Mandu are Korean dumplings loved by people of all ages, with their taste varying according to the fillings and cooking techniques used. Mandu-like dishes that wrap diverse ingredients with dough are also found in numerous other countries, including empanadas in Spain, mantu in Turkey, ravioli in Italy, and samosas in India. So grab a napkin, pull up a chair, and join us as we feast on the fruits of the mandu family tree.
Mandu were introduced to Korea during the Goryeo period (918–1392), though at the time they were known as ssanghwa (霜花), meaning “a flower as white as frost.” “Ssanghwajeom,” a Goryeo folk song later made into a film of the same title, is a burlesque set at a ssanghwajeom, or mandu shop. During the Joseon era, the name ssanghwa was replaced by mandu, and special types of mandu became popular among the royal families and the nobility. These included eo-mandu that used a fish meat wrapping instead of the traditional flour alternative, and donga-mandu that used donga, sliced wax gourd, as the cover.
In Italy, ravioli is made by using a thin pasta dough as the outer wrap, with meat, vegetables, and other fillings between two layers of pasta. Empanadas are baked or fried dumplings, made by folding dough around a stuffing of minced meat, seafood, or vegetables.
Samosas, cooked much like Korean gunmandu, are fried triangular dumplings that contain seasoned potato and lamb. In northern India, they are usually filled with potatoes mixed with hot spices, while in the south, vegetables such as beans, onions, and cabbage are used instead. Compared to the triangular samosa, Turkish mantu are much smaller, the size of coins, and are traditionally stuffed with lamb. Yogurt is often spooned over them before being served.
As we can see, whether European or South American, fish or lamb, even triangular or circular, there is something about the humble mandu that transcends the boundaries of ordinary cuisine. Perhaps the secret to their success lies not only in their simplicity but also in their trademark flexibility, welcoming all manners of wrappings and fillings into the mandu family with an open embrace. Thus, in the spirit of inclusiveness, why not celebrate the arrival of spring by sharing a plate of your favorite mandu, whatever kitchen they call home.
Written by Woo Ji-won