Tucked into the far corner of one of the area’s most interesting food courts is something we’ve yet to see in the South Sound: a mandoo stand.
Mandoo, or mandu, are softball-sized Korean dumplings. They’re doughy relatives of Chinese hum bao, steamed doughy buns that are paper white and usually filled with a saucy barbecued pork.
House of Mandoo opened Sept. 16 and offers a micro menu of three kinds of mandoo. And that’s it.
Well, besides a dipping sauce.
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The stand is inside the Lakewood Korean grocery store Pal-Do World, which is home to a collection of restaurants, including the French-Korean bakery Boulangerie (at the front of the store), as well as the Japanese-Korean restaurant Sushi Niwa, the Korean restaurant Nak Won and Chinese restaurant Peking Garden.
The mandoo are made by restaurant owner Keuho Fortney, who learned the recipe from a Korean chef who developed the mandoo at Fortney’s step-father’s Federal Way restaurant, DaeBak Wang Mandoo.
His step-father has since sold that restaurant, but the recipes live on with Fortney. He operates House of Mandoo with two friends who previously worked at his family’s restaurant, Kyle Quichocho and Benjamin Diep. Another friend, Jacob Collins, recently joined the staff.
They’re all in their early 20s and this is their first business. Fortney credits his mother with help getting them started.
If you’ve yet to try mandoo it’s a less doughy version of hum bao. At House of Mandoo, the steamed dumplings were huge. Some mandoo restaurants will fry the dumplings, but they’re steamed here with a simple soy-based sauce for dipping. They are $2 each.
Chinese bao are typically made with a sticky, cottony dough, but Korean mandoo are a little less sticky and a lot less cottony. The mandoo dough here tasted dense, with a light springy resistance. Tearing into the buns, a puff of steam escaped. Let the bun cool a bit before piling in. The roof of your mouth will thank you.
House of Mandoo’s three versions are pork, kimchi and red bean.
The pork and kimchi were made with the same doughy wrapper. The pork version, sometimes referred to as wang mandoo, was filled with slippery glass noodles, scallions, chives and a peppery ground pork sausage that reminded me of the filling you’d find inside shumai, but looser and with a more pleasing texture.
The kimchi version is the same as the pork, with the addition of the fermented spicy cabbage readily found in Lakewood’s Korean dining district.
The red bean was a sweeter take on the bun with a thick filling of cooked-down, slightly sludgy beans that were modestly sweetened. If you’ve had mochi, you’ll find the filling familiar. The doughy wrapper of the red bean mandoo carried a speckled purple tinge and tasted earthier than the pork or kimchi bun dough.
I asked Fortney if he had plans to add the soups that his step-father offered, but he said that for now, he’s micro focusing on one specialty and that’s mandoo.
“Someday we’d like to franchise,” said Fortney.
I asked if locals have discovered his stand yet. Knowing that mandoo isn’t easy to find here, I wondered if diners were asking a lot of questions about the Korean dumplings. Fortney said his customers, so far, have been older Koreans who live in the area.
“Our Korean customers know mandoo, and they’re really happy to see it,” said Fortney, who added, “They tell me, ‘The last time I had it was in Korea.’ I’ve had elderly people come in and tear up and say they remember what it was like when they were in Korea in the winter time eating it. It’s cool hearing that and thinking my food can bring them that kind of memory.”
House of Mandoo
Where: Inside Pal-Do World, 9701 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood.
Find: Three kinds of mandoo, priced $2 each.