Genre: fluff, romance, ramen porn
Length: ~2.7k words
Summary: In which Kai is a ramen chef and Kyungsoo won't eat anyone's ramen but his.
Warnings: May induce severe hunger pangs and/or cause intense cravings for ramen
A/N: For Ansa. Because everything :) And wow, it only took me 3.5 months to crosspost this fic orz.
The ramen shop is on a street corner ten minutes' walk from Kyungsoo's apartment building. A smorgasbord of eateries lie on both sides of it and you can get anything from Lebanese kebabs to sushi to chilli dogs to dim sum to tandoori chicken to Korean barbecue. Kyungsoo could pick anything from this buffet when he comes to this part of town twice a week, but he always picks the ramen shop. Every single time.
Pushing the navy blue curtains aside, he steps through the glass doors which obligingly slide open for him. It's warm inside the shop. It's always warm and it's always inviting with the aroma of slowly simmering garlicky, miso-infused broth. Not an adventurous eater, Kyungsoo likes taking food he knows he'll enjoy so he keeps making that journey through those discreet navy blue curtains. Everything he's sampled here has been a bowl of gastronomic perfection, but his favorites are the shio, shoyu and miso ramen, and he rotates between the three every time he's here.
He stares out the window, the polished pine wood counter smooth and cool and dry beneath his palms. He's so glad to be in here where it's dry because beyond the plate glass window, the rain is hitting the sidewalk hard, coming down in quick, wet arrows. There's a muted thud as the tall, lanky waiter places a large white ceramic bowl on the counter and mumbles a perfunctory enjoy your meal, sir. The boy's name is either Takumi or Takeshi, he can never remember.
Kyungsoo inhales the wonderful scent of shio ramen, picks up the maroon lacquer chopsticks, and brings a spoonful of thick broth to his mouth. He waits for the flavors to explode on his tongue but ... they don't. They only sizzle and something is wrong. It doesn't taste like it usually does but Kyungsoo isn't the sort to kick up a fuss so he quietly finishes his ramen, but he doesn't savor it the way he usually does.
When he pays for the bill, he asks the cashier, "Did you have a change of chef, perhaps? Today's shio ramen doesn't taste the same."
"Ah, your palate is very sensitive, sir. Our usual chef is home with the flu so the owner's filling in for him. Mr Okigawa is a very experienced ramen chef and our customers are lucky to have him cook for them for the next few days."
"I see ... but I prefer the regular chef's ramen. Will he be back on Friday?"
"Yes, I belief Chef Kai will be back by Friday."
A bubble of relief floats up Kyungsoo's chest.
Kyungsoo is apprehensive as he stares into his shoyu ramen. What if the regular chef isn't back yet? What if it tastes somehow different than it normally does? Worst still, what if the chef doesn't come back at all?
Carefully (he doesn't want to burn his tongue) and rather warily, he sips the brownish liquid and to his relief, it tastes exactly the same as it's always tasted.
"It's no good?" Someone asks and Kyungsoo turns his head and realizes it's the waiter who's spoken. He hadn't looked at him earlier so he isn't prepared for the engaging smile and the attractive laugh lines that hug his eyes - nor is he ready for his broad shoulders and his sun-warmed skin (which is nothing like Takumi, or is it Takeshi's arctic pale skin).
"Do you like it?" The waiter asks again, his bitter chocolate eyes filled with unexpected curiosity. Kyungsoo is used to waiters who bring you your food and clear away your empty dishes and soiled cutlery with barely a glance or a word. It's unusual to have a waiter try to start a conversation with you. It's endearing. He also seems just a little bit older than the other waiters moving briskly around the ramen shop. Maybe 25? Which would make him about 2 years older than Kyungsoo.
"I do like it. The regular ramen chef made this, didn't he? He's back at work? I didn't like the ramen on Tuesday."
"Yes, Chef Kai is back in the kitchens today. But why didn't you like Chef Okinawa's ramen?"
"It just wasn't tasty enough. Not smooth enough. It just wasn't ... enough. There was no passion."
"So Chef Kai's ramen is ... passionate?"
"It sounds stupid, but yes. Don't tell him I said that. He'll think I'm mad."
The waiter's expression is thoughtful, like he's rubbing Kyungsoo's words between his fingertips, feeling their weight, their texture.
"Don't tell him, ok?" Kyungsoo repeats his entreaty and the waiter nods. Relieved, he resumes eating his shoyu ramen, and layered beneath the ramen are two slender slices of naruto and Kyungsoo stares at the two additional powder pink spirals, perplexed. There are always two slices of naruto. Unfailingly, two. So how did four slices of naruto end up in his bowl of ramen? He can't explain this mysterious surplus and stares, perplexed. When he finally looks up again, the waiter is watching him curiously. Why is he still here? Doesn't he have to serve other customers too?"
