The messy pleasures of making a big batch of mandu

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The messy pleasures of making a big batch of mandu

I don’t know how my mother decides what’s good food and what’s bad food. But for her, mandu ― dumplings ― has always been the “messy food.” For years, she called it that without explaining why. Then, one day, she was able to articulate her fear of dumplings for us.
“You can’t see what’s inside,” she said. She made it sound almost like a religious confession.
Her fear got worse when she saw a TV news story about chefs caught making dumplings with pork fat that butchers had thrown away. That night, she sat my brother and me down and made us swear we wouldn’t order dumplings in restaurants when she wasn’t there to watch us.
I admit my mother can be neurotic sometimes, especially when it comes to food. For example, she doesn’t like the idea of “mixing” food. She was never fond of bibimbap, though she’ll now eat it without mixing the vegetables and the rice.
She also gets upset when someone tries to sample her food in a restaurant. It’s not that she wants it all to herself; she just doesn’t like people dipping their spoons in her food and “leaving marks.” You could probably get by with such remarks in the West, but for a Korean woman of her generation, my mother is considered something of a rarity.
Having married a man who likes dumpling soup for breakfast, she offered us a deal one day. She asked us to establish a special “mandu day” when we would make all the dumplings we’d need. So that was our family ritual, once or twice a month: gathering around a giant bowl of meat stuffing, all four of us covered in flour.
The night before mandu day, the fridge would be full of fresh bean sprouts, tofu and a gobbet of tenderloin beef, ground by my mother’s favorite butcher. After filling up all the trays in the house with dumplings, we would steam them in a large pot and binge on an entire plate.
After my brother got married, I learned through my sister in-law that there were different ways to knead dumplings. According to my mother, she did it the “North Korean way,” which is supposed to be the original way. To me, they looked like sailor’s hats.
Just recently, I heard that some kindergartens in Seoul hold dumpling classes to encourage the kids’ creativity. I can’t imagine being in a kitchen surrounded by 6-year-olds, but I’m glad my creativity got the benefit of all that dumpling-kneading when I was a teenager. Thanks to my mother.

How to Cook

Jjim mandu
(steamed dumplings)

Ingredients: 1 egg; 200 grams tofu; 100 grams ground beef or pork; 2 chopped green onions; 1 teaspoon crushed garlic; 2 teaspoons sesame oil; 1 teaspoon sesame seeds; 2 packages of dumpling dough sheets (mandu pi); salt and pepper to taste.
1. Rinse the tofu under running water and crush it with a kitchen cloth.
2. Mix the ingredients (except the dough sheets).
3. Place about two teaspoons of the stuffing on a round dough sheet. Fold in half and tighten with smaller folds along the edge.
4. Cook dumplings in a steamer or boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes and serve (or freeze). Good with soy sauce and vinegar. This recipe makes roughly 100 to 150 dumplings.

by Park Soo-mee
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