BON APPETIT! Gourmet Battle Girls
April, two years after the first chapter of ALLEZ CUISINE! Gourmet Battle Girls
“Sorry I’m late!” I said, as I burst through the door of Gokuraku Ramen.
“No, you’re fine,” said Kei as she reached over to the seat next to her and pulled it out so I could sit down. I took off my raincoat and stuck my umbrella in the metal umbrella holder by the door, then went over to the table. “Yomogi-chan is running late, and I just got a text from Hanabi-chan that she’s almost here.”
“Good! I can’t wait,” I said, sitting down and letting out a satisfying sigh. “I’m so glad you found this place! It looks great!”
It was the middle of April, right after the new school year had started. After a few days of planning, and a little bit of shuffling around of obligations, the four of us had planned on a nice dinner out in celebration of our final year of high school (and Hanabi’s second year.) As higher education plans were in everyone’s sights, we had made a pact at the end of last year to get together for dinner at least once a month to go over our plans and how we were doing.
Each month, one of us would choose a type of cuisine, and a restaurant that was within reasonable traveling distance to Umami Gakuen so we’d be able to get there after our extracurricular activities had finished. This month was Kei’s turn, and she had found out about Gokuraku Ramen through an article in a newspaper—it was being touted as “a hidden gem” by a lot of food critics in the area.
A waiter dressed in simple white chef’s clothing, with an apron printed with the restaurant logo around his waist, came by our table and handed us both a hot washcloth with a pair of tongs. “Welcome, young ladies,” he said. “Will it be just you tonight?”
“We’re waiting for two more,” I said, and just as the words left my mouth, the door opened again and this time both Yomogi and Hanabi appeared. “Oh, speak of the devil!”
“Hiya!” Hanabi said, as she hung up her coat and stowed her umbrella. “Just started rainin’ pretty bad out there.”
“You weren’t waiting for us that long, were you?” Yomogi asked. She pushed her glasses away from her face, which had begun to steam up from coming out of the cold and into the warmth of Gokuraku Ramen.
“No, not at all. Excuse me,” I said, hailing the waiter that had given us the towels. “We’re all here. Can you get us the menus and four cups of tea, please?”
Yomogi and Hanabi sat down across from me and Kei. Oh, I should probably describe us, shouldn’t I? Well, for starters, let’s talk about Kei Mitsurugi. She’s extremely tall and has an extremely scary neutral expression, but she also loves everything cute. She has short indigo purple hair and light blue eyes. Her family runs a karate school in Nerima, and she’s not only a member of the Umami Gakuen karate club, but also the tea ceremony club. Her division in Umami Gakuen is the Wagashi Division, which concentrates on traditional Japanese and East Asian sweets and confections.
The girl with the glasses is Yomogi Kisaragi. She’s in the Yogashi Division, which covers all Western sweets and confections. It’s the sweet counterpart to the savory division that I’m in, the Yoshoku Division. She’s got shoulder length dark green hair, which she arranges into a short back ponytail, and blue-gray eyes. She’s a member of the Outdoors Club, where they do things like campouts, hiking and mountain climbing. Her hometown is in Nasu, which is almost three hours away by train.
Then there’s Hanabi Sakuraba, who’s also the youngest of us. (She’s in her second year, while Kei, Yomogi and I are all third years.) I first met her when she came to watch me compete in the ill-fated Umami Gakuen Summer Invitational during my first year of high school, and then she decided she wanted to attend. Hanabi’s a bit of a tomboy, with pixie cut red-orange hair and light brown eyes. She and her family live in Mitaka, but they’re originally from Osaka, and usually talks to her friends in Kansai-ben. Also, she’s a member of the Washoku Division, which covers all traditional Japanese and East Asian foods, which is kind of unusual for her since she’s from a family that used to operate food stalls at street fairs.
Oh, wait. You wanted to hear about me? Well…I guess.
I’m in my third year at Umami Gakuen, in the Yoshoku Division, which covers all sorts of Western foods. I’m about the same height as Yomogi, but my hair’s long and light brown, and I have blue-purple eyes. I usually wear my hair back in a ponytail, but will put it back in a bun when I’m cooking. I’ve also got a severe expression, but not as scary as Kei’s is. I’m originally from Chichibu, but live in Musashino with my family.
Oh, by the way, my name’s Vanilla. My late father Yoshiaki gave me that name, because he thought I would be like vanilla—sweet and universally loved.
