Bukchon Son Mandu, Insadong (Seoul, March 2023)

Back to Seoul. I’ve previously posted a look at my dinner on my second night there—it featured excellent haemultang at Wonjo Agujjim—and lunch later in the week at Namdaemun Market’s kalguksu alley. Here now is a report on the place where I ate my first meal a little after arrival at my hotel: Bukchon Son Mandu in Insadong. The temptation to lie down and take a nap was strong but I resisted and went out to wander and try to get my bearings near the hotel. Walking through the narrow alleys off Insadong-gil I happened on Bukchon Son Mandu. I liked the food well enough that I also stopped in there for a small snack after lunch on my second day. And for reasons of convenience it was also the place where I ate my last lunch before heading to the airport. Here is a look at the restaurant and everything I ate.

I arrived in Seoul not really having mapped out any of the meals I would be eating. I was traveling alone and had a lot of meetings and site inspections on my docket, and so figured I would eat a lot of meals on the go and/or in casual settings. And for the most part that is what I did—especially once I made my way to Namdaemun Market and Gwangjang Market (that wasn’t till my third day in Seoul). And it’s what I’d thought I would do on my first evening as well. When I left my hotel I think I had the vague impression—probably derived from travel shows and blogs—that the major streets were all going to be lined with street vendors and that I would hop from stall to stall, eating a range of things. Well, maybe there are parts of Seoul that are like that but the part of Insadong I was in was not like that. And Insadong-gil, a combination pedestrian and traffic street lined with stores was certainly not like that. It’s not that there weren’t places to eat but they were sit-down restaurants, mostly in one of the many alleys branching off on either side. I walked down a number of these alleys and near the end of one of them I came upon Bukchon Son Mandu.

Well, I didn’t know I’d come upon it by that name—there’s no English signage (I figured out the name by mapping it later; I also learned there are more locations elsewhere in the city). But there were mandu/dumplings being steamed outside and that’s all the signage I need. I went in to find a small restaurant. Two of the walls are lined with narrow counters with small stools in front of them, and there is also another narrow counter with stools in the center. Not a lot of people can stand up at the same time in there without bumping into each other and when they’re full, you’re bound to be elbow to elbow at the counters as well (as I found out on my third visit—which was the only time I ate there at a peak meal time).

The staff don’t speak much English but it’s easy enough to get by. The menu is essentially picture-based and English translations are provided. Now you may not know what the dishes are actually composed of by just looking at the picture and an English name but you can’t go very wrong by pointing and ordering (though you should know—and the menu clearly points out—that all the dumplings contain pork). Me, I knew I was going to have their naengmyeon—naengmyeon being one of my very favourite dishes across cuisines. Anticipating—correctly, as it turned out—that on Whatsapp later the missus would scornfully ask, “Why did you go to a mandu specialist and order naengmyeon?”, I also got an order of their galbi mandu, which the picture told me took a form I’d not previously encountered before: rolled into a cigar-ish shape. Well, both the naengmyeon and the mandu were excellent. I will add that everyone else there was eating a bowl of soup plus some mandu—of course, most people were not alone and so were sharing various orders of mandu, a situation I was very envious of.

The next day I ate a wonderful and entirely vegan (and allium-free) lunch at a restaurant in the vicinity that specializes in temple food. As excellent as that was, passing by Bukchon Son Mandu on the way back to drop some things off in my hotel room, I could not resist stopping to try some more mandu. This was well past the lunch hour and the restaurant was quite empty. I ordered a plate of saeu mandu, expecting from the picture that these would be shrimp dumplings. Well, there was some shrimp but the filling was mostly pork and other things. These two dumplings, by the way, cost the same as the plate of eight galbi mandu the night before. Not sure of the economics there, though, of course, these dumplings were larger. They were also very good.

I’d thought I’d keep coming back to Bukchon Son Mandu to try more of their dumplings but, as I said, the next day I went to Namdaemun Market for lunch and to Gwangjang Market for dinner and for the next three days I didn’t eat anywhere else. On my last day, however, I needed to stick closer to the hotel between checkout and heading to the subway with my luggage and decided to bookend the trip’s eating with one last visit to Bukchon Son Mandu. For the first time I arrived at peak meal time. There was a bit of a line outside but the wait was not long—you really should not linger at these kinds of restaurants in Seoul. This time I got a bowl of their manduguk/dumpling soup and an order of their twigim mandu (twigim means fried, so “fried dumplings”). The manduguk was very good—though I was more partial to the version I’d eaten on my first trip to Gwangjang Market (my report on meals there is coming soon). The twigim mandu were very good as well.

For a look at the restaurant and what I ate, click on an image below to launch a larger slideshow. Scroll down for price and to see what’s coming next.

As you can tell by looking at the prices, and doing a quick won to dollar conversion, prices are very reasonable. A large bowl of soup and an order of dumplings will barely cost $10. There’s no expectation of tip in Korea, by the way. I was paying in cash but they do also take US credit cards.

Alright, my next meal report will be from Goa—that’ll be on Saturday. We’ll go back to Korean food on Sunday but not in Seoul. That will be my last restaurant report from Delhi, which featured surprisingly good Korean food. And tomorrow I’ll have the last sherried Laphroaig review for the week.



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