Chapter 135 Crop Quality
Edited by: Kanaa-senpai
Exhausted, I managed to reach the dining hall with great effort and collapsed onto the chair, gasping for breath.
”Haa, haa, I can’t go on anymore. I can’t move from here until dinnertime…”
”It seems like you’re really tired.”
’Neil, are you worn out?’
As I exposed my pathetic state, Narsht-san and Wen approached me, each calling out to me. However, I didn’t have the energy to respond.
”If Wen is here too, does that mean Wen also eats? Can spirits even eat?”
’I can eat, I think.’
”Well, it’s not much trouble anyway. I’ll prepare Wen’s portion as well. Now then, Master Neil, please wait a moment as I bring the dishes.”
With that, Narsht-san retreated to the kitchen and returned shortly with a tray carrying four small plates. He placed two plates in front of me and two in front of Wen.
”Is this vegetable stir-fry? They look the same at first glance.”
”Well, you’ll notice the difference once you taste them. Start with the plate on the right.”
”Alright, let’s dig in.”
As instructed, I took a bite of the vegetable stir-fry on the right. The cabbage was stir-fried with just the right amount of crunchiness, enhancing its natural sweetness. It was accompanied by onions, carrots, and a type of stem vegetable called “Youriu,” which I had never heard of in my previous world. While it was too bitter to eat raw, cooking removed the bitterness and revealed a hidden spiciness that complemented the overall flavor of the stir-fry. There were no additional seasonings like garlic, and the taste was kept simple with just salt, perhaps to savor the natural flavors of the vegetables. It was delicious, but to be honest, the taste felt somewhat lacking, especially after getting used to extravagant meals.
Having finished the vegetable stir-fry on the right, Narsht-san said, “Now, let’s try the plate on the left.”
The ingredients in the left plate were also cabbage, onions, carrots, and Youriu, and there didn’t seem to be any visible differences. Nevertheless, since they were served separately, there had to be some distinction. Just as I was about to give up on noticing any differences and worry that I might have no sense of taste, I realized the distinction even before tasting it.
”It smells good. It’s a refreshing aroma, different from the raw and earthy smells.”
While I didn’t consciously notice the aroma before tasting the vegetable stir-fry I had earlier, the dish in front of me now emitted a powerful fragrance that stimulated my nostrils as soon as I brought the plate closer. It involuntarily increased my anticipation for its taste. I picked up the fork again and brought a piece of the vegetable to my mouth. It tasted fresh, as if it had just been harvested from the settlement. Not only did it have a vibrant aroma, but it also had a texture that was equally fresh. Its rich and complex flavor made it hard to believe it was just a vegetable. Compared to this, I felt that the stir-fried vegetables I had just eaten tasted thin and bland, inferior not just by one taste but by two or three.
”Wow, it’s amazing that such a deep flavor can be achieved without any spices. Could it be that this left plate…”
”Yes, the left one contains vegetables harvested from the settlement, while the right one consists of vegetables sourced from elsewhere through the Blessing of Abundance.”
”I see, but still, it’s surprising. I’ve heard that crops from the settlement have a good reputation, but I didn’t expect such a clear difference.”
Due to eating it every day, I hadn’t noticed any changes in taste. However, when I compared it to vegetables from elsewhere, the difference was evident. I had thought that the simple vegetable stir-fry was unsatisfying because I had become accustomed to extravagant meals. But it seemed that what had truly spoiled my taste buds was not luxurious food but rather the crops from the settlement.
”I understand the difference between the vegetables. So, what is it that you’d like to discuss?”
”Well, please wait a moment. This was just a prelude. You’ll understand once you try the next dish.”
”I see. Then, please bring on the next dish.”
After bidding farewell to Narsht-san as he returned to the kitchen to fetch the next dish, I glanced briefly at Wen. It seemed that Wen had taken a liking to Narsht-san’s cooking, as they held the fork eagerly, her gaze fixed on the door leading to the kitchen. Her eagerness was endearing, and as I observed them intently, time seemed to pass. Finally, Narsht-san returned with the next dish in hand.
”Apologies for the wait.”
