I know, Incheon's Chinatown is famous for jjajangmyeon the black bean sauced noodles, but we just weren't in the mood when we found ourselves in town. Perhaps I'm casting aspersions, but I just feel like the texture of sauce and noodles is going to be cloying and the same mouthfeel over and over again. I know I should give it a try, and perhaps I shall, but the day we were in Incheon all I really wanted was some dumplings.
I had read a blog post about Incheon's Chinatown that mentioned some place that had oven baked dumplings. Consider this the planted seed. But Google maps and Naver did me no favors in showing us the way to this intriguing culinary delight. So as we wandered the streets of Chinatown growing ever more hungry, I just knew the only way I could be sated was with dumplings. Any kind of dumplings.
I did a quick search for "lunch" in the area and saw an image of dumplings and the name Dadabog. They had really good reviews and so we wound our way there.
At first we weren't sure we were looking at the right place. There was no sign to speak of and when we entered the door, it was as if we had interrupted the local ladies' lunch. It's a brightly lit space with several tables, the menu in Chinese framed on the wall, tv on and photos/knick knacks of cats in the window. The four women who were in the place all stopped eating their dumplings and noodles and looked up at us. I was ready to turn around and leave (I assumed they were closed) but one of the ladies motioned her arm to sit down. The three other women commenced eating and excitedly talking. The woman who motioned us to sit, sat back down and continued to dig into her dumpling as well.
Zac and I just sat there kind of looking around. We were served some tea and asked what we wanted. Well, we assumed that's what was happening. We shared no common language with the woman asking but we were able to indicate we wanted one order of steamed dumplings - no idea what was in them and no idea of how many we were going to get. All we knew is that she motioned in a crescent moon shape and said the words "steamed" or "fried". We selected steamed and were set.
Some furtive glances from the other ladies were given, but the woman who took our order sat back down and continued eating. They all continued gleefully chatting. We sat and wondered if we were going to get our order - was there anybody in the kitchen? After what seemed like a lifetime, but what was probably just 10 minutes, we received our bamboo steamer with eight of the most beautiful and perfectly steamed dumplings I've seen in a while.
We each eagerly grabbed at a dumpling and dipped it into the vinegar/hot pepper/garlic sauce that was provided. Oh my god! They were hot. Careful not to burn our mouths or faces we were both happy as can be. Though my happiness was tempered by the fact that these were indeed pork dumplings (I had assumed this would be the case) I continued to eat them with gusto. I don't generally like to eat meat and I really don't like pork, but these dumplings were incredible. The pork was tender and light in flavor. The dumpling casing was chewy and not tough which sometimes happens when they've been sitting around a while. We both quickly made our way through the eight dumplings and decided we wanted more.
We had spied some huge bao looking buns on the women's tables and we set our sights on those. Again, using pantomime as our mode of communication we settled on an order of "king" dumplings. Again, no idea what was going to be inside nor of the quantity. We assumed we would get one, but were so happy to see an order of three incredibly fluffy dough dumplings sitting in front of us within minutes. I bit into one. The wrapping was doughy and chewy and just perfect. I was rewarded with some cabbage, glass noodles, mushrooms and tofu inside. I was so happy that there didn't seem to be any pork inside, but then, there it was. But I was not to be deterred. I had already eaten some pork in the other dumpling so I was going to continue on. These were too good to pass up. My belly started to fill with the doughy goodness of the "king" dumplings and reluctantly I was done with my portion of this treat.
The four ladies continued to talk and eat the entire time we were in the restaurant. Their presence and activity leant an air of being in someone's kitchen over lunch. Even though I did feel like I was interrupting, it didn't deter me from feeling so comfortable and blissfully happy with our choice of lunch. It was as if these women had seen some foreigners walking by and invited us in to try their amazing handiwork. This is the best kind of restaurant experience and one I hope to have again soon.