The shrip leaves are sweet, a little sharp.
They come from Gallente Prime, originally. Now they're grown all over the cluster, in herb gardens, window boxes, small pots on kitchen benches under grow-lights.
There's a tea you can make from them, drunk hot or cold. Refreshing, and according to some, good for the digestion.
Cia's not making tea, though. Not today.
The knife, made in Lirsautton, or so the man in the very expensive store on the Crystal Boulevard swore,slices sharply though the tender green leaves until Cia has a little pile of thin threads stacked up neatly at the end of the board, smelling like the kind of candy you get wrapped in chocolate at the end of a meal. On Gallente Prime, people say, even the weeds taste sweet.
The shrip goes into the bowl on the counter, where the bright green of the leaves makes a cheerful contrast with the pale orange of the ceramic. The bowl comes from a moon in Hror, made by someone who lived their whole life inside the arched domes of a mining colony, crafted from the sludge cast off as a by-product of the refining process, fired in a kiln built at the side of the furnaces, sold to traders for a little extra cash.
Cia picks up the rimpon and weighs it in her hand. Perfectly ripe, it was picked on Matar at the exact moment for it to be hurried into space to be on a stall in the Rens Bazaar, heavy with juice, just as a podder's hand reached for it. The knife parts the thick rind easily, although it takes some concentration to cut out the segments of the fruit without tearing their delicate membrane. She spoils two, almost certainly on purpose, and has to eat them then and there, the tart flavor making her mouth pucker as she tips the rest into the bowl. Rimpon without sugar to sweeten it is an acquired taste. Raw, unadulterated, it's a shock to tastebuds trained on sweeter fruit, much like the culture of those who grow it.
Next, the kharzot. Its skin is far tougher than the rimpon's, appropriate, maybe, in a fruit that's supposed to come from the heart of the tough-skinned Amarr Empire, from Oris, some say. Most people don't think it's a fruit at all, the kharzot. It's green and mild and much more like a vegetable that doesn't need cooking than a fruit, even if it does grow on a tree.
The kharzot flesh is creamy and soft and wants to make itself into a smooth mash. Cia uses the utmost care to flick the single large stone from the center of the halved fruit and then scoop out the flesh whole. Delicately, she cuts it into cubes, and carefully scrapes it into the bowl to join the rimpon and the shrip. Some smear on the board, no matter how careful she is. Amarr fruit, too tough to get at without a very sharp knife and a great deal of care, so fragile on the inside it all but dissolves in your hands.
Finally, the negilippi, from the same system as the shrip, and almost the same shade of green. Bite into one of these mistaking it for a shrip leaf, though, and there's a surprise in store. Even cutting them releases an pungent aroma that makes Cia's eyes water, although she's careful not to wipe them with her fingers until she's finished cutting the negilippi into thin strands and washed her hands, washed them twice. A few tears fall into the bowl as she tips the negilippi in. A few tears always add salt to any dish with negilippi. There's even a saying about it: negilippi is the only thing that makes Caldari cry.
The fish beneath the grill sizzles, swimming in its own juice. In fact, it's the closest thing to swimming this particular fish has ever done, vat-grown, tube-bred as it is. Its ancestors roamed oceans, a thousand oceans on a thousand worlds, before their genetic structure was taken apart and analysed for viability, durability, speed of growth, nutritional value, flavor, tenderness, and profitability. Now this fish and millions of its identical siblings race to maturity in tanks no bigger than themselves, brains attenuated to the absolute minimum required to sustain the functions of life. Culled, gutted, sliced into steaks and flash-frozen, it's a cut above protein bars, but it still takes some doing to turn station-raised fish into anything approaching a tasty meal.
Cia sets the fish on the plates, and tosses her ingredients together in the bowl, very carefully. They have to mix, but not mingle, combine, but not blend.
It takes patience, and a careful hand. Most cooks wouldn't try. You can live on bland, tasteless vat-fish and never go hungry, you can take a tablet for your Vitamin C and drink a pop-shake for Vitamin B and beta-carotene. Or sprinkle just shrip or just negilippi, let the kharzot turn into mash and spread it over the fish, or squeeze the rimpon into juice.
None of those are as good, though, that's the thing. It takes all four, together, not beaten into one but delicately intermingled, to bring out the best in each. The shrip sweetening the rimpon, the negilippi and the rimpon adding a sharp edge of flavour to the kharzot, the kharzot restraining the sweet and tart and sour in the rest.
It would be edible with three, or two, or even one, without a doubt, and there will always be those who settle for sustenance rather than spend the time and effort creating the full dish.
Cia shakes her head at the thought, surveying the meal in front of her with satisfaction.
Life is too short not to fill your plate.