Just like before, two small plates were placed in front of me and Wen. On top of them were two slices of thinly sliced rare steak, nestled in a soup with a delicate hue.
”What is this?”
”This is made by lightly searing the meat of a creature called Kerus that Niya and the others brought back, and then combining it with a broth thickened with dissolved wheat flour. Well, you’ll understand once you taste it.”
Hmm, they look exactly the same, but based on the previous example, the right one should be made with vegetables from elsewhere, while the left one should contain vegetables from the settlement. Kerus is a magical creature resembling a deer, and its meat is widely consumed across various regions, both by commoners and nobles alike, with its meat texture lacking the strong gamey flavor often associated with deer meat.
”Now, let’s start with the plate on the right.”
Following the same pattern as before, I began by sampling the dish on the right. The steak had a crisp sear on the outside and a faint pink hue inside, tightly enveloped in the thickened vegetable broth. The first thing that struck me as I tasted it was the umami and flavor of multiple types of vegetables. At first, I couldn’t discern the flavor of the meat, which was enveloped in the thickened broth, but as I chewed, the savory taste of lean meat emerged, intertwining with the flavors of the vegetables. They melded together, complementing each other while retaining their distinct tastes.
”It’s delicious, as expected from Narsht-san.”
’Yeah, it’s really delicious!’
”Thank you very much.”
Wen seemed to have already finished both plates and stared longingly at the plate placed in front of me. Unable to resist her gaze, I yielded the remaining slice on my plate to Wen and shifted my attention to the leftover plate on the left. If the dish made with vegetables from elsewhere was already this delicious, I anticipated that the one made with vegetables from the settlement would be even more exquisite. With excitement in my heart, I brought a bite of the steak to my mouth.
As expected, the moment the steak touched my tongue, an incredibly rich taste of vegetables flooded my palate, far surpassing the previous dish. With a smile on my face, I began chewing the meat. However, my expression quickly changed, clouding over noticeably. Seizing the opportunity, Narsht-san spoke up.
”How was it? What are your impressions after comparing the two dishes?”
”Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts. That’s why I had you taste them.”
”In that case, I’ll say this. The dish on the right was a delicious combination of meat and vegetables that complemented each other, showcasing the flavors of the ingredients. However, the dish on the left had a strong emphasis on the vegetable flavors. It tasted good initially, but as I chewed the meat, the delicate vegetable flavors became muddled, and honestly, I felt that the meat was distracting. So, what Narsht-san wanted to convey was this, right?”
”Yes, actually, since Niya brought back something, we no longer needed to source meat from elsewhere, so I thought of expanding the variety of meat dishes. I wanted to create something by combining it with the famous vegetables from the settlement. But as you experienced during the taste test, the raw ingredients couldn’t match up to the quality of the settlement’s vegetables.”
Indeed, experiencing it firsthand through tasting provided a better understanding than a verbal explanation. If we were to evaluate based solely on taste, it might be possible to say that even with a slight loss in flavor, the dish made with vegetables from the settlement was more delicious. However, this is a meat dish, and the meat should be the star. When the meat becomes a hindrance, it is a complete failure as a meat dish. Moreover, even if the taste is good, if it leaves you dissatisfied after the meal, it would be a failure as a dish served in a dining hall. In that sense, the dish on the right, which I could enjoy without any dissatisfaction, was superior as a dish served in a dining hall, despite its lower quality.
”That’s not the only issue. In fact, there is one more thing, and I think it would be easier to understand if you try it, so I’ll bring it to you now.”
It seems there are more issues to address. Narsht-san returns to the kitchen and after a few minutes, comes back to the dining hall.
”Here it is, sorry for the wait. Please try the taste of this one.”
Narsht-san brought a seemingly simple pasta dish, with no visible ingredients and a fragrance that indicates the use of several spices. It looks similar to a spaghetti aglio e olio, and since there are no vegetables and only spices used, there may have been an issue with the spices as well. Well, I’ll find out once I taste it. So, I start by sampling the dish on the right.
