Review: North Korean Mandu and Dishes from Pyeongando Mandujib (광화문 평안도만두집)

Mandu (dumplings) can easily be found in quite a few restaurants but there's a world of difference between mass-made, factory mandu and ones that take the time to make the time consuming but oh so delicious mandu. Today's restaurant is one that's not only famed for its mandu but considered to be among the top three mandu restaurants in Seoul.

Pyeongando Mandujib started back in 1990 when it was located in Yeoido. It was already well known in the area back then when it moved to its present location in 2005, near Gwanghwamun to the inconspicuous basement of the Daewoo Building.

In fact, for such a famed place it's really tucked away discreetly, almost like they want to remain hidden.


And just as humble as it is outside, the same goes inside with just a few tables and seats with a mix of a few floor and chair seating. The kitchen is almost entirely open giving diners a clear view of the small kitchen staff as they nonchalantly chat, serve, and prep your food.


To provide a background context of the place, the owner's parents came from Pyeongando's Yoncheon region, in North Korea. Wanting to serve the mandu (dumplings) that his parents used to make the owner opened his shop 20 years ago. As such, the North Korean style mandu here are the star attraction here but their other dishes, commonly associated with the North as well, such as bindaeddeok (mung bean pancakes), bossam, and such are also big hits.

The regular manduguk (mandu soup) as well as a plate of steamed mandu are 9,000. Kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) is 7K, bindaeddeok 8K, tofu kimchi 15K, and bossam is 30K. You can also get a set of simple kimchi noodles and a small-sized bindaeddeok for 7K.

A larger group can opt though for the mandu jeongol with a smaller size at 35K and larger size at 45K. This is the granddaddy of the soup/stews here as many hours long-simmered beef broth is joined with mandu, beef tendon, various jeons, and other goodies to make a big ol' stew. This is what we opted to order, as well as a bindaeddeok.


Now the thing about North Korean-style Korean food is that, in general, it's a more "cleaner" taste. What this means is that the heavy sauces and seasonings are less common and instead a lot of emphasis on leaving the focus on the flavors of the ingredients and their harmony together.


And a general rule of thumb to get a reflection of the geographic culinary style of the restaurant you're in in Korea is to taste-test their kimchi and side dishes (if they're made in-house, of course).

The kimchi here, for example, isn't pungent or powerful. It's not a flavor bomb the moment the kimchi hits your tongue with bold flavors like jeot gal (fermented seafood) or fish sauce hitting you right away. Instead, Pyeongando Mandujib's is lighter in taste with far less seasoning. You can see there's less red chili flakes used than the seasoning paste heavy-style kimchi from further south.

My visit included mu muchim (radish strips) as a side dish with radish strips lightly cooked and seasoned. You get a sense of Korean seasoning at its minimum before chili, garlic, and the likes became staple ingredients in Korean cooking. What I appreciate the most about cooking ala Northern style is that instead of being bulldozed by one heavy flavor, you need to work to draw it out by using your senses. It's like being re-trained to work out the textures, original flavors, and scents of the ingredients in themselves so you appreciate the underlying notes.


Of course, beyond culinary style, Pyeongando Mandujib proves they have their technique on point as well as exemplified by their beautiful bindaeddeok. I mean look at that crisp exterior that's about to shatter with a tap of a utensil. Within you have the ground mung beans, morsels of pork, and diced kimchi and all cooked to perfection. I've never been a big fan of jeon but when it comes to bindaeddeok, and especially as perfect as the ones here, I'll take a serving... or 2 or 3, please.


And it's in the mandu jeongol in which the best aspects of both Pyeongando Mandujib's culinary style and technique shines. The standard mandu jeongol found in most places south of the DMZ is (yet another) spicy stew which, is still delicious in its own right.

But here, the basic beef broth is clear and only slightly tinged with a bit of red by the bit of seasoned and shredded beef brisket. Impressive is the sheer amount of ingredients that go into the jeongol including fish jeon, bindaeddeok, beef tendon, vegetables, and the famed homemade dumplings.





