Our Mandu Joint Roundup
This month we’ve talked a lot about mandu [만두]: this mandu spot in Hannam dong, this mandu guide for the uninitiated, and now, yes, our 5 favorite mandu spots in Seoul. Maybe it’s the cold weather, or maybe it’s just that mandu are dope, but whatever the case we just can’t get enough of them. If you’re like us in that you constantly – constantly – crave delicious meat, seafood and veggies, wrapped up in a starchy wrapper and then steamed, fried, boiled, whatever… you’re in the right place.
1. E Buk Son Mandu – Mugyodong
이북손만두 – 무교동
E buk son mandu, which is a stylistic adaptation of “Reebuk son mandu,” means North Korean handmade dumplings (you may remember this place called reebuk jib jokbal, or the place we’re about to talk about called bukchon son mandu). Certain mandu varieties are North Korean in origin, and yup, this place make them. E Buk is housed in an old school hanok, with an open center courtyard and floor seating surrounded by paper screens. This spot isn’t upscale, per se, but there’s something very dignified about it, reflected both in the atmosphere and in the menu. The prices are actually a little steep for mandu, though in the grand scheme of things not too bad; 10,000 gets you an unbelievable manduguk. However, this place does have another specialty – their kimchi mari bap is a cold, sweet and spicy red soup with their fresh housemade kimchi (walk past the fermenting pots on your way in) floating on top and rice on the bottom. Because you should try this too, I recommend forgoing the manduguk for jubshi mandu, or plate mandu (steamed mandu on a plate). These dumplings are plump, fresh, and meaty. Lite on scallions, but with a thick wrapper, these mandu are banging on their own, stupid delicious in the kimchi mari bap. Just my recommendation.
2. Bukchon Son Mandu – Various Locations
Bukchon Son Mandu is actually a chain, with a handful of locations all over Seoul. Their original shop is a tiny spot up in Bukchon (naturally), but the food at all locations is equally good. They have several varieties of steamed and fried dumplings, and they’re all amazing – your best bet is their variety plate, which has a few of each. Most notable in my opinion are their shrimp mandu and their naked mandu, basically dank fried meatballs. To complement the dumplings, they also serve naengmyun, which they’ve low-key become famous for apart from their dumplings. Their kalguksu is also solid, and as it starts to get colder out, a bowl with a bunch of their dumplings is an A+ meal.
3. Mot Nani Mandu Twigim – Yungchun Market
못난이만두튀김 – 영천시장
Oh shit, we in the cut now!! Whether you’re a Seoullite from birth or a tourist in Korea for a few days, you should be spending more time in Seoul’s markets. I should be spending more time in Seoul’s markets. We all should. Markets are the lifeblood of traditional Korean cuisine, and as the younger generation gets more interested in trendy restaurants, they’re dying – but I’m not gonna get into all that right now. Hidden away in this extremely lowkey, not-at-all touristy or famous market is Mot Nani Twigim, which basically means “didn’t come out right fried stuff.” Their mandu is extremely unique because, as you can see, unlike the standard fluffy crescent moons they’re basically a massive pile of chicken fried deliciousness. The filling is solid, mostly glass noodles and meat flecked with carrot and scallion, and the batter is quality – black peppery and all out crunchy. Naturally, as all they do is fry shit, the oil they’re frying in is crazy tasty, and that transfers to the dumplings. Perhaps the best part is that these bad boys are 3 for 1,000 won, which means you could have 15 for a fiver. Well, no, the best part is you’re putting money into Seoul’s old school market economy. But the price is a close second.
4. Chwichien – Various Locations
This chain has been around for 70 years, and they basically excel at making all your standard varieties. Their pan-fried are excellent, and I’m a huge fan of their meat dumplings, which they basically make as wang mandu. Interestingly, the first item on their menu is gyoza mandu, which are delicious, but also make you consider that 70 years ago Korea was still under Japanese occupation. In any case, this is one of those franchises that you can always count on.
5. Bong Shiki Yetnar Wang Mandu – Apgujeong
봉식이옛날왕만두 – 압구정
Bong Shiki has a special place in my heart because, for whatever reason, I find myself in Apgujeong a lot, and the fact is there aren’t a lot of places to grab food if you’re by yourself or in a hurry. This spot specializes in wang mandu, basically fluffy steamed buns. You can’t actually go inside – they sell these buns out of the massive steamers in front of the entrance, and inside is purely dumpling prep space. These wang mandu aren’t as big as others, but you get 5 for 4,000, which is a steal not only for quantity but for quality. The meat ones are peppery, juicy and garlicky, and the kimchi ones have a perfect sourness and kick to them. They also have extra large ones you can buy for 1,000 to just walk and eat, my personal move. Also, if you buy a lot of orders they tend to toss in free ones here and there. Definitely a cold weather move for a steamy hot lunch or snack.
Let us know how you like our spots, or if we missed one of your favorites. For more lists of Seoul's best food joints, click here.
Photo credits: @hyohyohyo_1, @sunjungtime, @jake_ssong1, @janofgreengables, @polefalling, @thumbsup85