Anyway, that’s the four of us, and we’re sitting around a table in a ramen restaurant, looking over the menu and deciding what each of us want in our ramen.
“Hey, they do the miso ramen Hokkaido style. Y’know, with corn and butter.”
“Kind of in the mood for their tonkotsu tonight. Something that warms you from the inside out.”
“Oh, look! They have karaage in this one! I think I might get that one.”
“What about the spicy tantanmen?”
“Geh…you know how I feel about spicy stuff. It’s great until it’s time to use the toilet—”
The door of the restaurant opened again, rather forcefully, and we all looked up to see a foreigner entering, with his smartphone held out in front of his face, recording his every move. Behind him was someone that appeared to be some sort of translator, and a person carrying a large satchel. Now, I don’t have anything against foreigners, but there’s etiquette you need to follow if you’re visiting a foreign country, and going around and recording every little thing with disregard for the public is not considered very polite.
“Hey, welcome peeps, Jack Peters in the house!” said the man, in English. “I am here at Gokuraku Ramen and we’re gonna see if the chef can make my special order! This was the place voted ‘Best Bowl’ in the Gourmet Times last year!”
“What’s he saying?” Hanabi asked, in a low voice.
“He’s recording a video,” Yomogi replied. (Her English was very good—she studied a lot of English cookbooks and baking programs in her spare time.) “He wants the chef to make him something special.”
“Like a hidden menu?” Hanabi asked.
“I hope that’s just it,” Yomogi said. She looked uneasy as the boisterous man started walking up to the ramen bar and loudly narrating all the décor he saw around.
The waiter came up to us. “Are you ready to order?” he said, but as we started telling him what we wanted, Jack Peters started loudly talking about everything that happened so far on his trip to Japan. As I saw how disgusted the waiter was looking, I held up my hand. “Type it into my phone,” I said, pulling out my phone and passing it to Hanabi to type her order into. We each typed what we wanted into the phone, then handed it to the waiter, who started jotting everything down. He returned the phone to me just as Jack Peters was talking about the vending machines he had encountered.
“Yeah, you can get booze from the vending machines just like soda!” he said.
“Are all Americans as loud as this?” Hanabi muttered.
“Well…not really,” I said. As I did so, I reached up to the front of my shirt and rubbed my necktie. It’s a plain red silk necktie that’s a required part of our school uniform, but the reason mine was special was because it belonged to a friend of mine, Michael Furukawa Valentine, who was an American exchange student. Actually, no he wasn’t—he was really an undercover FBI agent sent to investigate a strange series of hacking attempts on Japan’s National Professional Gourmet Battle Association database. These attempts had fixed matches, including some that me and my friends were involved in, and resulted in the Summer Invitational during our first year being completely nullified. Well, that and a series of incidents that befell some of the competitors—including me. Before we parted, we exchanged mementos of each other, and while mine was an old Banana Cat keychain I had gotten out of a gachapon machine, his was his school tie—one that I proudly donned the first day of my third year at Umami Gakuen.
Oh, yeah, a lot of stuff has happened since you probably read about our last adventures. Long story short: People graduated, people started at school, people moved, people had babies, and people got married.
Anyway, Jack Peters was continuing his tirade about Japan, and how he got kicked out of a public bathhouse for no reason. (“It’s probably because he’s got a tattoo,” Kei whispered.) Our waiter handed his order to the chef, who dutifully started grabbing bowls and filling them with the tasty components that would make up our bowls of ramen.
“Excuse me, Mr. Chef,” Jack Peters said, in very loud and slow English, the universal language of bad tourists everywhere. “Can you make bu***ke noodles?”
Yomogi’s face started turning red, and we looked at her quizzically. “Is there something you know that we don’t, Yomogi-sensei?” I asked.
“He’s asking for hiyashi udon, but…he’s using a different word for it,” Yomogi murmured. “And it’s got somewhat of a dirty connotation.”
“Dirty? Like…” Hanabi’s expression changed to one where she was trying to figure out how to say something in polite company. “Birds and bees dirty?” Yomogi made the quickest of nods, her face still bright crimson. Hanabi’s face changed into a huge grin as she stifled a giggle.
“Don’t laugh. These videos can be quite embarrassing,” Kei murmured. She gripped her chopsticks, and I thought she’d break them in her hand.
“Let’s see what happens,” I said, as I quietly turned to my phone. I checked the time, and I still had plenty of time to eat and make it back home to change before going out with my family tonight. My night hadn’t been ruined yet.
