoy the cool breeze and drink.
When the glass door was pulled open, a cool chill and a lively voice greeted them from within the store. The shop had been warmer when he came during the winter. Was it due to some kind of device?
「It’s fairly empty today, isn’t it?」
Johann Gustav asked the waitress as he guided his uncle towards the seats by the counter. He thought that there would be more customers in the store, but it seemed that it was his lucky day today, and he was grateful for it.
「Since the previously mentioned conference is going to be held the day after tomorrow, the whole town is feeling tense.」
He already knew about the meeting.
There would be a small conference held in the Old Capital in two days.
The representatives of the three northern territories, who did not even bother to hide their intention of breaking away from the Empire, would meet the Empire’s representative here.
Although there was an incident in the Old Capital regarding the City Council’s chairman, Bachschouf, being dismissed just before the conference, thanks to the efforts of the Council’s other members, they managed to hold the meeting safely.
The Empire had a policy to prevent anyone from withdrawing, but it seemed that the other side had taken the Empire lightly and had called them an old pig. Johann Gustav had heard that the conference was expected to be a difficult one.
「It is a disaster for this store, huh.」
「That is not true, you know. Even though we would be troubled if this slow period continues for a long time, we can still properly serve the customers who come in on such days.」
The waitress replied with a smile as she served the appetizer.
It was a small bowl containing some kind of fish.
「Oh, is this herring?」
The uncle asked as he peeked into the unusual, small bowl.
「No, that’s not herring. It’s koaji no nanbanzuke.」
(TL: koaji: small horse mackerel, nanbanzuke: fried fish marinated in vinegar)
「Nanbanzuke, you say. Yet another dish I have not heard about.」
「It is fried small horse mackerel that has been dipped into a sweet-and-sour sauce. Since it would be too hot to serve when it is freshly fried, I have served one that was pickled beforehand.」
His uncle became interested and brought a piece to his mouth with his fork.
Johann Gustav copied him and followed after him.
One might say it was sour, but it was not sour to the point that it became unpleasant.
There was a refreshing sweet and sour taste, which was followed by a subtle spiciness. After that, the taste of the fish would spread in the mouth. It was delicious.
Johann Gustav, who was a noble, took pride in having tasted a variety of dishes, and he figured that only a select few people from the Eastern Kingdom could cook a recipe with such delicate flavours.
「This is really good, Johann Gustav.」
「Yes, dear uncle. This sour taste is wonderful. Even though my appetite had decreased during the summer, it seems I was able to eat this.」
「Indeed. But, I wonder, what is this subtle spicy flavour that is responsible for enhancing the sourness?」
His uncle used his fork and took out a small, red, rounded object hidden in the small bowl.
It certainly looked spicy, based on its appearance.
「That is correct. That is takanotsume, a kind of seasoning. Its spiciness was used in this dish to enhance the flavour.」
(TL note: takanotsume: red pepper)
Johann Gustav and his uncle looked at one another after listening to the waitress’s explanation.
「Takanotsume, you say? It is a suitable seasoning for my uncle, isn’t it?」
「Indeed, Johann Gustav. This is a good sign, I suppose.」
His uncle slightly cleared his throat as the waitress, who did not understand, looked on with a smile.
「By the way, ojou-san. I’m sorry, but this nanbanzuke, I mean, I think this will really go well with my choice of liquor.」
「Sure! What would you like?」
「Is the ale here good, Johann Gustav?」
「When I came here in the past, it was called ‘Toriaezu Nama’」
When he spoke out that name, the waitress, the store owner, and even the dishwasher girl all showed apologetic expressions.
「I’m sorry, honoured guest. We do not serve ‘Toriaezu Nama’ anymore.」
Even though the store owner bowed, the uncle was not one to give up so easily.
「That’s regrettable. I have come to this store tonight in order to drink this ‘Toriaezu Nama’, you know. Could you please make an exception for me?」
「I’ve heard about the incident with Bachschouf. However, if there is still some in stock, is it possible to let my dear uncle drink it?」
The waitress and the store owner looked at each other and nodded. It was something they both agreed on. The waitress immediately vanished behind the counter.
「Specially for today.」
Shinobu brought out an ordinary mug filled with a golden liquid. The uncle, who was attentive to details, looked at the foam with his pointed eyes. After observing it for a while, the uncle rubbed his palms together as he faced the mug.
「Now then, excuse me.」
With a gulping sound, the mug’s golden liquid smoothly flowed into his stomach. One would never have thought that this drinking man was 78 years old this year.
Johann Gustav followed suit. He was not able to savour it properly when he had previously brought Hildegarde, but now that he drank it again, he could tell that the taste was a masterpiece.
The uncle placed the mug down with a clang, and suddenly bursted into laughter.
His uncle had not laughed this much in a long time. In fact, it was so intense that it could be called a guffaw.
「Johann Gustav! It’s a masterpiece! This thing is a masterpiece!」
「So, what do you say?」
「Did you say there was a bastard who suspected that this was lager?」
「Yes, I heard it from Baron Branton.」
Baron Branton, who owned a territory near the Old Capital, was obsessed with this incident and had made an appeal to the Imperial Diet to withdraw the imperial edict regarding the time limit of the prohibition of the circulation of lager.
Who would have thought that such a haughty, tall man would move for a mere pub? It became the topic of conversation amongst the upper class society for a while, since the reasons for his actions were unknown.
「I do not know whether that guilty bastard has actually drunk lager before, but this is definitely not the “lager which is not allowed to be traded by law”. I can testify for that.」
「So, this is ale then?」
「No. It is probably lager. However, the taste is different from the one made by the alcohol brewing company in the Imperial Capital. The other side tasted strong, but this has a crisp taste, which is better.」
「If there are lagers that have already been made in other places, then that edict is meaningless. I see even the Branton can sometimes say something smart.」
The uncle cheerfully asked for another cup. In addition, the appetizer was also replaced.
This nanbanzuke paired well with lager.
Johann Gustav wanted to make it at home, so he tried to memorize the taste and appearance of the dish as much as possible before leaving.
「Now then, dear customer, what main course would you like to order?」
「Oh right. Then, I would like to have fish. An exceptionally delicious one would be nice.」