Sunday, March 22, 2009

The little dumpling who travelled across a continent

When I think of Central Asia, my mind goes blank. Nomadic people on horses in dry dusty land, but that's about it. That was what aroused my interest in browsing through Kazakh/Kyrgyz/Uzbeki cuisine. To my surprise, on the list stood Manti, a little dumpling which I was going to experiment as a Turkish dish. Somehow this innocent dumpling made it all the way across the entire continent from Korea to Turkey.

Turkish manti with garlicky yoghurt and red pepper (recipe).


Apparently, Manti (or mantu or mantou) is just a loose name for boiled or steamed dumplings of meat mixtures, while the way it is served varies. The one shown here is Turkish, smothered with yoghurt. In Afghanistan, it is served with chatney. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, it may be made with horse meat and pumpkin, and sheep's fat from the tail is absolutely essential. For a nomad's hard day's work, nothing beats fat.

Tiny Turkish Manti requires a lot of labor.

The recipe calls for ground beef, but with ground lamb they taste much better - and for a few in Central Asia, the only way to go. I haven't tried the other variations, but the result was really good, it may be worth it to labor through folding these tiny dumplings again. Still, it's unfair that it takes half an hour to make and five minutes to eat! Luckily, the Central Asian version is bigger in size, so that will help.

Manti is like a great ancient lunch pack, made for nomads. They would fold a few dumplings and carry them over great distances, then plop down and boil them over a campfire. It's a luxury to even stop; legend (or at least one Uzbeki friend) says the Mongols ate while horseriding. It must have been messy eating plov that way.

Did Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde prepare manti the morning before raids?

Somehow, manti made its way across to Anatolia during the Mongol Empire. And there it grew into a traditional Turkish dish. It's always interesting for me to discover similar foods in various places, like when I asked a Ugandan colleague what's a popular snack in Uganda, she said, "Samosa."

References / recipes:
1. Homemade Manti, from Allrecipes [1]
2. Manti, from Wikipedia [2]
3. Je Mange La Ville [3]
4. Worldwide Gourmet [4]
5. I Love Turkish Food [5]
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