Words by Ciaran Hickey, Executive chef of w hotel seoul
I have to start by saying that mandu are big in our house. Not physically big, but popular. My three-year-old can make them disappear at a frightening rate, and my wife and I snack on them while watching TV. I blame all those free samples in the supermarkets: one or two bites and we were hooked.
My first food-tasting trip with my team was to a mandu restaurant where we had both steamed mandu and mandu soup. I was amazed by how many of these golf ball-sized dumplings my guys could put away. My personal limit was four (though I’m pretty sure sitting on the floor didn’t help my digestion).
Basically, mandu are Korean dumplings consisting of minced meat and vegetables wrapped in a thin piece of dough. The filling can be made from shrimp, ground beef, pork and fish. The vegetables can include scallions, bean sprouts, mushrooms and kimchi, among others. At the W Hotel, we have also made them with foie gras, lobster and salmon, to name but a few non-traditional ingredients. Actually, I have always enjoyed Asian-style dumplings, from Japanese gyoza to Chinese-style potstickers in the US. The kimchi mandu here in Korea are particularly addictive.
Korean mandu can be cooked in several ways: simmered in beef stock (mandu guk), steamed or fried (my favorite). A dipping sauce of soy sauce and vinegar is usually served on the side. In the past, mandu were made at home, but as I mentioned there is a huge amount available in the supermarket nowadays. Be careful as some of them are made with a lot of flavor enhancers that will stay with you long after the dumplings themselves are gone.
If you do want to buck the trend by making your own, a great way to start is to buy frozen won ton or egg roll wrappers, preferably round, between 8 and 10 cm across. My favorite thing to stuff the mandu with when I cook is prawn and kimchi. It’s not traditional, but I like to add a little ginger to the recipe. They can be steamed in a bamboo basket or fried in a tiny amount of oil on a non-stick pan. I love the crisp texture of the skins when they are fried.
Korean “Netizen” Picks for Mandu
Sinpo Woori Mandu (신포 우리 만두)
It started as a family store in 1971, and in the past forty years it has become one of Korea’s staple mandu chains. Unlike many Korean restaurants, the menu here is vast with more than thirty-seven options including the store specialties of mandu and jjolmyeon. In addition to all the regular kinds of mandu, they offer hard-to-find varieties like seafood and leek mandu and shrimp mandu. There are nine stores in Seoul but it’s easiest to locate for residents of Jeolla Province.
Myeongin Mandu (명인 만두)
You could translate the name of this restaurant chain as Master Mandu, and in the thirty years they’ve been in business they’ve had plenty of time to master their food of choice. With dozens of stores in and around Seoul and in other parts of Korea, this is a prime spot to enjoy the mandu basics, with kimchi, meat, and gochu mandu to choose from. Snack on kimbap, ramyeon, and tteokbokki if you’re still hungry after the dumplings.
by David Carruth