The delicious mandu (Korean dumplings) that I had a week ago in Myung Dong Kyoja in Korea Town, Los Angeles triggered me to do more research about it. =)
Mandu, one of the most favored Korean snack dishes, refers to crescent-shape (or less commonly round-shape) food of meat (usually pork) and vegetable mix wrapped with a thin piece of flour dough. Usually, it’s served either fried (usually pan-fry, not deep fry) or steamed. The most similar food in non-Korea culture is Chinese dumpling, jiaozi or baozi.
The name itself originates from Chinese food ‘mantou’, steamed flour buns, but mantou doesn’t have fillings. There is a historical story of the famous Chinese political strategist Zhuge Liang (181–234) of Shu Han and the origin of mantou.
On the way home from a big conquest of southern Chinese area, Zhuge Liang’s army was caught into a severe storm in a river. They were told to sacrifice 40 men and throw their heads into the river. Liang couldn’t kill his own men. He, as admired as one of the smartest people in the old Chinese history, came up with this food, mantou which looked like a human head wrapped with a white cloth, soothed the angry river with it and successfully fooled the river. I respect Zhuge Liang myself, but yes, it’s mythical! But it’s true that mandu (or Chinese baozi) looks like that it holds something(?) inside its wrapping and deliciously it does!
It seemed that mandu became popular among Koreans between 17th or 18th century during Chosun dynasty.
The fillings are usually pork, dubu (tofu) and various vegetables such as onions, mushrooms, spring onions, cabbages, Korean leaks, and garlics. All ingredients are either chopped into tiny pieces or minced.
Sometimes Koreans use beef instead of pork, but rarely use shrimp or other seafood. I think it’s a big difference between Korean mandu and Chinese baozi. Another difference that I noticed is that Koreans mandu feelings are less greasy than Chinese fillings. (This may not always be true.) Of course, when mandu is served pan-fried, it may have more fat overall. But personally, I don’t think one would take too much fat with one serving of pan-fried mandu. When it’s well cooked, fried (pan-fried) mandu is so delicious with a dip of soy sauce!
I would say there are two kinds of vegetarian mandu, kimchi mandu and vegetable mandu. Kimchi itself is vegetable, but I like to differentiate it from regular vegetable mandu because the taste and the look of kimchee mandu are quite different from others. As easily guessed, kimchi mandu has a little bit of sour and spicy taste and it looks a little red because of the color of kimchi. Vegetable mandu has more tofu to replace meat.
Even though it’s a popular Korean snack dish or a light meal, it’s not super simple to make mandu. (At least it’s true to me because I don’t usually cook. =)) But my laziness or shortage of time can’t be excuses. I get frozen mandu from Korean grocery market. There are usually wide varieties to select from. I’ve found frozen mandu usually have a thicker wrapping, which definitely diminishes the taste, but it’s a trade-off!
Now I know what to do when I want to have real good mandu, I would just go to a well-known mandu restaurant such as Myung Dong Kyoja. But not all Korean restaurants have mandu in their menu. It’s popular but it’s not like doenjangjjigae, soy-bean paste stew.
Mandu can be named differently based on cooking style and ingredients.
By cooking style
Gunmandu: Fried mandu (pan-fry, not deep-fry)
Mulmandu (Mool mandu): Literally, it’s water mandu. Usually it refers to JJim mandu (steamed mandu), but one can also boil directly in water.
Manduguk (Mandu guk): Mandu soup. Generally, vegetables such as spring onions are added in the soup along with eggs.
TTeok Manduguk (TTeok Mandu guk): White rice cake mandu soup. Very popular Korean snack dish. Basically, mandu guk with tteok (white Korean rice cake).
By main ingredients
Mandu: When Koreans say mandu, in most cases they refer to pork mandu.
Sogogi mandu: Beef mandu
Kimchi mandu (Kimchee mandu)
I’ve never made mandu myself, but my sister-in-law is very good at cooking. Someday, I’ll post how to make delicious mandu here after I learn from her!