Part 5: Osaka’s Auntie Battle a Giant

Chapter 22: The Birth of Soba

 

 

The elder giant began to tell his story. It turned out that the mountains where the giants normally lived had had a poor harvest that year, the fruits and nuts they depended on to survive were not enough to sustain them, which was the reason they descend the mountains and ended up in this town looking for food.

“This is kind of like a story of bears coming into towns when there’s little food in the mountain, ya na.”

“Yes, we haven’t been able to gather as many nuts and berries from the trees this year… we couldn’t even gather any chestnuts… our wives and children were starving… we had no choice…”

“All this talk about gathering nuts, berries and chestnuts, Shigeo-san, could it be that your people practices a hunter-gatherer lifestyle?”

Haruna was surprised to find that these giants were much more primitive than she had imagined.

“The Giants in my world are a smartly dressed, fashionable lot, almost like cast members of a baseball theme park. The giants here lead much simpler lives. It looked like they haven’t progressed much, naa…”

“The mountain soil is too poor to support wheat grains, so we couldn’t live on those…”

So it’s like this. Well, mountain soil can’t be expected to grow wheat like things after all.

However, there are certain things that could only grow on mountainous area.

Moreover, it’s Haruna’s way of life to reach out and help those in trouble.

 

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“If Giants aren’t strong, it’s no fun at all. After all, it’s perfectly normal for a tiger to kill a rabbit and eat it. It’s much more interesting to see a battle between Tigers and Giants.” [I this is a baseball reference, Giant vs Tigers…]

While it’s true that since she was supposed to recapture the town from these giants, and therefore wasn’t supposed to actually do any favours for them…

“I understand, so why don’t you invite me to your home, wa. I’d like to have a look around and see what we can find in the mountains.”

“You mean, there might be something you could…”

“There might be more things you could eat there than you realize.”

 

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Haruna sat in the middle of the elder giant’s hand as they made their way towards the mountains.

Indeed, the soil in the mountainous area were largely infertile. What land area that could be flattened for growing grains on a large scale basis were quite limited.

“Ah, please put me down here, I’d like to walk around for a bit.”

Once the elder giant lowered his palm, Haruna hopped off an began to wonder around in a seemingly aimless manner, randomly collecting shoots and grasses here and there.

“This one can’t be used, this one too, I’m almost certain this one is poison…”

“May I know what you’re doing?”

“There are all kinds of hidden treasures in the mountains and forests. Oh, looks like it’s really here, yan.”

Anyway, Haruna continued to collect various seeds, shoots and grasses under the befuddled gaze of the giants.

Once she was done randomly walking around, she took a break at the giant’s settlement.

“Well, I’ve taken a look around and really, you guys seriously didn’t plant anything at all. No wonder your people ended up starving. This kind of mistake is like an Oyaji gag[1]!”

“But, our land is really not suitable for wheat planting, moreover, what land we have are quite narrow…”

“Actually, there are lots of plants that likes mountainous areas and grows best here, aren’t there?”

“W-well, what you say is true, but…”

[Pan!] Haruna smacked a fist into her palm.

“Yosh, let’s do this!”

She held out an oddly angular looking seed and a withered looking branch.

“This is called soba, yan! Soba could thrive even on poor soil, ya!”

Soba is considered the essence of Japan where a type of bearing with the same name has been made and eaten for a long time. It’s also known as buckwheat, one of the more important grains in the world. For example, the French Galette[2], a type of thin pancake, is made from buckwheat.

In the past, Haruna spent a lot of her childhood days foraging through the woods for edible wild shoots and mushrooms. However, she was not actually a Forest Gal. That term is reserved for girls who were actually born in the forest.

“You seemed quite familiar with the forest.”

“Of course, ya. Because you can get loads of free stuff from the forest, yan!”

The main reason people turned to foraging was due to high cost of living, especially during the world war 2 where school children will be organized into groups to go into the forest with their teacher and forage for edible mushrooms, roots and berries in order to supplement their poor diet. Moreover, the nutritional level of foraged food was quite high. Thanks to this past habit of hers, Haruna had amassed a vast knowledge of what’s edible and what’s not, and was able to live off the land quite well.

Also, compared to Tokyo and Nagoya, the mountain ranges in Osaka are just at the right height for wild plants and grasses to grow. It was also quite easy to reach the mountains, a bus ride from the City of Kobe or Kyoto could take you to Mt. Rokko or Mt Hiei. Sometimes, you could even see wild boars from the Shin-kobe Station.

