It is, of course, natural that as countries interact, they exchange traditions. But when I was doing research on Azerbaijani, Afghan, and Turkish cuisines, I was surprised to see the number of dishes that the countries still had in common – and most of all, that the similarities did not seem to be limited to their region. In fact, many of their local specialties seemed to exist in many countries across Asia! The most striking example was one of my all-time favorite dishes, the mantu (mandu, manti) dumpling, which once traveled with Afghan and Turkic people on the Silk Road from the Mongol Empire, and made its way into local cuisines across the whole continent.
Because the fact is that this delicious dumpling exists all across the Asian continent – among the Turkic people in Central Asia, the Islamic people of China, various Caucasian peoples, and in Jeddah and Mecca in Saudi Arabia. For example, the dumpling is famously known as the mantu in Afghanistan, and as the manti in Turkey and Uzbekistan. And of course, comes in different versions across other Asian countries, including the Korean version – the mandu. It also resembles the Japanese gyoza, the Chinese jiaozi, Mongolian buuz, Tibetan momo, the Bosnian klepe, and the Georgian and Armenian khinkali.
Although its definite origins remain uncertain, the mantu is believed to have originated in the Mongol Empire in the 13th-14th centuries. Stored frozen or dry, it then traveled with tradesmen across Asia, and became incorporated into various local cuisines.
The dumplings of today vary slightly in preparation and serving (see more details below). For example, the Central Asian manti, found in Uzbek, Kazakh, Tajik and Kyrgyz cuisines, is usually larger in size, while the Turkish one is traditionally served very small. Here are some more details on the preparation and cooking of the mantu.
Preparation and cooking
The most commonly used dough is prepared similarly to eggless pasta, made from water and flour and kneaded until perfectly smooth. When boiled or steamed, the dough becomes quite slippery, and when fried, it gets a nice crunchy texture.
What is unique about the mantu (mandu, manti) is that it is filled with minced meats, spiced with herbs that vary based on the location. The meat is normally either lamb or beef, but in some parts of Turkey, goose or chicken are also used.
In Korean cuisines, the dumpling may also be partly filled with tofu, and in Central Asia, with pumpkin or squash.
Almost all cuisines also have a version of the dumpling which is served empty.
The folding of the dumpling
After the dough and filling have been separately prepared, it is time to fold the dough around the filling.
Depending on locations and family traditions, the dumplings may be shaped in different styles. Here are three examples:
The dumplings are nearly almost served steamed or boiled, but in some cuisines (such as the Korean and Uzbek ones), the dumpling may also be fried.
Serving and sauces
Although the sauces vary depending on traditions and locations, the most common ones include a red sauce, based on oil, onions, and tomatoes (sometimes with lentils or beans), and a white sauce, based on yogurt (and often lots of garlic).
However, in East Asian cuisines, the dumpling is normally served with soy and chili sauces, and sometimes with kimchi. In some Central Asian cuisines, it may also be served with butter, onion rings, vinegar and hot chilis. In Afghanistan, it is often served with a chutney, lemon juice or stew, and the tomato sauce frequently includes minced beef. In Turkey, semac or mint is sometimes sprinkled over the dumplings in traditional Ottoman style. And in Armenia, it may be served in or alongside a soup.
It is traditional to serve the dish with the dumplings almost “swimming” in sauce.
If you want to attempt to make some of these delicious dumplings by yourself, you might find this video a helpful guide!