. . . . .
Byeong-In is the first son of King Cheoljong and Queen Cheorin, and was named as such to give tribute to a man who once saved his, and his mother’s life. Byeong-In lives in a world of transition; where people started working hand in hand with the government and it was good. Not perfect, but his parents strive to make it better and better.
He grew up comfortable, with loving parents and two siblings, surrounded by family and friends. He really couldn’t ask for anything more however…
There are days he feels detached from them, like there is something that sometimes holds him back from completely immersing himself with his family.
As he grew, the feeling of missing someone incessantly gnawed in his chest. He doesn’t know who, and no idea what it could be.
There’s a void he tried to fill with just about anything he can get his hands on, with countless hours of training, traveling and hoards of books. Still, the feeling of longing stays until one night he sneaked and strayed and found himself in the palace kitchen.
“Children have no place in the kitchen.” Byeong-In was startled out of his hiding as he peeked through the threshold of the door. The older man’s tone didn’t hold any hint of anger, only fondness, so the boy took it as an invitation and silently approached the other. The royal chef was calmly stirring something in the pot; it smelled rich and fragrant making his stomach grumble. The old cook’s brows furrowed, and shot him a questioning glance, and the boy wrapped his arms around himself, cheeks flaming as he remembered he missed his supper after storming away from an altercation with his younger brother.
Later, when he was served a bowl of the hot broth and noodles, he felt his eyes water.
“Why are you here?” The older man asked him as he proceeded to coat his hands in flour and roll out a piece of dough. It’s been a year since he first sneaked in the kitchen, and once again, his feet mindlessly brought him here after being upset. “You are going to give my wife more grey hairs like you mother did. Tsk! Like mother like son.” He grumbled, as his hands expertly folded a mandu. “How did you even manage sneak past your guards? Still young and already imitating his mother on her nightly excursions. What are we going to do with you when you grow up more?”
The boy was only looking at him questioningly, and Man-bok saw the young boy’s fidgeting hands, which had the urge to touch the ingredients, but willfully kept his hands to himself. “Here, might as well make use of extra pair of hands. You want to eat right? Well food tastes better when you work for it.”
Byeong-In was surprised to be handed a wrapper and was later shown how to properly fold the mandu. His hands were clumsy, and the fillings were spilling but the repetitive movement of folding and filling felt right and soothing.
“Why do you talk about my mother like that?”
“Like what?” Man-Bok asked as he loaded the steamer.
“Like she’s always looking for trouble?” Like she’s a different person.
“Because she is, or at least she used to.” the older man let out a deep sigh, like remembering something from a distant past, not merely 8 or so years. “I don’t see much of your mother anymore, she never set foot in the kitchen again after your parents reclaimed the throne, I recon she has more important things to occupy her time than cook I suppose.” The boy merely nodded in agreement.
“But there was a time your mother was a pest in this kitchen. Cocky and demanding, strutting around the kitchen like she owns the place.” He gestured around with the spatula he used to mix the sauce. “A talented pest.” He remarked, before admitting begrudgingly. “Very talented with knife and food.” He fondly laughed, hands making quick chops on the onion, which he later dumped in the sauce. “I didn’t know how bland our food was until she introduced us to a variety of flavor. Such shame she never told us about the last ingredient in Ramyun. I was never able to make it myself, and she won’t cook it anymore. Here” he handed the boy a smaller and blunt knife and passed a bunch of scallions before making his way to the stove to adjust the fire. “Chop these, easy enough for you. Don’t cut your fingers.” The boy quickly got to work, easily getting lost in the motion.
There was only one time when Byeong In asked his mother why she doesn’t cook anymore and what is the last secret for the Ramyun. She grew silent and a heavy tension fell before his parents as they diverted his attention to something else. After that, he never brought it up again.
He was fifteen when he came across an old book while Hong-Yeon was clearing out some of his mother’s belongings. It was filled with unfamiliar script and bold words. “Ah that used to be your mother’s prenatal diary when she first found out about her pregnancy with you. I guess she forgot about it with all the fuss that happened then.”
He skimmed through the book, the penmanship was less meticulous as the scripts he sees from his mother, and the words are cheekier and bordering impudent, and he never felt more connected to her.
My baby, to survive in the palace you cannot be lazy about making your people.
My baby, you should have your enemies close to you.
My baby, you must have a treasury with your money in secrecy. You can buy power with money.
Lastly my baby, this is the most important part. Get rid of everyone who is not your side. Life is a real game, the world is a jungle. You’ll get eaten if you don’t eat others. A slaughter party! Of course, you will try your best to establish peace. But if there is no hope, you must win no matter what it takes, my baby.
He traced the words with his fingers, a smile creeping up his face. She sounds the same, yet still different. The familiar longing catching him unaware, but the love imbued on the animated words brings a sense of consolation. He flipped through the pages some more and saw his father’s familiar writing. Most of the pages were blank until he stumbled across a few loose pages with an even more clumsy penmanship.
My baby, you must learn to take care of yourself and keep healthy. I have not much to give you now but the knowledge how you’d both enjoy health and good food. It is my wish to train you myself, knife skills are very handy not just in kitchen as you know, but I will already be compiling some recipes I learned while my memory still serves me. My baby, we will start with the best food you can ever have, such shame they don’t have MSG in this time, but no matter. You will find it handy when you’re deep in late night musings and morning hangover, which reminds me, we will be educating you on the finer tastes of alcohol later on. Without further ado, we will start learning about the Ramyun.
Byeong In put down the book, tasting the word in his mouth. Ramyun. He’s heard of that somewhere, he continued scanning through the list of ingredients and procedure until he saw the last part.
Finally for the secret part that will tie this dish together…
Memories of rich, aromatic broth assaulted his memory and as quickly as his feet can bring him, he barged through the small cottage on the outskirts of the palace where a startled Man-bok nearly burned his tongue from tasting a soup he was cooking for his wife. They have long retired from the palace life, but still stayed close to the royal family. “What is all this ruckus? What happened to children and manners?” the old man said disapprovingly, although this did not faze the young prince.
“Uncle I found it!” he cried excitedly. “I found the recipe for Ramyun!” he shoved the book up to the old man’s face and his eyes widened.
“Could it be?”
Byeong-In set a steaming bowl of Ramyun in from of former court lady Choi and royal chef Man-bok and looked at the pair expectantly. It took him months of tries and practice before he felt like he’s done it right. When he saw the elders’ eyes shine with nostalgia, he brought the soup and noodles in his mouth and the burst of flavor enveloped him in a comforting hug welcoming him home.