Signature Dishes : Mandu
There is some debate on how the meat-filled dumplings made their way to the Korean peninsula. Some say that they were brought by Mongolian warriors in the 14th century (during the Goryeo Dynasty). And the dumplings do have a similarity to the Mongolian buuz.
Others say that mandu came to Korea much earlier, making their way from the Middle East through the Silk Road. Indeed, the word "mandu" is very similar to the Turkish and Uzbek word for dumpling "manti" or the Kazakh dumpling, "manty."
Most cultures in the world have some form of filled dumplings. The Russians make meat-filled "pelmeni" that originated in Siberia. The Polish fill their "pierogis" with everything from potatoes to cheese, to meat and even fruit. Chinese make "jiaozi" or wontons (or what Americans call "potstickers"). The Japanese "gyoza" comes from the Chinese dialect and is spelled using simplified Chinese characters, Kanji. There are dumplings in Peru, Jamaica, Norway, Nepal, Spain and even Italy.
Whatever their origin, we're happy that the dumplings made their way to Korea, since Koreans took this imported dish and made it their own.
Not only are Korean dumplings filled with a variety of delicious fillings, but they are also cooked in a bunch of different ways. Mandu can be boiled (called "mulmandu," which translates to "water dumpling"). They are just eaten that way or boiled in a soup (called "mandu gook"), which is a popular dish eaten on Lunar New Year to help ring in the year.
They can be fried in a pan, called "gunmandu" or sometimes by the Japanese name, "yakimandu" (since "yaki" means fried in Japanese). They are also called "mandu twigim." Whatever you call it, the dumplings are best served with a soy dipping sauce, which can be easily made with soy sauce and rice vinegar, or made more elaborate with some minced garlic, chile powder and/or sesame oil.
They can be steamed, then called "jjinmandu." These can be eaten with they soy-vinegar dipping sauce (mentioned above) or with a seasoned soy sauce, with some shredded/grated ginger added for a different flavor combination.
There are even dumplings called "wang mandu" (which mean "king mandu"). These are a little different. Instead of the thin wheat wrappers used to make other varieties of dumplings, these are made with fluffy dough on the outside and steamed in these giant steamers. It's not certain if they're called "king" mandu because they were served to royalty or if the "king" is a descriptor for the size of these large dumplings. Whatever the case, they can be easily found as a popular street food in Seoul and all over Korea. Asian markets also sell them in their frozen or fresh steamed sections.
Even more flavor varieties can be found in the ingredients used to fill the dumplings. Traditional dumplings were filled with minced or ground pork, tofu, green onions and an egg to help keep it all together. An almost infinite number of combinations can be made with ground beef, shrimp, ground chicken, ground turkey, Korean chives, onions, mushrooms, water chestnuts, sweet potato noodles (like the kind used to make "japchae"), and even chopped kimchi.
However you like your mandu, different kinds can be found in the frozen sections of even non-Asian markets near you.