[FOUNTAIN]Tarnishing a beloved Korean foodThe inventor of dumplings is believed to be Zhuge Liang or Kongming, a military strategist in the Three Kingdoms period in China. The dumpling appears in the famous “seven captures, seven releases” episode. When Kongming invaded the region of present-day Vietnam, he repeatedly captured and released an ethnic general named Meng Hou. Every time he was freed, Meng Hou steadfastly resisted by mobilizing new troops.
But at the seventh capture, he gave up and surrendered to Kongming. In the process of the battles, countless soldiers were killed and dumped in the river.
When triumphant Kongming set out to return to the capital, the river blocked his way. When Kongming’s army reached the river, dark clouds gathered and raging winds surrounded them. Kongming asked Meng Hou why the river was interfering this way.
Meng Hou responded, “The spirit of the river is upset, and it can only be comforted if we offer 49 human heads as sacrifices.” Kongming did not like the idea of killing 49 people for a ritual now that the war was over, and the clever strategist came up with an alternative.
He created flour buns shaped as human heads and filled them with beef and mutton. The name, “mantou,” means “heads of Southern tribesmen.”
Today, Chinese mantous are hollow flour buns and are the main staple in northern regions. They are often consumed with separately fried meat or vegetables. What Koreans consider “mandu,” the Korean name for mantou, is called “jiozi,” or gyoza, in China. They are steamed or fried dumplings made with a thin flour skin and stuffed with meat or vegetables. Originally from Manchurian tribes, jiozi were introduced to China around the 14th century.
It is estimated that Koreans began making mandu in the Goryeo Dynasty. Mandu has become such a common food in Korea that the creators of last year’s hit movie “Old Boy” had the protagonist eat mandu every day for 15 years while he was locked in a privately run prison cell.
Recently, the government has announced that some companies used spoiled ingredients to make the beloved food. An owner of a mandu producer committed suicide by drowning himself in the Han River. Kongming invented mandu to save lives, but in Korea, soiled mandu took away a life. What we need is the wisdom of Zhuge Liang.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspon- dent of the JoongAng Ilbo.