Souma and the others were confused by what Tethys had offered them in the name of hospitality.
“What might be wrong? This is a feast I had prepared for your sake. Don’t hold back and dig in.” With a high-pitched laughter, seemingly very amused, Tethys seemed to be making fun of Souma’s group.
“This is a feast, you say…?” Shyemul mumbled in a partially dumbstruck manner while staring at the plate in front of her.
But it was no wonder. All that could be found on the plates were arrays of raw fish, dishes in name only. They appeared to be freshly caught fish with their mouths and gills still flapping. If just judging by freshness, they were as fresh as they get. However, that didn’t serve as any kind of consolation. The zoan’s fur stood on end, all of them uniformly horrified.
“Oh my? Are you dissatisfied with the feast prepared by me?” Tethys asked while fully aware of the bewilderment by Shyemul and the others.
The queen of the marmen, whom they’d try to ask for friendship from now on, had prepared this while calling it a feast. There was no way that they could start nitpicking here. Shyemul’s group ended up unable to respond, limiting their reactions to mere groans.
“Your Majesty, maybe the land-dwellers do not know how to eat fish?” Matching the queen’s ridiculing of Souma’s group, one of the present princesses offered a hypocritical explanation.
“I see. There might be some truth to what you say.” Responding to the shady acting of the princess, Tethys picked up a fish from her plate. “Very well, I shall personally show you how it’s done.”
In a flash, Tethys cut and trimmed the fish with practiced movements, not using a blade, but only her fingers and nails. After tearing off the skin, and removing the intestines as well as the fish bones, she passed the processed fish meat to Souma, using a nearby slave as intermediary.
“Now then, eat without reservations.”
This was already a meal prepared by the queen as welcome. On top of that, the queen personally prepared the fish to make it easier to eat. If Souma were to refuse this, it’d count as an insult to all marmen. While being watched by the marmen, who were smirking nastily, Souma called out to Marco who was behind him.
“Marco! Give me that!”
“…! Oh, of couuurse!”
For an instant Marco looked like he didn’t know what Souma meant, but immediately grasping Souma’s intent, he quickly retrieved a jar, which was small enough to fit on his palm, from his pocket, and handed it over to Souma.
Accepting it, Souma looked around for a while as if searching for something, but then he noticed a small shell placed on a tray as decoration.
“Might I get your permission to use this?”
As Souma pointed at the shell and jar while asking for permission, Tethys had absolutely no clue what he was talking about, but she had no reason to refuse, and since she was also curious what he’d do, she granted him permission.
Thereupon, Souma poured the black liquid within the jar into the shell instead of a small plate. Then he dipped a piece of meat of the fish he had received from the queen in that liquid, and ate it.
“Oh…!” A small moan escaped Souma’s mouth.
“S-Soma!” Shyemul yelled full of grief.
Garam, Zurgu, and Dvalin rose half to their feet, with the firm resolution to not hesitate even if it turned into a battle.
“Delicious!” However, it wasn’t anguish but delight that flew out of Souma’s mouth. “It’s a fish I’m eating for the first time, but it’s fatty and tastes wonderful! Or maybe the freshness makes the difference here?”
Under everyone’s surprised, wide-eyed stares, Souma picked up a fish to prepare it with his bare hands. But, although it wasn’t clear whether it was possibly because of his blessing or his clumsiness, the preparation of the fish didn’t work out as he wanted.
A marman princess, who thought that this was a poor act telling them that he couldn’t eat the fish unless they prepared it for him, raised her voice to make it obvious that such a trick wouldn’t work, “Let me cut and trim the fish for you then.”
The marman princess, who prepared the fish in no time, offered it to Souma with a sweet smile, but one that was full of poison.
“Now, don’t be shy and eat.”
But, Souma simply received the fish with a thanks and a smile, dipped it in the black liquid once more, and bit into it.
“Mmmh, with its elastic consistency, this one is great as well.”
Far from pushing himself, Souma went even as far as giving a brief review of the taste with a smile as if he was entranced by the fish meat. Everyone else became dumbfounded.
‘This one is formidable!’ Tethys thought, and played her trump card.
A little while later, slaves arrived, carrying something on a big board. After the board was put down on the watery floor, the zoan could finally see what was placed on top of it, triggering them all to shudder in disgust and shock.
“W-What’s that m-monster!?”
It was only understandable for Shyemul to yell in a way that sounded like a scream. It was truly a monster that laid on the board. It hadn’t any fur nor scales, but instead a wet and glistening skin. Its body was completely like a soft and flabby bag, looking similar to intestines. Moreover, eight legs extended from that body like those of a spider. And on top of all this, those legs wriggled around like earthworms. It was a nightmarish monster the zoan had never seen before – an octopus
“Well, I shall personally cut it for you so that it becomes easier to eat.”
Smiling in satisfaction upon seeing the completely horrified looks of Shyemul and the other zoan, Tethys picked up a blade, cut the octopus in chunks, placed those on a shell plate, and offered it to Souma.
