My grandmother makes her mandoo 100% from scratch, and the whole process is a beautiful execution of labor and love. The filling consists of meat and vegetables, each purchased at their respective specialty markets. Efficiency is no issue – she takes the bus to see Mr. Butcher Man on Irving for the best quality meat, and then she treks over to the market on Geary, that one with the good produce. For assemblage, she combines and seasons the meat (pork and beef), chops and cleans the vegetables, mixes them in with the meat to make the filling, stuffs the filling into made-from-scratch wrappers, and seals them good and tight with a solid, yet decorative pinch. The special part of her process (which makes all the difference) is the most arduous – the meat is hand chopped. Apparently ground meat is out of the question as a grind is too fine and thus flavor is lost. Perhaps more importantly, it’s essential to start with a premium cut.
My grandmother is a food purist – she strives for the best of the best homemade-everything, no matter how labor intensive the process – no compromise. Her mandoo is revered in my family, and what she goes through to make these batches of plump little dumplings is truly a rare process among today’s crazy, time-pressed generation. When I think about how customs evolve and dilute over time, I realize how critical it is to pass down to generations to preserve deeply important and sentimental traditions. So, when I was at home a few weeks ago, my mom, dad and I decided to attempt just that. Though we didn’t hand-make the wrappers (which when you’re making over 100 dumplings, feels impossible) we did everything else. I’m still congratulating myself for having handled the meat dicing – quite a feat as I never thought I could touch cold, raw meat, let alone hack into it – but I did it and was proud to contribute to what my grandmother might say is the most critical part of the process.
The final product was delicious…in taste, yes, but more so from the knowledge that we attempted to preserve a tradition and recreate a masterpiece. While I wish she could have been there, I now have an excuse to go through the whole process again with the original Master, and maybe I’ll even get to make the wrappers.