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Last year I asked Akimi-san to teach me cooking.
We had a talk over the phone recently to discuss exactly what type of cooking she’d be teaching me.
The type of dishes I’d bring out at a house party? Or did I want her to teach me home cooking instead?
In the end I chose the latter without hesitation.
I wasn’t exactly planning on too many house parties, and even if I was I could just ask for catering services.
On the other hand, if I was ever going to live alone, or get married and live without a maid, I was going to need to know how to cook.
Plus, in the short term I wanted something like Aoi-chan had! She was cooking meals for her boyfriend right now!
Then she asked if I wanted to learn Japanese dishes or Western dishes, so I went with the former for now.
If I got down basic traditional stuff like nimono would it make me seem more filial and down-to-earth?
Well, whatever else aside I liked Japanese foods. That was the biggest reason.
Anyway, after getting all of this sorted out eventually I visited her house.
“Akimi-san, gokigen’yoh. I will be in your care today.”
I had heard that her family was well-off, and now it showed.
Her house was both newly built and large.
“Please just make yourself at home. My father is out playing golf, and my mother is having lunch out with her friends right now.”
After handing over my gift to her I followed Akimi-san into the house.
“Just like we discussed, first I’ll have you try some of my food, and then if you like it I’ll teach you how to make it. Does that sound okay?”
“They’re all just simple dishes today. Would you like to try them now?”
“My, you prepared them in advanced for me?”
“Yes. It’s just simple soups and side dishes though.”
She guided me into her large living room where a number of dishes sat ready.
Whoa! They looked good.
But for some reason there were two of everything.
“They’re the same dishes but I prepared them in different ways.”
“A guest, Akimi?” called a male voice.
Turning around, I saw a familiar face enter the dining room.
It was the guy who I exacted demiglace revenge on for being rude to Akimi-san, Demiglace!
Demiglace was Akimi-san’s oniisan!?
I framed him with demiglace without even knowing who he was!?
“You must be Reika-san from the Kisshouin family.”
“Y-Yes. Forgive my late introduction. I am Kisshouin Reika. Thank you for having me today.”
“What brings you to our home, Reika-san?”
“Akimi-san was going to teach me cooking today.”
Demiglace, now identified as Akimi-san’s oniisan, looked at the dishes on the table only to frown.
“Akimi, don’t tell me you were planning on teaching Reika-san how to cook menial dishes like these.”
I looked at the table.
There was chikuzenni, buridaikon, and shiraae with spinach and fried tofu.
“You brought out these lowly meals for the daughter of the Kisshouin family? What the hell were you thinking.”
Akimi-san hung her head sadly.
“Please wait. I asked her for this, and these are my favourite dishes. Is there something wrong with buridaikon? Eating fresh seasonal ingredients is the height of luxury!”
Huh. Yellowtail was in season, right…?
I swear I heard somewhere that yellowtail was in winter…
Gods above, please let me have been right.
“Well, if you say so, Reika-san,” he said hesitantly, before continuing. “But Akimi, are you even fit to teach somebody like Reika-san? You should be getting her to teach you manners and grace instead.”
“In my eyes, Akimi-san is already a splendid lady,” I countered.
Akimi-san is curling up here, so could you go away already?
“Well then, I have plans, so please excuse me Reika-san.”
Maybe my prayers had worked because Demi-brother left after excusing himself.
“…Sorry, Reika-san. I put you through something unpleasant.”
“Nothing of the sort! But I had no idea that man was your oniisama…”
“Yes… It seems that he detests me for being so fat and unsightly…”
But demi-brother seemed pretty plump himself.
Her okaasama was round too, so maybe the Narutomi family was just like that.
“More importantly, I’ll have go reheat the food. I only hope it suits you.”
“I look forward to it.”
Now that the rude interlopers were gone, it was time to get back to the food sampling.
Akimi-san came back with the reheated food and placed it in front of me.
“The reason I actually have two of each is because I’ve made them different ways. One is made with a standard recipe and proper ingredients, while the other is the kind of commoners’ flavour that I prefer. I thought it would help to see what you liked.”
“I see. Then may I help myself?”
I began with some of the miso soup with green onions and tofu.
So this was the standard one.
Next was her commoner recipe, huh.
“What’s wrong, Reika-san?”
This tasted like… the way Mum used to make it…
Oh no, my eyes were tearing up.
It was Mum’s miso soup.
“Reika-san… Was it not to your taste…?”
“…No. It was… very delicious.”
“Really? You don’t have to force yourself. I didn’t use much katsuobushi in this one so it might not taste that good…”
“No. Please teach me how to make it like this.”
“This one? Are you sure it isn’t too common tasting for you?”
I lowered my head to her.
I never had Mum teach me so I was sure I’d never get to eat it again.
But now the taste was almost in reach.
If I learnt how to make Akimi-san’s food, then perhaps one day I could recreate Mum’s.
That was my goal now.
“Well, if you insist…”
In the end, all of the side dishes were delicious.
And unsurprisingly, the commoner versions were nostalgic.
I’d definitely go with those ones.
Akimi-san seemed a little taken aback when I asked though.
“I never would have imagined that you’d prefer these ones. It makes me happy though.”
“Is this how you normally cook these dishes?”
“Oh no, when my family is eating I use the expensive ones,” she smiled. “It’s embarrassing, but my family are nouveau riche. Did you know?”
Oh, come to think of it, her father had built his fortune with real estate, hadn’t he…
“In my grandmother’s generation we were an average farming family in the outskirts of the city. It was nothing but mountains and fields and countryside where we lived, but the value of the land jumped up with suburban planning, so the money from that helped my father’s business.”
“When my brother and I were born, our family was already wealthy. We grew up in luxury. But my grandmother still kept her habits of economising, or being a poor person if you like.”
“My brother often tells me this too, but I’ve been clumsy since I was little. Sometimes other children would call me an upstart as well, so whenever that happened I’d run crying to my grandmother’s house.”
“After helping her cook for a while, I grew to love cooking as well. I mentioned earlier though that my grandmother’s habits were set. She was stingy with her cooking too.”
“Yes. She was quite stingy when making broth. She wouldn’t use much stock base, and even made second or third brew, you know?”
Second or third brew…?
I just nodded like I knew what she was talking about.
“You might find this hard to believe but you can actually use the katsuobushi to make furikake afterwards. You can also actually eat the leaves of the daikon and turnip, and even grow them yourself.”
“Yes. You water them near the top and they’ll start to grow leaves.”
Mum used to do that in the kitchen!
For a while I thought it was for decoration or something.
“When I cook for others I’m generous with ingredients. But I’d still like to cherish the taste of my grandmother’s cooking too. I think this is actually what food is like in normal households, you know?”
Come to think of it, at home I sometimes saw the cook fill the entire pot full of katsuobushi.
I never saw Mum do that in my old life though.
Thinking about it, Mum had been pretty stingy herself, hadn’t she.
Her food was yummy though.
“Huhu. I never would have thought a genuine ojousama like you would have picked these ones though. Obaachan might be happy to hear that.”
“I will be in your care, Sensei.”
“Gosh, don’t call me that.”
Akimi-san was a genuinely good person.
If I was in her position I’d never admit that I was from an upstart family.
I was convinced now. Akimi-san would never laugh if I admitted I couldn’t really use a kitchen knife.
“Akimi-san, the truth is, um, I cannot even cut vegetables with a knife properly…”
And I was just pretending before, so please tell me what that second broth thing is.