Earlier this month I visited Seoul, South Korea, for the first time. Here's a look at something I ate from my one-week trip.
One of my favorite foods in the world are Asian dumplings in all shapes and forms. After hearing my plea to eat mandu, Korean dumplings, my friend Rob brought me and a friend to Koong in Insadong. That the front window looked onto a dumpling-making station seemed like a good sign. Another potentially good sign was the prominent photograph of a old woman and her granddaughter outside of the restaurant, if I am to equate "grandmother" with "tasty home-style cuisine." The story behind the restaurant is that this woman fled from North Korea to South Korea during the Korean War and brought her recipe for mandu (among other dishes) with her. A very good recipe, I would find out.
The meal starts off with three kinds of kimchi: the standard cabbage, radish (ggakdugi), and watery, non-spicy radish (mul kimchi).
The boiled Kaeseong-style (North Korean) mandu are substantial pouches stuffed mostly with ground pork, tofu, and chives. Although fat and plump, they're not heavy; the skin is quite thin with just a bit of chew, and the filling is satisfyingly light. They're easily the best mandu I've ever had.
But the best part of the meal was the combination of mandu and rice cakes (tteok/ddeok/dukk/etc.) in choraengi tteokguk, another Kaeseong-style dish of rice cake and dumpling soup in a cloudy vegetable and beef broth. It was the first time I ate rice cake shaped like little marble-sized balls—kind of like the tapioca balls in bubble tea. They were soft and chewy, although a bit less chewy than other savory Korean rice cakes I had tried. I wouldn't have changed anything about the broth; the flavor was balanced and the texture was just a bit rich. Asia News has more information about this dish and the story behind the rice cakes.
Koong's choraengi tteokguk was one of my favorite dishes out of my whole trip. I had only eaten rice cake dumpling soup once before and Koong's version was so much better that it didn't remotely compare to what I had eaten at home.
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