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Posted on May 21, 2008 | 26 comments

Korean mandu bento lunch

Korean mandu bento lunch

You don’t have to have gourmet leftovers on hand for a quick but satisfying bento lunch. Here’s a simple vegetarian lunch that I threw together from frozen foods and pantry staples.

Korean mandu bento lunch for preschooler

Frozen fruit and jellies for packed lunchesContents of preschooler lunch: Rectangular Korean vegetarian dumplings (pan-fried mandu, like potstickers with a crispy bottom and soft steamed top) and dipping sauce, edamame, strawberry and a shelf-stable mini pudding cup (Kiku Petit Pudding, like a little flan or creme caramel, found here online and in Cost Plus World Market’s retail stores in the U.S.). The pudding cups can be frozen and used as edible ice packs in bento lunches for maximum packed lunch food safety. I like the Assi brand “Cooked Vegetable Dumplings” (calorie info here) that I picked up at Kukje, a large local Korean market (store info at my list of favorite SF Bay Area ethnic markets). They cook and cool quickly because they’re flat and thin, and you get maximum crispy surface area on the bottom. Perfect on mornings when I don’t have nice leftovers ready to go in the fridge.

Mini cooling racks and panMorning prep time: 12 minutes, using frozen dumplings and edamame. In the morning I pan-fried & steamed the frozen, store-bought dumplings in a mini frying pan, and lightly simmered the edamame in the hot pan afterwards while the dumplings cooled on a mini cooling rack. I also use the mini cooling rack and pan in my convection toaster oven for fast meal prep; they were only US$1.50 per piece at Daiso (Japanese dollar store with branches internationally, additional store info at my San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide to bento gear). (Full details here with speed packing info.)


Pre-filled sauce containers for speedy lunch packingPacking: Letting the dumplings cool down on a little cooling rack before packing is the trick to retaining their crispy bottom; if I had packed these while still hot they would have quickly become soggy in the closed-up box. I used a pre-filled sauce container with the dipping sauce to save time; when you’re making up dipping sauce for dumplings, make a slightly larger batch and fill a number of sauce containers with it and store (in the refrigerator or at room temperature, depending upon the perishability of the sauce). Take advantage of colorful sauce containers to add some fun and color balance to your meal. The lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with both sub-containers removed to accommodate the long dumplings, and I threw in a little plastic spoon for the mini pudding cup. I put an oshibori damp hand towel in my three-year-old’s Cars lunch bag because he eats everything except the pudding cup with his hands.

Oshibori wet hand towel sets for packed lunchesVerdict: Big thumbs up; Bug ate the entire lunch at preschool, even all of the edamame! He was proud of himself for being able to finish the whole bento — I’m happy that I’m getting better at gauging his appetite.

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  1. Yum, I’m just discovering the love that is mandu/mandoo ;)

  2. Biggie, you’ve made a Kukje addict of me. I’ve been three times with coworkers (who also love the place) and am planning on dragging my husband there this weekend so we can stock up on food, sauces and Lock-n-Locks. There’s a Korean supermarket in the east bay but it isn’t nearly as good as Kukje!

  3. the dumplings look so good!! the whole bento looks so colorful!

  4. We have 2 Korean grocery stores here in Cairns. That’s where I buy my kimchi from! I will need to look for Mandu now that I know what it is and where to find it! It looks yummy!

  5. I do the sauce trick too. It is so easy to throw in some soy with my onigiri lunches that I otherwise probably wouldn’t enjoy.

    I need to start hunting out these delicious asian treats!! I haven’t been able to find half of the things you use as staples at my local supermarket as yet. Bug is lucky… I wish you would make me lunches every day!!

  6. THank you so much for your site…I don’t have school age kids yet, but my son has celiac, so I”ll have to be top=notch at making him lunches in the next few years! Wanted to let you (and your midwestern readers) know that I found some nice locking containers at my local Meijer, 500 mL with two removable bowls inside, only about$4. The brand name is “4 Side Locked Lyd Box”. They look amazingly similar to the Lock%lock boxes, except that the rubber seals are orange instead of blue. Was sooo happy I picked up two!! I’m in Indiana, and the local asian stored do great with food but not so much with housewares. I want to visit SF again, just to go to Japantown again and shop!!

  7. I am so jealous. I was just telling hubby last night that he needs to get a job on the west coast somewhere. The closest Korean market to me is a good hour away. The closets(and only) Korean resturant is again, an hour away…and I supposedly live in a city!!
    (grumble grumble)

  8. @2 from KittyPants: Glad you like Kukje! Their prices aren’t necessarily the cheapest, but they’ve got great selection of both food and housewares.

  9. @1 from Yvo: I get a kick out of the frozen mandu flavors I’ve seen so far — kimchi & pork, etc. Mmm, Korean food!

  10. @4 from Alison: I haven’t seen these made with rice flour, but then again I haven’t had GF in mind when I was shopping. If I see them with rice flour wrapper I’ll let you know!

