Chapter 61: The Vanguard Forces of the Mapo Tofu Battle
「It seems that both sides have finished their dishes. Let’s start by tasting Himuro Keiji dish.」
My father and mother finished cooking almost at the same time. The Gourmet Master declared the end of this match, and told the other judges that they would taste my father’s dish first. In this cooking battle, the judges, as well as the Gourmet Master, were especially looking forward to taste of the dishes created by astonishing people.
「This is a special Mapo Tofu. Please have it. 」
I noticed that my father brought to the table a regular Mapo Tofu dish. The judges also noticed this. There was no particular feature. In fact, this Mapo Tofu looked quite ordinary.
「Hmm. At first glance, it is just a regular Mapo Tofu. 」
「The smell seems to be no different from the Mapo Tofu dishes I ate before.」
「Well, the appearance and smell have not changed that much, but your evaluation will change after you take a bite. Please taste it.」
Because of the not-so good first impression from the Gourmet Master and the fellow judges, my father asked them to judge his dish after they ate it. In response to my father’s words, each judge ate a mouthful of the Mapo Tofu made by my father. We also took some of the food presented to us with a spoon and we carried it into our mouths. But, the next moment, we, including the judges, all stood up at once after we tasted the incredible Mapo Tofu.
「Wha…What is this! What a sweet and rich taste!」
「When I ate this type of dish before, my tongue felt some numbness after tasting the spiciness! But this time, I don’t feel any spiciness at all! I can’t believe this is the same Mapo Tofu!」
My father’s dish received praise for the smooth sweetness and richness as opposed to the usual spiciness of Mapo Tofu. What happened? Speaking of Mapo Tofu, its spiciness was one of the good points. A standard really. I wondered if my father made it sweet on purpose. However, a refined richness expressed in the sweet Mapo Tofu. I was convinced that this was not a shallow dish at all.
「This is my secret. 」
What my father took was the exact same fruit he gave me in his garden.
「Strawberries, you say?」
Yes, strawberries also existed in this world as fruits, more precisely, as plant-type monsters that bear these fruits. However, the strawberries used by my father came from Planet Earth. Therefore, the sweetness was much more solid and easy to process.
「Yes, I made a jam using these strawberries. This is the secret ingredient. By mixing this strawberry jam with the Mapo Tofu, it will give a deeper flavor and transform it into a rich dish that even people who are not good with spicy food can eat it safely.」
All the judges, including myself, were startled by my father’s revelation. It was unexpected to use jam for cooking and use the exact opposite ingredient for cooking the spicy Mapo Tofu. However, as a result, the taste became rich, and the sweet Mapo Tofu was created. People who were not good with spicy food could eat this dish with a peace of mind. In addition to the newly taste, my father took into consideration people who could not eat spicy food. It was a surprising victory for my father, who knew about the properties of Mapo Tofu that allowed him to recreate the dish itself. Upon receiving praise from all the judges, including us, my father quietly bowed.
「Well then. Let’s taste the dish of the Demon King Fafnir.」
Following the declaration of the Gourmet Master, the Demon King carried her dish to the judges.
「This is the special Sichuan style Mapo Tofu. Please enjoy it.」
So, what appeared on the table was a different Mapo Tofu, which was darker than my father’s dish. My father’s Mapo Tofu had a gentle color like orange hue, while my mother’s dish was exactly red like a scorching magma. There was a big difference in appearance, and it seemed that the famous spiciness of Mapo Tofu was present there.
「This dish is a Mapo Tofu that looks spicy to the eye.」
「Hmm, yes…There is certainly a sign that it looks spicy based on the look and smell, but in fact, I am a little weak against spicy foods.」
Speaking of Sichuan style, it was famous for spicy food, especially the Mapo Tofu. One of the judges was hesitant to taste it, but the Demon King smiled like a mother who comforts her child.
「Please rest assured. The Mapo Tofu I made is definitely famous for its spiciness, but I made this dish so that people who are not good with spicy foods can eat it. First, please taste it and realize that you were deceived by its appearance.」
All of us, including the judges, put some of the Mapo Tofu into our mouths just as my mother kindly advised to do. At that moment, I thought that I would feel spiciness in my mouth, but what I felt was the harmony with the sweetness that wrapped it up. My tongue engulfed in pure deliciousness.
