Post # 162 Dumplings in Korea

September 6, 2013 at 2:11 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 162 Dumplings in Korea

When I was in South Korea, I was introduced to a wonderful food called mandu.  Mandu, strictly speaking, is a type of food and various words are put in front of it to tell the buyer what kind of mandu they are buying.  Mandu is simply a flour dumpling filled with either sweet or savory fillings that’s been steamed, and then sometimes fried.  It’s deceptively simple and carries an amazing punch of flavor.

We were lucky while we were in S.K. because one of our team members had not only been there a few years before to teach English to young kids (they affectionately called him Professor Bear) but he had been in the same city for two years so he was able to show us around, suggest restaurants, help us all deal with the subway, etc.  He introduced me to mandu by taking me to a mandu restaurant.

We sat and chose a drink then Prof. Bear read through the menu.  After asking me what I’d like, he ordered for us.  I left it to him to choose since he was the expert.  In a very short time, two plates of glistening white balls of dough were set down.  There were four on each plate.  I was sure I’d be ordering more.  I was wrong.



“How do you tell them apart?” I asked.

“Well, you don’t, really.  You just dig in.”

I gave him a suspicious look.  “If I don’t like this, you’re a dead man.”

There was kim shee and dipping sauce on the table, as well.  He just smiled and dug in, piling kim she on the plate.

Reaching for my chop sticks, I followed suit.  They were the most amazing things I’d ever had.  I like dumplings at the worst of times, whether they’re filled or not.  Nearly every culture has some form of dumpling.  These stood head and shoulders above every other dumpling I’d had up to then.

We had a mix of dumplings.  One was filled with minced pork and garlic.  One was filled with fried tofu and chopped vegetables.  One was filled with minced mushrooms.  One was filled with cheese.  All were filled with flavor.  I didn’t care much for the kim shee, but the dipping sauce was tremendous.  It was just soy sauce, mince garlic, and chili oil.  Simple but effective.

When we were done, Prof. Bear asked if I wanted more but I was full to the gills.  The waiters wanted to bring us a sweet dumpling to finish the meal, but I really couldn’t eat any more.  Total cost for the whole meal was $2.50.  I told Prof. Bear I’d eat mandu with him any time he wanted.

I ate it a lot when I found out the cafeteria at the office building served it, too.  My favorite was the minced pork, but the chicken was great, too.  I tried the beef once, but wasn’t as taken with those flavors.  I even tried some of the sweet dumplings, and while they were good, I preferred the savory.  Just my palate, I guess.

Then one day, one of the local staff we were training brought in a plate of small dumplings of various colors.

rice cake balls

As best she could, she explained that her mother had made them for us the night before, and they were a local delicacy.  The entire team was smiling and saying thank you, but no one was reaching for any.

The Rule raised its ugly head (for those who need to be reminded, read Post # 3).  And I’m never one to shy away from a new food.  I popped a white one into my mouth and started chewing.

And continued chewing.

A couple of minutes later, I was still chewing, and I realized that whatever it was, it was getting bigger in my mouth.

After a few more up and down movements of my jaws, I was fearful that this treat in my mouth had taken on a life of its own and was going to take over my head from the inside.  I started biting off small pieces and swallowing, but it was growing faster than I could swallow.

The rest of the team was staring at me, trying to decide if I liked it or not.  I was valiantly trying to appear as though I was enjoying it, but it kept growing!

At one point, I was certain that it was going to spill out my nose and ears.  I also wondered what would happen if it grew in my stomach?  Would my stomach explode and kill me?

Just about the moment I decided my only recourse was to spit it out and save my life (and to heck with insulting anyone), I finally got it to a manageable size and was able to swallow the whole thing.

“Wow,” I said.  “That was an experience.”  The entire team was grinning at me, trying to stifle laughter.

“I’ve never seen anyone eat a whole one like that,” our student said.  “Usually, we cut off a small piece because they grow so much in your mouth.”

Who knew?  Oh, well, live and learn.  And it did taste good.



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