Food: Nicely Spiced

When the tiny, teal-colored storefront on Main Street in Greenfield had a “closed” sign in its window last month, my heart sank.

I’d always meant to try Manna House Korean Restaurant, but I’d never gotten around to it. Luckily for me, I was wrong: it had not closed at all, but relocated to a sleek new space next to Magpie Pizza on Bank Row. I headed there the next day.

The tangy, funky, spicy, soul-satisfying flavors of Korean food always tend to startle me—at first. After the first bite, though, I’m won over by the perfect taste combinations they create. The cooking at Manna House is no different; the ingredients are surprising and familiar all at once. They’re woven into great meals that give the restaurant a place on the growing list of good Asian food sources in Greenfield.

The menu is the right size, with just enough options to warrant a few return trips. The description of each item is like a little poem. Some are especially intriguing, like the one for duk mandu gook: “Dense rice cake petites ponder in the depths of this dumpling stew.” I’ll be trying that one on my next visit.

The traditional Korean menu items, much like the basic dishes of other ethnic cuisines such as Thai, Chinese, and even French, originated from ingredients that the average peasant used on a regular basis. In Korea, they are often mixed into deliciously spicy and pungent soups. Thinly sliced vegetables, sprouts, rice and an egg are piled together in a broth to make a classic and delicious bi bim bap. At the Manna House, it’s done just right and topped with a nutty, spicy sauce.

Another soup, yuk gae jang, combines shredded beef and vegetables in a red broth that is both spicy and fishy. The haemul pajun, a squid and scallion pancake appetizer whose colorful green and purple-white ingredients poke out of a dinner-plate-sized serving, glistens with oil. The kal bi, the menu assures us, is “our most delicious offering.” It’s a no-frills plate of grilled short ribs that have been marinated in dark, sweet fruit sauce with a fermented taste.

The space is simple and elegant, and the smells of fish sauce and soy sauce waft out onto Bank Row when the door is open. The interior seats many more than the original space on Main Street—possibly a challenging setup for the sole chef and owner, Hyunsoon Lee, a short, cheery woman who has run the restaurant for all its eight years in business. But she doesn’t seem very worried.

Lee wears a red apron while she works with piles of colorful vegetables and sauces in the warm kitchen at the back of the new, modern dining room. Her son and daughter both wait tables and help in the kitchen. With a big smile, she explains that it’s a lot of work. “Too, too, too, much work,” she admits, shaking her head. But then she goes back to dicing meat and stirring steamy pots, and she seems right at home.

Her husband, Dwight Zeager, explained how the restaurant came to be: “One day a friend of hers told her about the space available on Main Street. I knew nothing about it. She took me there to show it to me—she had always been a good cook, so when she said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘Let’s go for it!'” Zeager works weekends as a helper and waiter (and is “much slower” in the kitchen, says Lee with a grin).

Korean families come from around the area to eat Lee’s cooking. The region has a modest population of Korean residents; the Korean church at the end of Main Street in Greenfield has a membership of 70 who hail from as far south as Springfield.

“We cook Korean every night at home, but when we want to go out, we come here,” a woman from the Brattleboro area remarked on my recent visit. “It’s great that the focus is on Korean food—no Chinese, no Japanese, only Korean.”

From wontons to soup to noodles, Lee makes a great meal. Stop on Bank Row in Greenfield next time you’re out and put some spice or tang into your evening.

Author: Rebecca Rideout

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