“This thing is still alive!?” Shyemul screamed as the chunks continued to wiggle around even after having been cut apart.
Even the courageous Garam and Zurgu were hard-pressed to barely contain the screams welling up in their throats, and it took all their power to suppress their bodies from trying to back off.
“Go on, and eat without any hesitation.”
Tethys had offered him the plate full of confidence that Souma likely wouldn’t be able to eat this, but Souma quickly and resolutely pinched a leg of the octopus, dipped it in the black liquid, and ate it.
“Kuu～ It makes me crave for wasabi.”
The crunchy feel when chewing the octopus leg was irresistible to Souma. So much that he lamented over not having any wasabi on hand.
Souma nodded and agreed with Tethys who asked somewhat flabbergasted.
“It’s a spice that’s added to seafood in my homeland. The one going along with octopus especially well is called octowasa.” 1
As he picked up yet another octopus leg and put it into his mouth, Souma finally noticed that Shyemul and the other hadn’t touched any of the fish so far.
After gulping down the octopus meat in his mouth, he curiously asked, “You won’t eat, Shyemul? It tastes great, you know?”
Shyemul wouldn’t shy away from having her head cut off if ordered by Souma. But, only at this time, she merely reacted by meaninglessly flapping her mouth open and closed.
Suddenly Tethys burst into laughter. Now it was Souma’s turn to become dumbfounded. In front of him, Tethys continued to heartily laugh while elegantly hiding her mouth behind her hand. After finishing to laugh for a while, tears were visible at the corner of her eyes as she apparently considered all of this very comical.
“I give up. It’s my loss.”
Souma blinked his eyes in surprise wondering about the reason for the sudden declaration of defeat.
Tethys asked him, “You were called Lord Soma, right? Where is your homeland located? Is it some kind of island or coastland?”
“Umm…it’s very far away from this place, but yes, it’s an island country.”
Souma was evasive as he didn’t know how to best explain Japan to the people of this world. However, Tethys appeared to be satisfied with his answer.
“I see. So that’s why you have no reluctance towards our food, I suppose.” Flashing a faint smile of self-mockery on her lips, Tethys continued, “For land-dwellers the reaction of your companions would be the norm.”
Once Souma looked at his friends after being told so, all of them grimaced while looking embarrassed, or averted their eyes. Because of that, Souma finally realized.
“Are you possibly no good with raw fish?”
Upon Souma’s question, everyone was at a loss for a reply, silently urging each other with their eyes to answer him. In the end, Shyemul, who couldn’t afford to ignore the question of her own Navel Master, took up the baton and replied for everyone, “Yeah. As might be expected, we’re uncertain what to think about eating raw fish.”
Souma could understand her apprehensions. Going by his memory, sashimi and sushi were accepted abroad as part of a Japanese food boom back when still lived in Japan, but he had also heard that many foreigners had reservations about eating raw fish in the past. And not only that. When he met Marco for the first time, Marco listened very happily to Souma’s stories about various dishes, but only the ones about eating raw fish seemed to be rather unpopular with Marco.
Even that tenacious glutton Marco had difficulty accepting that fish could be eaten raw, so it was only natural for the same to apply to other people as well.
But, that was kind of like refusing the food provided by the marmen as a special feast. Wondering whether it didn’t offend the marmen, Souma peeked at Tethys’ face. However, far from looking sullen, Tethys beamed with a smile overflowing with kindness.
“Just as I said a moment ago, that’s the usual reaction. We’re also well aware of this.” At that point Tethys burst into another small fit of laughter. “And yet you’re heartily eating the fish while describing it as delicious…!”
Not only Tethys, but even the princess, Olga and the other marmen started to giggle. Feeling somewhat embarrassed, Souma’s face became bright right as he curled up his body. Seeing him react like that, triggered the marmen to laugh even louder.
“Someone bring new dishes for our guests!” Tethys ordered with a wave of her hand while frantically stifling her laughter.
“By the way, Lord Soma, what is that black liquid?”
Being asked by her, Souma lowered his eyes at the shell in his hand, “Umm…this is a soy sauce imitation.”
“Shoi soss imitashion?”
“It’s a seasoning made out of fermented soy beans.”
Souma had strongly recommended to the pioneer villages in the plains to make mito out of soybeans. And although they had started to produce the soybean mito as asked, they still often failed with the fermentation because of their unrefined techniques, or spoiled it because it ended up rotting or turned into a breeding ground for other microorganisms. Among the mito that seemed to be failed creations, there was some gooey, awfully moist mito, probably because very watery ingredients had been used for its production.
When Souma placed the mito in a cloth and wrung it out, believing that the mito might still be edible if he got rid of its moisture, he obtained a dark-brown, thick liquid with a very nice and rich aroma. As soon as he licked it out of curiosity, he discovered that it had a taste astonishingly close to soy sauce. Accordingly, Souma named it “soy sauce imitation” and used it as a substitute for the real seasoning.