「This…This is! What on earth! 」
「It…It’s certainly spicy, but there is a sweetness that neutralizes the spiciness! And this taste…I’m not good with spicy foods, but I can’t stop eating this with my chopsticks!」
The judge who was hesitant to eat was the one who ate the most without hesitating. Of course, we also took a bite one after another from the Mapo Tofu prepared by my mother. It was as if mysterious magical powers got invited to stimulate out appetites.
「What…is going on? 」
My father, who also took a bite of Mapo Tofu prepared by my mother, also questioned her dish. Finally, my mother revealed her secret, the secret everyone had been waiting for.
「This time, the secret I prepared for my Mapo Tofu dish is from neither meat nor broth nor seasoning. The leading ingredient in this Mapo Tofu dish is no other than…Tofu itself.」
After saying those words, my mother took out the tofu that she used to make the Mapo Tofu. However, we were surprised when we saw that tofu. Because normally, the color of tofu should be white, but the tofu my mother took it out had a slightly brownish color as if it were sesame tofu.
「Did you use sesame tofu!? But, sesame tofu has a totally different flavor…」
「No, you’re wrong. This is not sesame tofu. The monster I used to make tofu is…the Falling Petals Star monster.」
The Falling Petals Star. I’ve heard of that monster’s name before. In fact, I even raised this type of monster before. This monster belonged to the plant category monster. It grew up independently, and I could harvest it before it reached maturity or even after it. However, when it matured, the fruits scattered around like shooting stars. For this reason, it was said that this monster was somewhat difficult to harvest. But, the fruit was truly exquisite. We could even eat the raw fruit. The taste resembled the peanuts. In other others, this tofu name was…
「It is Peanut Tofu. I used this tofu for my Mapo Tofu.」
My mother revealed the secret of her Mapo Tofu dish.
「The secret of the Mabo Tofu flavor is mainly the spicy taste. Delicious spiciness is the driving force behind most food. However, it is also true that some people are not good with spicy foods. That’s why I used Peanut Tofu. This tofu has a particular sweetness that is more refined than other foods, which makes the dish both spicy and sweet.」
Certainly, this Mapo Tofu had a strong flavor that overpowered the glands of our mouths, but at the same time, it stimulated our tongue with the deliciousness. This food was like a temptation, we always wanted to eat more and more of it. The sweetness of the tofu itself, which was the main ingredient of this Mapo Tofu dish, harmonized with the overall spiciness and enhanced the taste. A different taste brought harmony to the palate. My mother emphasized this with spiciness and sweetness, as if she were throwing salt into a watermelon.*
「You cooked the Mapo Tofu so that those who are not good with spicy foods could eat it, but the charm of Mapo Tofu is its spiciness. Suppressing it will impair its original character. The true Mapo Tofu has spiciness. Therefore, I made a dish compatible with sweetness without suppressing the spiciness. You used a secret skill, but ended up neglecting the original taste of the dish.」
My mother’s declaration revealed the weakness in my father’s dish.
The Gourmet Master spoke about the essence of this cooking battle while nodding at the same time.
「This is a cooking battle. In fact, as was with the case at the previous Grand Cooking Tournament, this cooking battle is not a simple comparison of taste and skill. In the first place, the taste of the food varies depending on the person. People may say that this dish tastes better than that dish, and the evaluation varies depending on the person.」
That’s right. I nodded upon hearing the Gourmet Master’s statement. How do you judge the best food in the world? It would be different depending on the judge, and it would be impossible to meet everyone’s criteria and taste.
「That is why we judge the essence of each dish. In other words, not only the taste and cooking method, but also the “charm” of the dish. It has to be a dish that only that person can cook. That is the criteria for this cooking battle.」
That was the reason why they wouldn’t evaluate a dish by simply its taste. Perhaps the person who could represent more than just taste would be the winner. And the Gourmet Master implicitly reaffirmed the criteria that would be in effect for the future cooking battles.
Therefore, the winner was decided. Which one pursued more deliciousness with the Mapo Tofu recipe? Which was the dish that not only tasted good, but also grabbed everyone’s attention?
「And now to announce the result of the first round…The Demon King Fafnir’s dish is the winner!」
The Gourmet Master’s declaration. Our first match proved to be unsuccessful. Now we had one defeat, while our opponent had one victory.
*The Japanese people put salt on the watermelon before eating it. Due to watermelon’s low salt content; when you sprinkle salt on the fruit, it draws all of the watermelon’s sweet liquid to the top, creating a surplus of flavor around the point where the salt hits the fruit.