[The Palate] Old world Chinese dumplings at Gubok Mandu

By Yoon Min-sik

200-year-old family recipe keeps the tradition alive

  • Published : Mar 10, 2017 - 17:17
  • Updated : Mar 10, 2017 - 17:17

If you blink entering or exiting Sookmyung Station in Namyeong-dong, chances are you have passed the sliver of a shop, Gubok Mandu, non-descript among other tiny storefronts offering little to nothing to hurried commuters and army traffic. The name of the eatery may refer to the Korean word for dumplings, but what is being offered here are Chinese-style dumplings served the traditional way from a family recipe handed down generation to generation for the past 200 years.

Luckily for those living and working in this part of Yongsan, a taste of old world Chinese flavors are being prepared for them in the most authentic and time-honored tradition. The matriarch, who is from China, opened the shop with her Korean husband and now shares the recipes that were passed down to her with an adoring public. Since its listing in Michelin’s Bib Gourmand -- restaurants selected for serving “quality food at affordable prices” -- Gubok Mandu has gained an even bigger following among the “budget-conscious” eating community.

The menu list consists of only four Chinese-style dumplings, all uniquely textured and savory in their own right. The xiao long bao, a soup-encapsulating dumpling often eaten with a spoon to catch the rich broth filling, is the most popular dish here, and for good reason. At Gubok Mandu, each xiao long bao dumpling is placed in a small tin ramekins for more eater-friendly convenience and less chance of losing what is inside these tenderly wrapped pouches. And what is inside is a secret recipe, but one can taste a version which is more delicate compared to other xiao long bao which tend to go bigger on flavor and texture. Gubok Mandu’s version has more of a dainty mouth feel, each drop of this unctuous soupy morsel exuding fragrant pork, chives, ginger, and other herbs in a chewy steamed skin.

Gubok Mandu's xiao long bao dumplings are made only after an order has been placed. (Lee Kyung Sub)
Xiao long bao made with Gubok Mandu‘s secret family recipe (Lee Kyung Sub)
Savory minced meat, herbs, and shrimp dumplings at Gubok Mandu (Lee Kyung Sub)

Another popular dish that Gubok Mandu does with much flare is the “water-frying” style dumpling, fried on one side then steam boiled to finish on the other. The addition of a cornstarch solution, using water from which wood-ear mushrooms have been soaked in, creates a crispy thin latticework crepe, which is turned upside down and delightful to eat, giving a crunchy texture to the juicy dumpling underneath. A plump barrell-shaped shrimp dumpling and a kimchi variation are also well done. All four of Gubok’s dishes are decently priced. The staff is sweet and hospitable, making the most of the tight interior and waiting patrons. A small glassed-in dumpling counter adds a bit of theater, showing you how your meal is prepared, and a sense of continuous sharing by the owners, making this modest dumpling shop an unassuming and endearing eatery.

Gubok Mandu

3-4 Namyeong-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

(02) 797-8656

Recommended dishes:
Xiao Long Bao -- 7,000 won
Gubok Traditional Dumpling -- 5,000 won

By Christine Cho