"There are two extra pieces of naruto," Kyungsoo says as if it explains everything and the waiter smiles. He has nice eyes, Kyungsoo thinks as he drinks in the gentle smile.
"Maybe the chef wanted you to have them."
"But he doesn't know me. Why would he ...?"
"I'll pass him a message if you want." He smiles again and Kyungsoo feels a little lightheaded because the waiter is so handsome and his smile and his sun warmed skin are breathtaking. An unfamiliar sense of tenderness settles over Kyungsoo's heart as he soaks it all in.
"Tell him I hope he's recovered from the flu and I hope he'll take lots of vitamins so he won't get sick again. I missed his cooking on Tuesday night."
"I'll tell him. How's today's ramen?"
"It's perfect. It always is."
"I'll tell him you said that." The waiter bows, smiles and leaves. Kyungsoo takes a few more spoons of achingly delicious soup and sighs.
The waiter is so handsome. He really must ask his name next time.
Kyungsoo puts the spoon to his mouth and sips experimentally. There's just the right balance of miso and scallions, garlic, ginger and mushrooms and perhaps most importantly, it tastes like it always has. And Kyungsoo is assailed by this sharp yearning to meet the ramen chef and thank him for the symphony of taste currently waltzing on his tongue.
But the chef is in the kitchen, busy beyond the painted red door. Fortunately for Kyungsoo, the waiter who passes messages is standing nearby.
"What's your name?" Kyungsoo asks, then feels self conscious because it sounds a bit abrupt.
"Jongin, I only asked for half a ni-tamago, but there's an entire egg on my ramen. I think there's a mistake?"
"There's no mistake." Jongin's voice is firm. It's a low, husky voice that makes Kyungsoo think of steaming hot cocoa.
"The chef wanted you to have it."
"He said you understand his cooking? He appreciates it and he enjoys cooking for people like you." Jongin stares at Kyungsoo as he says the words.
"What does he look like? Chef Kai? Not that it matters but, I'm just curious."
"He looks perfectly ordinary."
"He can't look anything like you then." The words escape before Kyungsoo can inhale them back in and swallow them down.
"I'm sorry?" Jongin is taken aback but he doesn't look unhappy.
"You don't look ordinary at all. That's what I was trying to say." Kyungsoo stares at the tangerine orange yolks sitting in twin beds of white. They look delicious. He sighs inwardly; he really needs to learn not to say everything that goes through his head sometimes.
"You don't either. Look ordinary I mean. You look so intense when you take that first mouthful of broth. And you furrow your eyebrows as you eat your first mouthful of ramen and ... ah, I think I've said too much." Jongin seems a little embarrassed but at the same time, Kyungsoo sees no regret in his eyes.
"I don't know what to say." Kyungsoo's fingers slide across the edges of the counter, tremulous.
"You could ask me to join you for a cup of coffee this weekend. Or maybe a meal - my treat. Anything but ramen!" Jongin chuckles and Kyungsoo is mesmerized by the laugh lines that map his skin.
Kyungsoo isn't sure what just happened but he's looking forward to spending a few hours with Jongin on Sunday afternoon. Saved in his contacts, the ramen waiter's phone number is a humming weight in Kyungsoo's front pants pocket.
anything but ramen
They don't eat ramen on their date, eating chilli dogs by the pier instead. Technicolor sprinkles decorate the sky over the beach as clusters of people pilot their billowing kites. The coastal breeze whips their hair into unruly tangles and Kyungsoo thinks the wild hair makes Jongin look elemental, at one with nature. Then he scolds himself for being silly. They talk and talk and discover aspects of each other, and three hours later, Jongin says he has to leave because he'd promised to have dinner at his grandmother's, but I hope I'll see you on Tuesday night, Kyungsoo.
"I'll definitely be there on Tuesday because it's shio ramen next and that's my ultimate favorite."
"What do you mean shio ramen next?" Jongin looks confused and Kyungsoo explains his menu roster and Jongin laughs, "Why would you need to schedule food? Shouldn't it be spontaneous? There are so many things to try."
"I prefer to stick to what I know," Kyungsoo says stubbornly.
"There's a whole world out there though. Just saying. I have to go now or I'll be really late." Jongin says as he leans in close. His lips brush against Kyungsoo's cheek, soft as a whisper, and then he's gone, pale green spring scarf trailing down his back as his long legs take him further and further away.
Kyungsoo's fingertips trace the area of cheek Jongin had kissed, his face flushed pink with surprise. He's still staring at his retreating figure when Jongin turns around and waves, a lazy smile on his face.
Kyungsoo's chest does a little wheeze, and he tells himself it has to be the chilli dog giving him heartburn.
shio, well sort of anyway
"Where's Jongin?" Kyungsoo asks Takeshi, or is it Takumi? He's so hopeless with names.
"Jongin? We have no Jongin working here." The boy shakes his head, his expression firm and unyielding.
