10 (Fri) September 2010
-Hoehyeon, Jung, Seoul, Korea-
Gamegol (가메골) is a Korean restaurant. Specializes in steamed dumplings (mandu). Not so much a restaurant as it is a cramped kitchen filled with rows of old women who stand bent over counters and make the dumplings by hand. Located along one of the bigger alleys in Namdaemun Market (about a 30-second walk from Exit 5 of Hoehyeon Station). The dumplings come in either the standard or spicy variety; that’s the extent of the menu. Customers wait in a line that wraps around the block. No tables. Roving employees enforce a strict rule against loitering around neighboring storefronts. Once the dumplings are obtained, customers must walk a few meters down the alley before eating them, usually by hand, straight out of the box, or bag. The dumplings are sold in increments of 5, starting at 5, for 2,000 won. An order of 5 or 10 will be dumped in a black plastic bag. Orders of 15 and up are placed in a box with a handle. And just to keep things simple, there are no discounts, no matter how large the order (e.g., an order for 100 will be 40,000 won).
The place happens to be next door to the eyeglass store that I’ve been going to since sometime around 1995. I was at the store to buy a pair of glasses for my wife on the occasion of our 4th wedding anniversary. I don’t remember when I first discovered the dumpling shop, whether it had been there all that time or if it moved in later, but I’ve been a die-hard fan for the past few years. Other than the fact that I don’t have much reason to go to Namdaemun very often, maybe 2 or 3 times a year for eyeglass-related issues, I’m further prevented from partaking of the dumplings on most trips because of the lines of customers, which I’m not really willing to endure, even for the best dumplings in the country.
These mandu are the best of this kind that I’ve ever had in my life. In contrast to the more typical thin-skinned mandu, the ones here are made with a thick, soft, bread-like shell containing a chunky and well-seasoned mix of meat, typically pork, along with chopped onions, green onions, maybe bean sprouts or shredded cabbage, sometimes tofu and glass noodles, which are steamed and eaten as a stand-alone dish. Perfection.