As I take a bite, the complex aroma of the spices that had been lingering in the air spreads from my mouth to my nose, and a tingling spiciness stimulates my tongue. However, as I chew the pasta, the oil coating it gently envelops the spiciness, and when I swallow, only a pleasant aftertaste remains in my mouth. It was a delicate dish with no seasoning other than the spices, likely meant to emphasize the taste of the spices, and it was quite delicious.
Although it was tasty, I felt a lack of satisfaction due to its mild flavor. I glance at Wen, who seems to have stopped eating completely, perhaps not enjoying it.
”Hahaha, Wen prefers stronger flavors, I see. If you don’t mind using the leftovers from the vegetable stir-fry I served earlier, shall I bring that to you?”
’Yeah! Let’s eat it!’
”What about you, Master Neil?”
”It’s almost dinner time, so I’ll consider this my last dish.”
Saying that, I bring the left dish of pasta to my mouth.
After taking a bite of the pasta, I tilt my head. It’s strange; it doesn’t have much flavor. I briefly wondered if it’s because I had just eaten a dish with the same seasoning, but even so, it was clearly less fragrant and flavorful than the previous dish.
”Narsht-san, is there a chance you mixed up the left and right dishes? The one on the right should have spices from the settlement, while the left one should have spices from elsewhere.”
”No, Master Neil’s reaction indicates that it’s correct as it is.”
”So, the one with the mild flavor is…?”
”Yes, that one contains spices harvested in the settlement.”
Vegetables had a stronger taste and aroma, while spices, on the other hand, seemed to have become more subdued.
”I cannot answer that.”
Well, that’s understandable. Narsht-san is a chef, not a farmer, and cultivation in the settlement is quite unique. It’s uncertain if anyone knows the definitive answer. If there were someone who knew the answer…
With the fork still in hand, Wen waits patiently for the food to be brought, resembling a nestling eagerly awaiting its parent’s return. Both Narsht-san and I look at Wen.
”…I wonder if Wen knows anything?”
”I’m not sure. From what I heard before, the growth of crops is the domain of the earth spirits, and Wen only assists with temperature control. So, perhaps Wen wouldn’t know either.”
According to Lewya, the three spirits residing in the settlement—the earth, water, and wind spirits—are responsible for cultivating the settlement’s crops. The earth spirit takes the lead, while Wen and the water spirit simply assist as instructed by the earth spirit. So, if I were to ask, it would be best to ask the earth spirit… Wait a minute. The reason I even know how to seek assistance from the spirits is because of Lewya, an elf who had been cultivating crops in the elven village. Perhaps she knows something.
”Come to think of it, the spices aren’t being exported, right?”
”Yes, spices with high profits are controlled by various entities. If we were to casually sell them on the market, we would make enemies. So, we’ve been cultivating only the amount needed within the settlement… But at this rate, it seems we’ll need to source spices from elsewhere.”
”For now, it should be fine. You see, not all the spices have turned out like the ones served earlier. Only the ones used in the small dish you had were of poor quality. Also, it’s not that all the vegetables have improved in taste; some are the same as vegetables from elsewhere or have even worsened.”
While it’s one thing if the spices we consume are affected, it’s unacceptable if the taste of the vegetables we export has deteriorated. Negative rumors spread more easily than positive ones, and I wanted to avoid a situation where the reputation of the settlement’s vegetables as a whole would suffer due to a few vegetables.
”Although the taste isn’t as noticeable as with the spices, and one would only notice it when comparing them to vegetables from elsewhere, we should still take action. Although it may not become a significant problem at the moment, considering how crops have changed within just six months of using this method, we have to consider what will happen in another six months.”
”We need to take some action now.”
”When it comes to cooking, I can handle it, but when it comes to growing crops, there’s nothing I can do. I’ll focus on creating recipes and sourcing ingredients that match the crops harvested in the settlement.”
”Okay, I will find a way to improve the crops harvested in the settlement.”
”Yes, only Master Neil can communicate with the spirits.”
I can also communicate with spirits, but Lewya is the one who primarily interacts with them. However, only Diana and I know the secret that Lewya is an elf, so others assume that it’s me who communicates with the spirits. For now, I’ll leave the cooking to Narsht-san and focus on solving the fundamental problem.
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Edited by Kanaa-senpai.
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