"But he brought me my ramen the last two times I was here."
"Ohhh, that Jongin," he says hastily. "I think he's helping out in the kitchen right now but he should be out soon?"
Kyungsoo feels slightly troubled at the waiter's confusion over Jongin's name because the text message he'd received an hour ago had definitely spelt out the words, see you soon. I'll convince you to eat something other than shio ramen. (Not that it's stopped Kyungsoo from ordering his usual bowl of shio ramen. Because old habits die hard. And Kyungsoo is all about habits.)
Kyungsoo can't stop himself from staring at the painted red door. He's impatient to see Jongin again. There's plenty of traffic as waiters disappear beyond the red door with dirty dishes piled on trays, while others emerge bearing piping hot bowls of ramen and pots of ocha. So many busy waiters but none of them is ever Jongin.
Finally, as Kyungsoo is about to give up and launch Candy Crush on his phone, the red door swings open and Jongin walks through. He's holding a tray with a bowl of ramen, and there's a wispy cloud of steam hovering over it. Kyungsoo feels his body give a hiccup of relief as he sees Jongin's familiar, handsome face moving in his direction.
That's when he begins to notice that Jongin looks different today. His waiter's uniform isn't the same. With his sleeves rolled up to the elbows, Jongin is wearing a black, double breasted shirt and matching black trousers. A white apron is tied around his narrow waist and he's wearing a black bandanna which leaves his forehead half exposed. He looks amazing; the only thing is, he's not dressed like a waiter.
"About that shio ramen," he stops right beside Kyungsoo and sets down the tray; he places the bowl of ramen on the counter. It smells heavenly but it doesn't quite look or smell like shio ramen.
"This isn't shio ramen and you're not a waiter." Kyungsoo knows he should be really upset but at the moment he's just numb.
"No, I'm not. And I'm sorry I pretended to be one. I just wanted to get to know you. At first I was just curious to meet the customer who knew my culinary touch so well that he could tell when it wasn't my ramen he was eating. But then I met you and I just wanted more time with you and ... please forgive me?"
"I shouldn't forgive you. I should be furious. Angry. Livid. And not speak to you for weeks, maybe months." Kyungsoo gives his most disapproving stare as he lays out the scenarios.
"But? There's a but in there, right?" Jongin drags the neighboring stool over so he can sit next to Kyungsoo.
"But ... I can't live without your ramen. Which really upsets me!" He yells the last bit for good measure.
"Would it help if I told you I created a special broth just for you?"
"You did what?"
Jongin scoops up a spoonful of almost clear broth and puts the spoon to Kyungsoo's mouth. He hesitates for five seconds (just to prove a point), then he blows on the broth and sips it slowly. And it's like fireworks on his tongue. It's a bit of shio and a bit of shoyu and a bit of miso and it's magnificent. A little awkwardly, Kyungsoo parts his lips and Jongin pushes the spoon into his mouth.
"What do you think?" Jongin asks as he puts the spoon back in the bowl, just before he picks up a serviette and dabs Kyungsoo's chin even though Kyungsoo knows for a fact that there are no splashes of gravy there.
"It's the most complete ramen broth I've ever tasted." Kyungsoo is not given to hyperbole so for him, this is high praise.
"I made it specially for you and if you don't want anyone else to try this then I'll only cook it at home. For you. I've named it jou-netsu (情熱) ramen because you said my cooking is passionate. And that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me about my cooking."
"I don't know what to say, Jongin, this is too much."
"Say you like the ramen, and say you like me. That's all you need to say."
"I do like you. I like you so much, Jongin."
"I'm glad," Jongin smiles and takes Kyungsoo's left hand in his. "Now eat your ramen - even if it's not shio ramen on a shio ramen day. Unless you'd prefer the shio?" He grins cheekily.
"NO!" Kyungsoo protests before sighing, "I'd rather try the new ramen. The jou-netsu."
Jongin watches indulgently as Kyungsoo eats his ramen. And when the sublime flavors of the new broth have flooded his system, Kyungsoo thinks, this is what passion tastes like.
And passion is something that needs to be shared so jou-netsu ramen is put on the menu, and becomes their top seller.
epilogue aka anything but ramen, part ii
Jongin still makes Kyungsoo's favorite types of ramen for him, but Kyungsoo eats lots of other things now. When Jongin cooks for Kyungsoo in the cosy kitchen of the studio apartment they share, it's never ramen but Kyungsoo never complains.
On Jongin's nights off, they sometimes eat Lebanese kebabs or sushi or chilli dogs or dim sum or tandoori chicken or Korean barbecue or anything really. Just not ramen.
And when they're done sampling whatever cuisine they've settled on, they walk home hand in hand (and sometimes there are kisses and hugs too), their stomachs replete with ... everything but ramen.
a/n Hi everyone, I hope y'all enjoyed the story and if you did, please leave a comment. Thank you so much!