The sound of packaging ripping open to sweet and salty deliciousness is music to our ears, but every now and then, we love to indulge in snacks that take a little more heat. While these Korean bites take a bit more effort, it only means the results are that much more delicious!
What are mandu (만두)? Mandu are Korean dumplings that come with a multitude of fillings. Some of the most popular fillings include beef, vegetable or kimchi but also shrimp! There are many ways to prepare them; it really all depends on preference!
- Mul-mandu (물만두) are boiled in low heat until the insides are done - low heat is used so that the fillings don’t ooze out of the dumpling.
- Jjin-mandu (찐만두) are steamed in a steam pot or bamboo steamers.
- Gun-mandu (군만두) are fried in a pan. Traditionally, just one side is fried before water is added to steam the rest of the dumpling. Alternatively, you can just fry all sides of the mandu until the insides are done!
- Gullin-mandu or Gul-mandu (굴린만두) are dumplings that don’t have a wrapper - the fillings are just shaped into a ball and then boiled or steamed.
Mandu can also be deep-fried or baked in the oven, although the oven bake technique does require a lot of trial and error before one can get a perfect consistency. We recommend briefly boiling the dumplings before baking them. Solely baking them results in an experience like “trying to bake lasagna without boiling the noodles first” as Lauren from FriedGreenKimchi describes. The dumpling wrapping is called mandu-pi (만두피), and the fillings can easily be made at home as the ingredients consist of flour, hot water, and some salt only (Here is a recipe by KoreanBapsang!).
Mandu are often named after their most prominent ingredient, here are some examples: Yachae-mandu (야채만두) refers to dumplings that only contain vegetables and are thus suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Hobak-mandu (호박만두) are temple food, and they only have two fillings: zucchini and shiitake mushrooms; however, these dumplings are usually filled with zucchini only. In regards to fillings made at home, you can be as creative as you want and try as many combinations as you wish. The outcome? Many different flavors and consistencies!
Mandu in soups is an obvious choice and a favorite of many, but what about adding tteok (떡) to your mandu? Tteokguk is a traditional rice cake soup that is usually served on Seollal and also New Year’s Day as it symbolizes growing one year older. The soup has different versions depending on region: while South Koreans usually eat this soup with rice cakes only, North Koreans enjoy it with solely mandu. And in the middle regions? You just add mandu and rice cakes!
Tteokguk was made initially with pheasant broth, but nowadays beef or anchovy broth is more common. Sliced tteok and some garnishes such as seaweed, eggs or beef brisket are added to the soup, and the mandu make a great addition as they blend in well with the broth and tteok. (Seriously, is there something that mandu can't do?)
Other than soup, you can add your mandu to another soup-y dish. You've guessed it: Ramen! Spicy ramen, chicken ramen, vegetable ramen, kimchi ramen—the possibilities are endless. Choose your combinations well so that both of the dishes complement each other.
Need something refreshing in summer? How about bibim-mandu, a salad with mandu and a spicy bibim-sauce? Typically, fried mandu are used for the salad as they don’t tear as easily as boiled or steamed mandu, but for an extra crunch, you could also add deep-fried ones! The bibim-sauce is made with gochujang (고추장), rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, sugar, and sesame oil. As for the salad, it’s pretty customizable and all up to you. Whatever you prefer goes into the salad! Sue from MyKoreanKitchen suggests using lettuce, cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers. Other options could be bell peppers, corn, or even kimchi.
As aforementioned, you could bake your mandu - how about overbaking them with some cheese and adding a spicy tomato sauce? Bibigo has a similar recipe, in which the mandu is fried before adding them to a skillet with fried onion and bell peppers. Then, simply add grated cheese and some gochujang! This dish is perfect for anyone that loves cheese, and a lot of it (seriously, who doesn’t love cheese?).
For all the dessert lovers: sweet mandu! This variation is called mandu-gwa (만두과), which are dumplings filled with jujubes, cinnamon powder, and honey; and then coated with rice syrup! However, jujubes aren’t as easily accessible for everyone so you can easily swap them with dried apple slices, for example. Or create your own versions of sweet mandu! FriedGreenKimchi made some with Nutella, peanut butter and jelly, and another version with strawberry and chocolate!
Mandu can be whatever you want them to be—a cooking project with friends and family or a quick (late night?!) snack—it all depends on whether you’re making them yourself or buying them from the Asian market. The good thing about making them yourself is also being able to freeze them and eat them later. On top of that, you won’t have to defrost them after freezing—just boil them in hot water!
As frozen mandu don’t take a long time to cook (ten minutes tops!), you can have them at any time of the day for a quick snack or a whole meal. Coming home from work all tired? Boil some mandu! Not in the mood to cook? Boil some mandu! Want a quick but hearty snack? Boil some mandu! Seriously, keep a bag of mandu in your freezer at all times.
What are your favorite fillings for mandu? Have you ever made your own? Share your combinations with us!
Here are some other articles from the Hot Takes series:
- Nacho Average Chips 'n Cheese
- Kimchi Fries
- Everything Revolves Around Tteokbokki!
- Who Let the Dogs out?
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Written by Tran Trieu