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[Photographs: Mike Gebert]

Joong Boo Market, a Korean grocer tucked into a corner of Kimball and the Kennedy expressway, is one of the city's food wonderlands—though it's one that requires a certain amount of steely-eyed gumption to enjoy, starting with the cramped parking lot, where the normal laws of Chicago parking are suspended for a manic foreign city's free-for-all. Inside, the lunch counter offers a wide range of interesting Korean items, but with relatively little guidance from the signage; the kindly gal at the cash register and your fellow patrons are more likely to spot you for the confused non-Korean you (probably) are and help you get to tasty things.

It just got a little more accessible, though, with the opening just a few weeks ago of a dumpling (wang mandoo) stand next to the entrance. In the tiny metal and glass booth, a couple of cooks turn out exactly three items, all priced at $2 each: Pork Wang Dumpling (Contains Vegetables), Kimchi Spicy Wang Dumpling (Contains Pork), and Black Rice Bun w/Redbean (Contains Milk).

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My first guess was that they would be frozen items from the store, much like Ikea feeding you the same Swedish meatballs they sell by the package, but no—you can plainly see them filling and sealing the dumplings inside the little stand, then steaming them inside giant steamers, two feet wide and stacked ten high inside. In fact, everything here is giant—$2 might seem high for a mandoo, but not when it's the size of a softball (which makes the chopsticks you get with it comically inadequate).

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To judge by what people tried to order when I went, the black rice bun with sweet red bean paste seems the most popular item, which meant by 12:30 it was sold out. So instead I acquired one each of the savory buns. The pork mandoo, which is round and comes together at the top like a soup dumpling, is simple and hearty, with shredded pork and lots of finely chopped cabbage or some other vegetable.

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More interesting is the kimchi dumpling, shaped like a football, with finely chopped kimchi and hot sauce radiating a powerful cabbagey funk that hung over my trashcan long after I'd thrown the container with its last few crumbs away.

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There are many more wonderful things to eat at Joong Boo in the regular cafe, but if you're a first-timer, these hearty, super-sized dumplings at the front entrance should help fortify you with the strength to investigate in depth inside.


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