To attempt to put it poetically- the basic broth is the paintbrush to the myriad of ingredients and your mouth is the blank canvas. Let me be clear- those who are accustomed to extremities in flavors (spicy, sweet, salty, etc) may find the initial taste uninspiring- bland even.

But again, this is a small test in effort. Just like how it takes the restaurant time to meticulously prepare each ingredient, take the time to use all your senses to enjoy each ingredient. The strips of seasoned beef, the chewy and mellow tendon, the delicate jeons.


Rightly the focus, and sitting center of the entire mandu jeongol, are the homemade dumplings themselves. Using ground tofu, blanched mung bean sprouts, diced pork, and other ingredients as the filling, the restaurant is very particular about their dumplings, down to the dumpling skin.

Every morning, the day's batch of mandu are made by the restaurant and they're said to be so fussy about the mandu's making and cooking process that any mandu batch that may accidentally be stuffed wrong or overcooked is thrown away. True to their natural style, seasoning is kept to a minimum as well with a bit of garlic, black pepper, and salt making up the main trio of the mandu seasoning.

Take a dumpling and slightly tear into it with a chopstick. Eat with some of the soup and relish the textures and flavors of the mandu's makeup. Take in a bit of kimchi or rice after and you are golden.



Now, since Pyeongando Mandujib has been featured on a few local TV shows, there's been some divided opinions from subsequent visitors as to whether the food here is bland or just light in seasoning.

I suppose for most non-Koreans as well who have only tasted the more fiery and bolder dishes of Korean cuisine, they too may fall in the former camp. But if you come with the perspective of looking to enjoy the marrying of high quality ingredients with excellent, focused Korean cooking, it's worth the concentration and meditation on the superior, diligent dishes here. The food more than makes up for the homely setting and rather small restaurant size.

Ratings: 
3.5 out of 4 Stars
In hustle and bustle Seoul, it's almost remarkable to note that Pyeongando Mandujib refuses to change its "slower" and natural flavors of the North to adjust to today's extreme tastes. Nevertheless, Pyeongando Mandujib isn't afraid to believe in its quality and decades of know-how behind star dishes like its bindaeddeok and mandu and the many years of avid fans seeking the establishment out is a testament to good food winning over changing preferences and trends.


Address: 
서울특별시 종로구 새문안로3길 30 도렴구역 제18지구
30, Saemunan-ro 3-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea


Come out of exit 1 of Gwanghwamun Station and immediately cross the pedestrian crosswalk to the other side. On the other side, you should see a four way intersection just a few meters in front of you to the left. At the intersection turn right and walk along Sejongdae-ro 23 street for about 150 meters. You'll get to another three way intersection with a Paris Baguette on your right. Turn right at the intersection and walk along Saemunan-ro 3 street for about 100 meters until you see the Daewoo building on your right. You should be able to recognize it with the KB bank on the first floor. Pyeongando Mandujib is in B104 of the first basement floor.

Telephone: 
02-723-6592

Website:
N/A

Parking: 
N/A

Alcohol: 
N/A

Tip: 
If your group size is 4 or more, may be a good idea to call ahead and make a reservation. 

Comments

  1. Stewart, first of all, Thank you for posting the reviews on various food joints in Seoul. Your list is very helpful for my first time trip to Seoul in this December. One thing that really awed me, that you reviewed the Vietnamese Pho joint....that was really cool...at least , me and my family have something to look for in Seoul in case we got itchy for Pho.... Anyway, thank you once again, Yes I think you should one day host your own travel show !!!

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    1. Thanks for your compliment! It's tough trying to update this thing as I want to try and post relavant and useful info but am so busy all the time. But it's nice to know people are finding it helpful! Hope you enjoy your time here. It's quite cold here lately though so be forewarned :)

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