Dumplings to keep you cozy
Here's the main reason I gained an adult version of the freshman 15 when I moved to Seoul a few years ago -- the tteok mandu guk at Sinpo Woori Mandoo.
Allow me to translate.
Sinpo is the name of a little neighborhood in Incheon, where, 38 years ago, a very smart man began making woori mandoo -- our dumplings.
Now, this chain restaurant is popular throughout Seoul (and even in Vancouver and New York City). It specializes in handmade dumplings filled with various combinations of pork, shrimp and vegetables. They sell for about 3,000 won -- a little more than $2 -- for an eight-piece serving.
That's right. Homemade dumplings for about a quarter each.
And it gets better. Sinpo puts these steamed pork goodies in a big bowl, then covers them with beef broth, ground sesame, egg, dried seaweed and tteok -- a chewy pasta made from rice rather than wheat. The combination makes for a peppery, earthy soup that keeps you warm all day long.
Traditionally, Koreans eat this hearty soup to celebrate Lunar New Year, the biggest celebration each January or February. I, however, showed no such restraint.
During my first year in Seoul, I ate tteok mandu guk, at 5,000 won per bowl, with reckless abandon. As I began shopping for bigger clothes online, one wise friend clued me in. "It's the tteok that'll get you." Never were there more true words.
So I worked to cool my crush on tteok mandoo by doing what any normal person would -- I turned to the other parts of the menu. I worked my way through the kimchi rice (spicy, a little greasy, great for a hangover), the bibimbap (hot rice mixed with fresh vegetables and a fried egg) and tteok bok gi (another version of the chewy pasta, served underneath spicy red sauce).
Now, when I return to Seoul, I tread carefully around the menu. In the name of smaller jeans, I turn to the bibimbap more often than not. Occasionally, though, I've been known to order a plate of steaming pork dumplings.
Even as I type this, I'm starting to realize how much I have left to explore.
"The shrimp ones?" my friend at work asks. "You would really like them."
Stars and Stripes reporter Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this story.
Sinpo Woori Mandoo
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Prices: Most dumplings are about 3,000 won per order; most dishes are about 4,500 to 6,000 won.
Specialties: Homemade dumplings, stuffed with pork, vegetables or shrimp. Also good and cheap traditional Korean dishes, such as bibimbap, sunddubu chigae, tteok mandu guk and tteok bok gi. No alcohol.
English menu: Abbreviated, but with photos
Clientele: Everyone -- students, tourists, Koreans and foreigners
Location: Insadong 37, Jongno, Seoul. Many locations in Seoul, including in the neighborhoods of Myeongdong, Insadong and Dongdaemun. To find the one in Insadong, get out at Anguk station and walk toward the main shopping street. Sinpo Woori Mandoo is at the opposite end of the shopping street on the left, second floor. It's between a Starbucks and a Korean dessert shop.
Web site: www.sinpomandoo.co.kr. Korean only.