When I was in Hong Kong, I jumped at any chance to (over)indulge in the big, big world of dumplings. Xiaolongbao, shaomai, zhengjiao, shuijiao, har gow, steamed buns… just thinking about them makes my heart jump with joy and my salivary glands work. My life in Vietnam, too, was incomplete without a hot hot steamed bun filled with vermicelli noodles, wood ear mushrooms, quail eggs, minced pork, and LOTS of pepper, every morning. It is sad that I cannot find that simple happiness in a bun in Korea. The Korean member of the dumpling family–mandu 만두–is like the family’s spoiled child. It lacks everything that a respectable dumpling should have. The filling is a bland, almost unseasoned, jumble of indistinctive pork, soggy vermicelli noodles, and overcooked vegetables. The wrapping is either too dry, or too mushy, or dry on the top and soggy on the bottom. I had never had a good dumpling in Korea before today; and just when I thought that the nearest place I could go for a good dumpling is Hong Kong, my friend told me of a place called 북촌손만두 (Bukchon Son Mandu–Bukchon handmade dumpling http://www.mandoo.so) just around the corner from Sinchon station…
The prices were impressive. For example: 3000 KRW for 3 huge pieces of twigim mandu (fried mandu), or 4000 KRW for 9 mandu balls. I especially loved the fact that we could have a sample platter (my word) to try 3 kinds of mandu at a reasonable price of 7000 KRW, which contains 3 fried, 3 steamed, and 3 ball mandu.
The twigim mandu is their best-selling item, and there is a reason for that. Forget its steamed counterpart with a soggy wrapping, the deep fried mandu has a golden crispy shell. The yummy filling to the crunchy bubbled dough ratio is much more appropriate than the steamed version, which means that you can cut the mandu in half and the filling will still stay enveloped in the firm dough.
Sorry for the shaky photo. My hands couldn’t stop shaking -.-
However, the steamed version is not without its merit. I was given 2 normal mandu and one kimchi mandu. The dough was firm, neither soggy nor undercooked (a big difference from mandu elsewhere). While the normal mandu was nothing too special, the fiery kimchi gave my mandu a (necessary and) pleasantly spicy kick.
However, I found myself falling for the ball mandu. It was basically just a ball of minced pork and vegetable mixed rolled together. But it had just the right amount of seasoning; especially when dipped in soy sauce with some pepper added, it was comparable to the beef balls on offer in any dumpling restaurants in Hong Kong.
Bukchon Son Mandu is a very popular mandu chain with branches all around Seoul. This is the review for Bukchon Son Mandu is Sinchon. The place itself is tiny, but is often packed with hungry eaters and long queues–a testament to its unbeatable taste and price.
Bukchon Son Mandu, Sinchon station exit 3: