For me, homesickness manifests as hunger. We’ve been rewatching old Eat Your Kimchi videos lately, and invariably ended up missing Korea. Consequently, I had to get some mandu.Mandu are Korean dumplings, similar to China’s dim sum. Korean dumplings are filled with a mixture of pork, glass noodles, cabbage, green onions, and (in the best case scenario) insanely spicy kimchi. By my rubric, a good dumpling makes you cry—not from ecstasy so much as mouth-scorching heat.
I am a mandu addict, especially when served in the special winter soup tteokmanduguk. Though more traditional, mandu fall roughly in the same category as tteokbokki and kimbap. They’re all inexpensive, snacky junk food. My Korean friends are tolerantly baffled by my mandu obsession; imagine if you hosted a foreign visitor who only wanted to eat hot dogs. On the upside, it gave my friends the opportunity to practice American slang: cheap date.
Milwaukee’s ethnic food scene is surreally good, but it’s been impossible to find real mandu. Every time I order dumplings I get potstickers. Koreans do not fry their dumplings. Supposedly, these are Chinese, though I can’t attest for their accuracy. Potstickers contain nothing but a glomp of pork—no veggies, no kimchi. They make me cry, but it’s the wrong kind of tears.
Then actual Koreans recommended an east-side restaurant named Seoul. We went with empty stomachs and high expectations. Seoul serves Hansik, traditional Korean food. The menu ranged from galbi to bibimbap. Unasked, the waitress brought kimchi and banchan (tiny side dishes). There was a doorbell at each table for calling the server. Things were looking good.
I ordered dumplings as an appetizer and dumpling soup for the entrée.
My soup, the kimchi, Sam’s dak galbi (spicy chicken), even the weird Korean gameshow playing silently on the wide-screen TV—everything was perfect. (We are pretending that appetizer didn't happen.) As the meal progressed we dislocated, slipped back into Korean words and habits, reassumed our masterful chopsticks stills and soju tolerance.
I’d completely forgotten we weren’t in Chungju when the waitress reappeared, asked about our camera in a jarring Midwestern accent, and dropped off the bill. We paid in US dollars and stepped out the door into Milwaukee.
Food is its own kind of travel, one I can’t get enough of. Plane tickets are expensive, so if you can’t afford to take your whole body overseas just take your mouth. You may not find mandu in Milwaukee, but you can still experience a taste of Korea at Seoul.
Seoul Korean Restaurant is located at 2178 N Prospect Ave in Milwaukee. It a great neighborhood for international cuisine, and also a fun place to find post-dinner drinks.