Sumomo: "It's a sunny day, let's eat outside in the courtyard behind the school."
It's a nice suggestion and we both welcome it. There is a small area just between the school's back entrance and the gym with a lot of benches and trees. That's the ideal place to eat bento and relax during the warm season.
Unsurprisingly the place is pretty crowded, but we manage to find a free spot for us to sit and enjoy our meals. Normally this would be the time when cherry trees are in full bloom, but this year they blossomed unusually earlier and at this point they have already lost vitality and splendor. A pity, it would have been a perfect day. So much for Teramoto's predictions, anyway!
I sit between the two girls so I can pick food from either bento. Frankly, I couldn't care less about Hitomi's food, and beside I'm pretty sure she's not the one who prepared it. However it would be rude to eat more than one third of Sumomo's and I need the calories, so I'll gladly oblige. It is also my duty as a judge to sample both cookings, not like I plan to be impartial, but I need to keep the appearances at the very least.
Hitomi's bento's box is a dull light blue standard model, it already looks unappetizing and she still hasn't opened the lid. Sumomo's box is a lot more classy, painted in a nice shade of lilac and decorated with various floreal motives.
Hitomi: "All right, let's do this properly! First: the presentation of each contestant's delicacy. Let's begin with mine! Voilà!"
Hitomi abruptly removes the lid with a lightning movement of her hand.
Hitomi: "As you can see, this bento offers abundance of what is the Japanese staple food of excellence: rice! Garnished with a single but juicy umeboshi. The vast selection of side dishes varies from delicately cooked egg rolls, delicious small bites of black pepper flavored chicken breast, simmered daikon radish and konjak and nutritious broccoli dipped in soy sauce!"
This isn't bad at all, in fact my mouth is already watering. However, how can I put it, this food lacks in fantasy, variety and creativity.
Sumomo: "Then, I will humbly present what I prepared."
Differently from Hitomi, Sumomo opens the box with calm, elegance and care. This adds more to the suspense and raises my expectations. I revel in the anticipation for the grand reveal.
And finally the treasure chest is open and it's almost as if a stream of golden light was released to illuminate this grey and sad world. Truly, if Pandora's box was meant to contain and trap all the evils of the world, Sumomo's box is certainly its benevolent counterpart.
Sumomo: "For today's meal I prepared a bed of sushi rice with a topping of salmon furikake, garnished with nori and pickled daikon."
The garnishing and the topping were carefully placed so to form the image of a butterfly.
Sumomo: "I have then made a small serving of tempura shrimps and fried hanpen with cheese. As for the vegetables, here is a mix of simmered carrots, bamboo shoots, burdock and taro with green peas and black beans."
The carrot rounds are cut and carved in a way to resemble small flowers.
Sumomo: "As a final touch, I prepared a few apple slices mixed with raspberries and blackberries."
I see that Sumomo mastered the traditional art of cutting apple slices in the form of little bunnies. Each one is also skewered by a wooden stick so to make it easier to eat them.
What can I say? This is a vision that would move even the most hardened of hearts. Such care and love! Such delightful composition of flavors and colors! Even if I wasn't so biased towards Sumomo, even if my judgment wasn't clouded by my unyielding love, I would undoubtedly reach a final decision right at this very moment. There is no need to sample the food! It is already clear who's the most deserving of being the winner of this context!
Hitomi: "My my, Sumomo-chan, your bento is totally unbalanced! Don't you even know what are the right proportions? There should be 4 parts of rice, 2 of proteins and 1 of veggies. But look at that! It seems clear to me that you went quite overboard with the proteins!"
Sumomo: "Hmm? Is that so?"
Who the hell cares?!
Hitomi: "Be sure to consider that when you'll reach your verdict, useless man."
Meito: "The participants will refrain from trying to influence the judge's decision."
Hitomi: "Eeh! What... what's with that attitude?!"
Sumomo: "*giggle* *giggle*"
Meito: "Let's get this started! I'm hungry!"
Sumomo: "Here, I have a spare pair of chopsticks you can use."
Uuuooh! Sumomo's chopsticks!
Hitomi: "I'm digging in!"
Sumomo: "I'm digging in."
Meito: "Me too!"
I decide to start with Hitomi's rice. There's a lot of it and since it's pretty plain the risk of food poisoning shouldn't be too high. I'm one of those persons that prefer to keep to most delicious part for last.
Hitomi: "Aaah! Leave the umeboshi alone! That's mine!"
Meito: "How can I judge your rice if I don't eat the only umeboshi in there?"
Hitomi: "That's precisely because there's only one you can't have it!"
Meito: "I totally don't get you, since when you like sour and salty stuff?"
Hitomi: "I like umeboshi in my rice, okay!"
Meito: "Okay, I'll just take a little piece of it..."
Hitomi: "Don't contaminate my food with your chopsticks! Here, this is your part of the rice, the rest is mine."
Meito: "You really don't know how to schmooze your judge, don't you?!"
Hitomi: "What's with that, useless man?! I expect you to only consider the food and nothing else!"
Sure thing, Hitomi, you can count on that!
Sumomo: "Here, have some of mine, Meito-kun."
Meito: "I will gladly oblige."
I take a lump of rice from Sumomo's bento's box and I bring it to my mouth while taking care as to not let any of it drop. The salmon furikake melts in my mouth and sends shivers of pleasure to my tongue. It's simply divine! All the many flavors blend perfectly with the rice and create a fantastic symphony of tastes.
This is the most delicious furikake I ever ate!
I'm restraining myself from expressing my joy with words, I don't want to spoil the moment when I'll declare the victor, but apparently my face is speaking for itself.