Eatery gets expansive with mandoo


POSTED: Wednesday, September 02, 2009

After a recent fashion show, I posted photos to my blog. A so-called “;fashion lover”; from New York then commented that “;Hawaii people don't know fashion.”;

That's one big generalization and no doubt fighting words to those who might answer back that New York people don't know fashion. I would bet that a large percentage of those making a living in the fashion capital grew up elsewhere, including, yes, Hawaii.

I bring this up because, on another level, I do understand where that poster was coming from. Although, as digital citizens fortuitously sited at the crossroad between our nation and Asia, and we are able to take in influences around the globe, there is no greater influence than what we see on the street around us. It can start to look uniformly dull and lull anyone into complacency.

Same with food. We see the same dishes all the time, and while some creative chefs are willing to push the boundaries of established presentations, for the most part teriyaki beef is always teriyaki beef, just as mandoo is always mandoo - meat and vegetable filling in a rounded flour wrap, folded once over and pinched closed. But who says that's how it's always gotta be made?

Not Mr. Mandoo.

The small takeout kitchen opened a little more than a month ago on Piikoi Street and is home to wang, or king mandoo, of the sort that the attorney who called my attention to the place described as common to the back streets of Seoul, which I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting.

Borrowing from the Chinese, these mandoo were originally known as Shanghai mandoo, filled with ingredients that had more appeal to the populace.

Mr. Mandoo will be of great interest particularly to those trying to get full on a small budget, because these manapua-size “;dumplings”; will fill you up, at $2.75 to $2.99 each.

THE GLOSSY, bready, sweetened flour bun is comparable to manapua, but there's no guessing as to what's inside these buns. It's all laid out for you in the menu, and all the recipes are the same. Only the sauce separates the kalbi mandoo from the kim chee and the spicy, which is more fiery than the kim chee.

Although we think of kalbi as being synonymous with beef here, these recipes all start with ground pork, cabbage, onion, organic tofu and sweet potato noodles. The ingredients are all fresh and vibrant, so they don't turn to mush inside the bun.

The only variation to these basic ingredients comes with the ground shrimp replacing the pork in the shrimp and vegetable mandoo. There's just enough shrimp to give it a sweet cast similar to fishcake.

You can add more flavor to any of the mandoo through a basic mandoo sauce that combines soy sauce and vinegar or a dense red sweet-sour sauce. Both work well with the kogi and kalbi versions. The spicier and moist kim chee and spicy mandoo need no assist.

I loved the fillings but could have eaten less bun. I've never been a great fan of the manapua, a local variation of the more delicate Chinese baos. Even so, on weekend dim sum outings, I never order the baos, either. For me, thin wrappers are preferred for cradling the juicy dumplings as they tease with their translucent view of the contents within. I wish their breadier cousins could be that supporting player instead of vying for main-attraction status.

I found the easiest way to manage the colossal mandoo was to simply cut each in half and eat them like sandwiches. In this case, you don't want to add too much of the mandoo sauce because it'll end up dripping over your wrist.

If you visit with a friend, it's possible to sample most of the flavors at once by ordering two meal sets at $6.50 for two mix-and-match mandoo plus a choice of a drink or miso soup. It's fast, filling and inexpensive, for wide appeal to those who love the flavors of Korea.


Nadine Kam's restaurant review appears every Wednesday in the Star-Bulletin. Restaurants are reviewed anonymously. Meals are paid by the Star-Bulletin.





        436 A Piikoi St. (between Kona and Waimanu) » 589-0555

Food ;*;*;*;1/2
        Service ;*;*;*
        Ambience ;*;*
        Value ;*;*;*;*


Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays


Cost: About $10 to $14 for two


Ratings compare similar restaurants:
        ;*;*;*;* - excellent
        ;*;*;* - very good; exceeds expectations
        ;*;* - average
        ;* - below average.