There was another table that had been seated with a couple who looked like they were college students out on a date. The guy was muttering something to his girlfriend, who nodded and pulled up something on her phone, then handed it to him. His expression was somewhat shocked—guess she found his channel or something.
Just in time, the waiter came towards us with four bowls of steaming ramen, topped just as we liked it, and placed them down in front of us announcing what we ordered. “Miso ramen with corn and butter. Tantanmen with extra garlic. Shio with flavored egg and bean sprouts. Tonkotsu Hokkaido-style.”
“Thank you! Itadakimasu!” we chorused, with huge smiles on our faces, and then a lightbulb went off in my head. Before I could start on my ramen, I reached for my phone, typed a message and then showed it to everyone:
on three let’s all slurp at once
Everyone nodded as I started the countdown. “One…two…three…”
SLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURRRRRRPPP. Jack Peters’ running commentary was suddenly drowned out by the four of us eating our ramen as noisily as possible. Even when he started yelling, we were much too loud for him. Finally, he threw up his hands and went up to us.
“Excuse me,” he said in badly accented Japanese. Then he tried saying “can you please be quiet,” but he got everything wrong, so it sounded to us like “do the quiet thing.” We all looked at each other before the four of us chorused, in one voice, “We don’t understand you.”
He shrugged and went back to the bar, and started badgering the chef for all sorts of ridiculous food requests, like squid tentacles in peanut butter. Meanwhile, the waiter loaded two bowls of ramen onto a tray for the couple sitting near us to eat, when a familiar song started playing over the radio—
“OH MY GOD! DO YOU KNOW THAT SONG? THAT SUKIYAKI SONG?” Jack Peters yelled, suddenly jumping up, colliding with the waiter, and sending the tray flying. The four of us stared, slack-jawed, as everything on the tray cascaded onto the floor. Bowls shattered, broth spilled onto the ground, and condiments splattered everywhere. While they missed the couple entirely, the waiter was not so lucky.
“Oh no, are you all right?” Yomogi said. She ran over to help the waiter up. He was covered in condiments and the bottom of his pure white slacks were discolored from broth. He sighed as he looked down at the mess, then up at his customers.
Jack Peters was laughing his head off, slapping the surface of the bar. It was plain to see that he was probably livestreaming the whole thing. Kei must’ve noticed that, too, as she silently pulled her seat back, got up, and walked quietly over to Jack Peters.
“Are you a Japanese schoolgirl?” he asked.
Kei put on her scariest face. I should mention that a couple years ago she played a girl gang member in a play her class put on for the cultural festival, and she was VERY convincing.
“You. Apologize,” she said, in English.
“Wh-wh-wh…” Jack Peters’s face grew pale, and he looked around to the friends he had come into the restaurant with. The person that was his translator was trying to hold in his laughter, while his other friend was furiously rummaging through his satchel. He opened up a pocket and handed Jack a wad of bills, which he promptly held out to the waiter.
“Hey. He doesn’t want your money,” I said, rather forcefully, in Japanese. (Anything in a completely unfamiliar language sounds incredibly intimidating if you can deepen your voice and have a scary expression.) I got up and surveyed the damage, which the waiter was beginning to clean up—broken bowls, spilled soup, and noodles all over the place. It would take hours to clean that mess up all alone, unless…
“Who do you think you are, talking to me like that?” Jack Peters said. “I’ll have you know I have over 100,000 followers on MewTube!”
I summoned my fiercest aura, which consisted of a snarling tiger in front of an erupting volcano, and glared into his face.
“I am Vanilla Koizumi, four-star ranked Gourmet Battler!” I announced, hearing the words echo in my thoughts.
“Whatever,” Jack Peters muttered, but then the person who was his translator gasped.
“Jack, this is bad!” he said. “Real bad!”
“Wait, what do you mean ‘bad?’” Jack asked his translator, who was pale himself as he realized he was in the presence of culinary royalty.
“That girl…her name was once Vanilla Sakamoto! She’s the daughter of Yoshiaki Sakamoto!”
It was Jack’s turn to be surprised. My father’s name still had a lot of clout, even though we were coming up on five years since he passed away. “That’s not all…those girls she’s with…They’re the Four Horsewomen of Umami Gakuen!”
“NO WAY!” Jack shrieked. He looked happy. “I can’t believe it, The Four Horsewomen themselves?”
“Four Horsewomen?” Hanabi asked Yomogi.
“I heard it’s a reference to professional wrestling,” Yomogi said.
Hanabi blushed. “Sometimes I can’t help but be tickled that we’ve got our own nickname.”
