苦瓜 1 條、鹽 1 小匙、梅子 2 個、柴魚片 約5克、醬油及橄欖油 少許
- 將 (6) 拌進苦瓜之中。完成。
“Then let me ask you, why do you refuse to get married?” Sakaguchi was taken off guard by Yukiko’s question and couldn’t utter a word. He simply grabbed the beer glass and chugged it up.
Sakaguchi quickly took a glance at Natsu who was sitting across from him smiling mildly without talking. She has been keeping herself busy running back and forth between the kitchen and the restaurant. Now it was finally time for her to sit down and take a sip of the chilled sake. Small fish tofu salad, aubergine stew, and bitter melon salad… Bitter melon is what he hates the most.
“Why are we having bitter melon?” Seeing Sakaguchi shaking his empty beer bottle, Natsu stood up and went to him, and said, “It’s summertime. You’re not old enough to know how tasty bitter melon is.” She held out her hand to give Sakaguchi’s hair a rub but he brushed her hand away. Natsu brought the empty bottle to the kitchen and returned with two bottles of chilled beer. She then filled up Sakaguchi’s empty glass.
“Mr. Sakaguchi, you’re so lucky to have the privilege of enjoying Natsu’s dishes every day. They are so healthy and tasty! Isn’t that right?” Yukiko picked up some bitter melon and put them on Hatuta’s plate.
“That’s true,” said Hatuta.
“You really find them tasty? The taste is so mild. Well, I don’t eat dinner anyway.” Sakaguchi was resting his head on his right hand and holding the chopsticks with his left hand but failed to pick up the food.
It had been years since Hatuta was last in touch with Natsu. She had already transformed her cafe into a cooking classroom when they finally met again. So he put on an apron and took part in a cooking class to celebrate the grand opening of her classroom. At that moment, she had been divorced for quite some time as he remembered, and standing next to her was a guy called Sakaguchi. After their class, the students were gathering around a long table with Natsu to taste the food together. It was the first time Hatuta met Sakaguchi. Sakaguchi entered the classroom through the back door holding a carton. While he was taking out from the carton some ancient looking white plates, Natsu just casually told Hatuta, “He’s my partner. He just went to a flea market to get me these Scandinavian white porcelain.” Afterward, Sakaguchi just swiftly turned away without saying anything.
“Partner”… Hatuta was trying to understand this word. Yukiko and he are a couple, he is a friend of Natsu, and Sakaguchi is Natsu’s partner. So what kind of partner is he?
Sakaguchi did not leave a big impression on Hatuta; he could only remember Sakaguchi was dark and tall, and he was probably a couple years older than he was. A few years later, Hatuta received a call from Natsu. She somehow heard the news of Hatuta getting married and wanted to celebrate for him. Therefore he brought Yukiko to the cooking classroom. They were welcomed by a table full of dishes, including the bitter melon salad that he learned to make a few years ago in Natsu’s classroom. Sakaguchi, who showed his face briefly last time was still with Natsu.
“I would like to get married too. Can you introduce me to someone?” Sakaguchi said to Yukiko jokingly. He took away the empty plate in front of her and replaced it with a plate of shrimp and tomato that was just placed further away. He also refilled the wine for Hatuta who was sitting next to him.
“I would never do that to my friends!” While teasing Sakaguchi, Yukiko accidentally dropped a piece of shrimp on herself. Sakaguchi immediately passed her some wet napkin.
As the two of them continued teasing each other, Hatuta went to the kitchen to help Natsu preparing the seabream rice. The clay pot was sitting on the stove. Although the fire had been switched off, the pot was still steaming hot. It should be ready to serve in two minutes time.
“I sometimes make bitter melon myself too, but it doesn’t taste as good as yours. My version is always too bitter,” said Hatuta.
“Perhaps you have sliced it too thick?” Natsu said, “You’re really a fan of bitter melon.”
“Because I’m old enough,” Hatuta replied and laughed.
Natsu also laughed along. The wrinkles on her forehead got blurred by the dim warm glow of the kitchen lamp. “You’re just over 30 years old. Sakaguchi should be 5 to 6 years older than you. It is so rare for people of his age to dislike bitter melon.”
“True,” said Hatuta, “oh, your daughter will soon graduate from university?”
“Yeah, she has already found a job.”
“She and Mr. Sakaguchi… Do they get along well?”
“Sure they do. They are both kidults.” Natsu was going through the cabinet for rice bowls and said, “Sakaguchi may look somewhat unreliable, but he is a gentle and attentive person. He is always by my side whenever there are problems. But you know, it needs a greater courage for divorced people to get married for the second time. We both feel the same.”
Natsu asked Hatuta to bring the bowls to the dining room — the two identical lacquer bowls are for Hatuta and Yukiko, the other two that are of different size and design are quite apparently a pair.
It was almost midnight when Hatuta and Yukiko left. Sakaguchi was really drunk but he insisted to walk them to the car park in the backyard. Natsu was holding his arm to prevent the drunk walking man from tripping.
“Of course you get drunk by replacing dinner with wine,” Yukiko said mockingly.
“Wine is my dinner! Wine is my dinner!” Sakaguchi screamed.
“Be quiet or you will disturb our neighbors,” Natsu placed her palm over Sakaguchi’s mouth.
Hatuta and Yukiko hopped on their car. Sakaguchi was standing next to the car, he could not stand straight and had to rest his head on Natsu’s shoulder. There was nothing she could do except rubbing his hair. She said, “You should come over for dinner again. Have a safe ride home.” Sakaguchi simply kept mumbling indistinguishable words, over the shoulder of Natsu.
Hatuta drove his car out of the car park and turned to wave goodbye to Natsu. When trying to lower down the window, he heard Sakaguchi yelling, “Natsu, shall we have some ramen? I want a bowl of greasy, thick and salty ramen! Let’s go.”
Bitter melon salad
1 bitter melon, 1 tsp of salt, 2 plums, 5g bonito flakes, a dash of soy sauce and olive oil
- Remove seeds and pith from the middle of the melon.
- Sprinkle salt on the melon and rub to spread it evenly. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- Pour away the excess water from the melon.
- Put the melon into a boiling pot of water, cook for around 10 seconds.
- Let sit until it cools down. Squeeze out the juice from the melon.
- Remove core from the plums. Crush the plums and mix the mash with bonito flakes, soy sauce, and olive oil.
- Mix the dressing with the melon. Ready to serve.