  11. @9 from Kim: don’t feel bad, I live on a rock in the middle of the ocean, we do have one Asian market on island, but it mostly caters to cruise ship crew from the Philippines and while they have an okay selection of stuff, They don’t have a lot of staples. Most of it is grab and go stuff for the guys on board! :( I feel your hurt.

  12. @6 from Cherie: I didn’t know there were Korean stores in Cairns, but then again when I was there last I was more focused on the diving than the food!

  13. @7 from Metanoia: Ha ha, I’m not sure how well our bentos would ship to you! :-)

  14. @8 from Christine: Thanks for the shopping tip on the knockoff Lock & Lock boxes at Meijer! I’d be interested in your feedback after you’ve used them for a while. How secure are the seals, and how easy to open/close?

  15. @9 from Kim: Do you know if there’s a big Chinese or pan-Asian market around you, even if there’s not a Korean market nearby? Sometimes I find good Korean things at those types of places.

  16. The only problem with reading your blog is that I have no idea how to go to an Asian market and ask for things. I did go once but didn’t know how to tell what was what. Do you have any tips for newbies? I lived in Japan for two years when I was a toddler and I crave these flavors!

  17. Oh and I love your blog – you do a great job!

  18. christine — i don’t know where you live, but whole foods has a LARGE gluten free section of frozens, baking mixes, waffles, etc. my dad was diagnosed with celiac 6 years ago so i’m getting good at spotting stuff. :-)

  19. I used to go to The Soul Restaurant when I lived in El Paso Texas USA. Now I go to CoreaCorea Restaurant here in Cairns Queenland Australia. I just had kimchi soup today for lunch and man was it good! I don’t get it very often though cuz it’s a bit expensive.

    I found out today though that the restaurant will also sell me kimchi in 500g tubs for $5.00! So that’s a good one-stop shop for me now!

    It’s just up to me to get to the Korean grocery stores now to look for Mantu! I’ll see what flavours they have too!

  20. @21 from Cherie: Ha ha, the Soul (not Seoul) Restaurant? Punny name. $5.00 (AU? US?) for 500g of kimchi is a good price indeed — nice find!

  21. OMG! Now I’m hungry! I luuuuv all the boxes and stuff you can buy. Unfortunately I have to shop this online, and I’m a littlebit scared to do that. =oD. Money have a tendency to just fly away online. :LOL:

    Anyway, I got som suuuper tips on how to make exiting lunchmeals for my children, and maby they will eat more.

    Hope my english is understandable, I’m norwegian and don’t write english much. :)

    Heidi

  22. Hello, Biggie!
    I’ve another ‘tip’ from one local to another…
    Have you ever tried Marina Supermarket or Ranch 99? I think those are two potential candidates for the Pan-Asian markets, they’re NOT in SF (I’m a Peninsula brat) but I believe there are Marina’s in San Mateo and Ranch 99 in Daly City (close to you) and Foster City. Personally, I like Marina better, but they are pretty similar. I think Marina has better prices, but I’ve never really compared. There’s also another ‘Asian’ supermarket called Pacific Supermarket, it’s more “Asian” in terms of the Asia continent, as they stock many Filipino foods, but there is a good selection of frozen Chinese foods (like potstickers, buns, etc.) Ranch 99/Marina are more of Asian as in Chinese/Japanese, while Pacific is more of Filipino Asian. There’s a Pacific in Daly City and South San Francisco (both [relatively] close to SF). Although I usually shop exclusively at Trader Joe’s, I go to Pacific for produce (my father is a fabulous produce shopper–he only buys quality AND cheap, and he shops at Pacific for produce–good enough for him, good enough for me!)Give it a shot?
    PS-There’s also a Chinese restaurant around here that sells their own frozen shumai and wonton–perfect for bento! I’ll dig out the address and comment later.

  23. @24 from Heidi: Your English is perfectly understandable; don’t stress over it! Please feel free to leave comments — you’re absolutely welcome here no matter what your English level is. I totally hear you about the money flying away via online shopping; it’s good to be cautious with that and look for bargains.

  24. @25 from Kou: Thanks for the tip about Marina, Ranch 99 and Pacific markets. I’ve been to Ranch 99 before, but not Marina or Pacific. I’ll be sure to check them out (twist my arm!).

  25. Hi Emma-

    I’m about an hour away from a Wild Oats in Indianapolis. When I have to take my son to the Dr. there I always stop at Wild Oats and the Trader Joe’s to stock up on GF goodies. The Meijer and Kroger here in town have enough gluten free items to keep me busy experimenting for awhile! I”m also lucky enough to have two small locally owned natural foods stores in town, so I have plenty of variety. I actually visit our asian market a lot for cheap rice flour and rice noodles. Unfortunately, lots of sauces and condiments from japan that I”d like to use contain wheat, so I’m stuck with making my own using the San-J soy in everything. try finding a wheat free oyster sauce, it’s hard! I’m actually going to try making my own this summer.

    Oh Biggie, can I come visit? (just kidding). I remember the summer before I had kids, DH and I spent the week in SF, and had a blast in Japantown. I bought a tetsubin teapot in the shop in the ‘mall’, and we stuffed ourselves silly at the ‘sushi boat’ place. We’ll have to go back in a few years with the kids!