Jack’s tune had changed. He turned to Kei and started apologizing, using all sorts of badly pronounced Japanese phrasing, including the wrong words entirely. Kei merely rolled her eyes and glared back at him.
“Can I please have your autographs? I’ve even got the special boards and everything!” Jack said, as his friend with the bag rummaged through and pulled out a bunch of autograph cards.
“No,” I replied.
“Please?” He turned to Yomogi, who simply went “hmph!” and turned up her nose.
“I’ll give you an autograph under one condition,” Hanabi said. “You will immediately take a picture of it and post it on all social media channels.”
“Wait, what?” I said, but Hanabi winked at me.
“Don’t worry, I got this,” she said.
Jack Peters gave Hanabi one of the autograph boards, and as I watched her writing, my eyebrows went up and I tried desperately to hold in my laughter:
“I AM A STUPID WANNABE CELEB THAT RUINED PEOPLE’S DINNERS”
She then scribbled on the bottom of the board, and handed it to Jack.
“What does it say?” Jack asked.
“It’s a famous haiku poem from 18th century poet Modanyaki,” Hanabi continued. “Feel free to show this around to everyone!”
I realized Hanabi’s plan had a fatal flaw, and looked over at the man who was acting as translator. He was trying not to change his expression, which was fairly stoic. He knows, I thought, but he won’t say anything. He noticed me looking at him, and I gave him a wink and thumbs up, which he returned. Good! We’re both in on the joke!
“We’d better get out of here,” Jack said. He made ridiculous bows to everyone as he and his friends quietly backed out of the ramen restaurant and to the street outside. There was perfect, total silence, except for the radio, and every single person in the restaurant—the chefs, waiters, us four, and the couple on the date—burst out laughing.
“That was an amazing idea!” said the woman. “I found this guy as soon as I heard his name. He’s a huge loser. All he does is go around the world and act like an obnoxious tourist. Thinks it’s funny.”
I looked down at the waiter, who was dutifully mopping up spilled broth and noodles. “Let me help,” I said.
“You’re a customer! I can’t let you do that,” he said.
“No, we insist,” Kei said. “That bastard should have cleaned up after himself.”
The chef responded by stepping out from behind the kitchen bar and handing us a broom and dustpan. “I’ll get the garbage bin,” he said.
It took us a few minutes, but the floor of Gokuraku Ramen looked like nothing had ever happened.
“Thank you so much, ladies!” the chef said. “And is it true what I heard? Something about you being horseback riders?”
“Uh, no,” I said. “It’s…”
“It’s an American expression,” Yomogi said. “There’s a famous group of four wrestlers who are called the Four Horsemen. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, because it’s a reference to Christian theology too…”
“That’s okay! I know who the Four Horsemen are!” The chef laughed, smiling.
We each dug into our wallets to pay for the food, but the chef shook his head. “After chasing that idiot off and cleaning up the place? No charge for tonight. But do tell me how everything tasted."
“It was really good!” Hanabi said. “I’m so happy we thought about this place.”
“I hope you’ll be back! Next time, I hope there won’t be any unwanted guests,” the chef said he held the door open for us.
“Thank you very much,” I said.
Outside of the restaurant, the sky was beginning to darken. “That took a lot of time,” I said, “but I’m glad we did it.”
Suddenly, Yomogi’s expression changed. “Vanilla-chan…You had somewhere to go, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Oh…” I reached into my pocket and checked the time on my phone. “OH MY GOD! I’M GONNA BE LATE!”
“Go now!” Yomogi said. “We’ll see you tomorrow!”
I grabbed my school bag and dashed down the street to the nearest subway station. There was no chance for me to go home and change first, but at least my school uniform was presentable. I dashed to the turnstile and slapped my phone against it, then sprinted to the subway before I could finally sit down and let out my breath.
If I miss Dad’s opening night performance, Mom’s going to kill me, I thought as I watched the time on my phone intently.
There’s a famous saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
A lot has changed in my life, but there’s still one thing for certain: I am a skilled Gourmet Battler that’s at the top of her class at Umami Gakuen. I don’t have God’s tongue or the hands of the sun—I just have pure skill. I’m honed like a knife made from folded steel and my mind is just as sharp. And after years of living under my late father’s shadow, I’m ready to step out into the spotlight as my own person.
I am Vanilla Koizumi, eighteen years old, third year class A, Yoshoku Division, Umami Gakuen, and this is only the beginning of my greatest adventure.