“Eh, so this soba thing can be eaten…”

“Of course, yan! Soba is the food of Giants, na! It’s he food of Tokyo, your home base, right?!”

Soba shops have been around since the Edo period. When historians about eateries during this period, more often than not they refer to soba shops. Therefore, in truth, soba had nothing to do with giants, baseball playing or otherwise.

“Very well, please tell us what we can make with this soba thing!!”

Haruna and the giants began to collect the soba seeds together. Since there was no point in making non-giant size food in the first place, Haruna settled into a supervisory role as she gave instructions on what to do. Also, the kitchen tools were all too big even for Haruna to handle. She’d probably ended up burning herself or falling into the fire.

Once the soba seed were ground into flour with an old fashion stone mill, it looked fairly similar to flour, which was how Japanese like to use soba seeds. Once soba seeds were milled into a flour like condition, you may use it in a similar way. Under Haruna’s instruction, water was added into the soba flour and mixed into a liquid batter. At this point,  Haruna added something extra to this liquid soba mixture.

From her bag of tricks, Haruna brought a container of melted candies called the Golden Sugar or ‘Ougontou’, a wonderfully versatile sweet with a rich and luxurious flavour. This was poured into the liquid mixture and stirred in.

The next step was grilling. Since it would be quite difficult to make a giant size metal grilling plate, the giants brought out a large flat rock, fairly thin for its size and placed it on top of a fire lit in the middle of some rocks. The liquid mixture poured carefully onto the hot stone and cooked more or less like regular pancakes.

“If you don’t eat it, you won’t know what it taste like. So eat! Eat!”

The soba flour may looked kind of similar to flour, but instead of being pure white, there were tiny black spots that made the pancake looked freckled, like a diseased pancake[3]. The first giant to try a piece of the pancake was the elder giant. The elder lumbered forward, bravely picked up a piece of the pancake and gingerly placed it into his mouth.

“Uwooh! Sweet! Even children would like this!”

Other giants soon rushed over to stuff pieces of pancakes into their mouths.

“This is-”

“Sweet…”

“Delicious…”

“Uwooh…”

It looked like this simple dessert was quite well received by the giants.

Sweet foods are desired by all creatures in the world. This is because it contained lots of calories, especially important for one’s survival.

Therefore, the sweetness in this pancake spoke directly to the giants’ survival instincts, which had been honed by their primitive way of life.

“Well, anyhow, please start planting soba seeds from now on. You can store them for a longer time after turning them into flour[4] and keep them for thin times when harvest is bad.  I’m going to tell you about other things you can gather, but please honour the Rule of the Forest[5] and leave enough plants to grow into seed and be new plants for the next season. Anyway, let’s look for these for now.”

And so, the lesson continued…

“For this one, you must soak it in water before milling and eating. This leaf here, you must pickle it in salt before you eat it, never eat it raw. It will be fine as long as you it it with salt…”

“Oh yes, after this, you guys will have to go and negotiate with those town people, wa. It’ll be ok, though it might  be a bit scary, you guys didn’t actually damage any of the buildings too badly. I will also be at the meeting and make sure no weird or crazy are put in for the terms and conditions in the negotiation.”

“Thank you very much!”

From the elder all the way down to the youngest child, the giants tried to give Haruna gifts of appreciation. Tributes, really, in thanks for her help. However, the gifts were denied since she had no use for giant sized things.

“Well, work hard, ya. It won’t do for the proud Giants to be poor.”

 

 

 

[1] Oyaji gag – Basically dad jokes, involving all kinds of puns. Haruna also made quite a few here, which gave me a headache…

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2013/05/27/language/oyaji-gyagu-more-than-just-cheesy-puns/#.XHuX5IgzbIU

[2] Galette – A French open face tart

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7eT4dOFxJI

[3] I took some creative licence with this. I felt that the author was rather conservative too with her words…

[4] Refined grains store better than whole grains – This is actually true! (You bet I checked this)

https://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/cooking-whole-grains/storing-whole-grains

[5] I’ve seen this in manga – but I’m not sure how widespread or true it is. It’s a sustainability thing where you don’t gather every single plant, but leave some to mature and seed for the next season’s foraging.

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