However, although Souma wasn’t aware since he didn’t know anything but the classical soy sauce which was made in a wooden bucket, the liquid that gathered at the top during the fermentation process of miso, tamari soy sauce, was unmistakably referred to as soy sauce as well.
“Hoh. It resembles fish sauce in its outward appearance, but it tastes more refreshing without any quirky flavors. Above all, it doesn’t smell rotten.” Tethys praised after licking the tip of her pinky which she had dipped into the soy sauce offered to her by Souma.
This world also had a seasoning called fish sauce which was produced by fermenting fish. But, as they didn’t possess the refining methods of the modern era, and because it was created out of miscellaneous, randomly obtained fish materials, the fish sauce in this world smelled like rotten fish, and its taste was also very peculiar. No matter what Souma did, he couldn’t grow fond of it. Hence, for Souma this tamari soy sauce had nowadays become a seasoning he wouldn’t miss to add to his dishes, rivaling soy bean mito.
However, precisely because it was something they could only obtain in small quantities from watery mito, made by coincidence, at present, its amount was very limited. Ultimately it was a precious seasoning for the private use and joy of Souma.
The few remaining records of that time describe just how much Souma craved for this tamari soy sauce as follows:
“When the artisans, who fermented the soy bean mito, presented this juice they had wrung out of mito to the Divine Son of Destruction Soma Kisaki, he said, 『This is a forgery』, full of delight. After rewarding the artisans, he ordered them to always offer this juice to him whenever they managed to create something similar.”
Many history researchers are interpreting this as “the Divine Son of Destruction having a soft spot for lies,” and try to use it as foundation for their criticism of Soma Kisaki’s insincerity, but that’s wrong.
The “forgery” mentioned in this record was called “soy sauce imitation” by Souma, and actually pointed to tamari soy sauce. Not only Tethys, but even the marman princess showed eager interest in Souma’s cherished tamari soy sauce. They began licking it off their fingers or ate it after dipping fish in it, copying Souma.
As Souma watched them eating it without any restraints while being on tenterhooks, new dishes were carried into the hall. Moreover, this time it wasn’t plain, raw fish but spit-roasted fish sprinkled with salt, hot pots, and seafood fried in oil.
This caused the two gluttons Zurgu and Dvalin to cheer loudly.
“Go on and dig in without any reservations.”
The second Tethys said so, Zurgu’s hand shot out, grabbing a deep-fried fish. With crunching sounds, he wolfed down the whole thing from the head.
“Hey, Zurgu, behave yourself.”
This wasn’t zoan land. As such Garam couldn’t let Zurgu messily wolf down the food, and thus warned him after nudging him with his elbow.
However, Zurgu answered nonchalantly, “These are perfect, Garam. And even the scales taste great.”
Garam agreed with him on that. The fish scales, which were bristled up as if frayed after being deep-fried in very hot oil, broke apart in the mouth while having a crunchy consistency. Moreover, once they sank their teeth into the fish body, the rich flavor of the fish meat seeped out, and melted on their tongues after blending with the umami of the oil.
The hot pot was also exceptional. It was a dish with various fish, shellfish, and crabs having simply been boiled together, but the great flavors oozing out of the ingredients were in complete harmony, producing an indescribable deliciousness.
For the zoan, who lived in the Solbiant Plains that didn’t possess any big lakes or rivers, these dishes that abundantly used seafood were the very definition of a feast.
“But, still…” Even so, Garam tried to remonstrate Zurgu.
Originally Garam was also at the point of wanting to sink his teeth into the dishes without any care. But, despite this, he was attending this feast as Great Clan Chief representing the zoan of the plains. Only at times like this he hated this title, but he couldn’t afford to not remonstrate the shameless behavior of his kin in front of another race. It definitely had nothing to do with him being pissed off over having to restrain himself while the guy next to him heartily wolfed down all the food.
Having assessed things in such a way, Garam was about to complain to Zurgu, but just then Tethys called out to him.
“It’s fine, beast hero. If he eats our dishes with such relish, it makes my hospitality worthwhile.”
As Zurgu told him with his eyes, “See? I told you,” Garam gathered small deep-fried fish, tossed them into his mouth, and crunched away. His expression was so gloomy that one seeing it would believe that he was chewing on a hundred bitter bugs rather than small fish. Watching all of this, Tethys covered her mouth, laughing in a refined manner.
“For us marmen treating someone with food that had been prepared by using fire counts as the highest form of welcome. Lord Soma, please dig in without any reservations.” Tethys encouraged Souma, who, unlike a little while ago, didn’t even try to touch the food served.
In response, Souma looked up to Tethys with upturned eyes, anxiety written on his face, “Umm…does that possibly mean that we haven’t been welcome until now?”
With Shyemul sighing exaggeratedly next to him, as if asking what he was talking about now at this point in time, Souma became even more flustered. Tethys revealed a wry smile at the act of those two, moistened her lips with the wine that had been filled into a rectangular shell cup in her hands, and answered awkwardly, “At this point I won’t be able to hide it from you any longer. ――Very well, I shall tell you the reason why I tried to turn you away.”