ISSUE 1: SOLIDARITY | SEPTEMBER 2022 | ÖZGE SAMANCI | Traces of mantı throughout history ①

Traces of mantı throughout history ①

Dumplings, which are called ‘mantı’ in Turkish, is a popular dish that finds its place in Turkey with a variety of names: mantı, dry mantı, kulak aşı, piruhi (pierogi), hıngel (khinkali), şiş börek (dumpling soup), Tatar böreği (savoury pastry in Tartar style), cimcik (very small dumplings), tray mantı, Kandilli mantı (dumplings stuffed with chicken and rice)...

Dumpling, Aydın Demir || Photographer: Nejdet Kaygı

From mantou and tutumashi to mantı and tutmaç

The word mantou[1] first appeared in written sources in a 3rd century poem from the Han Dynasty period in China. Poet Shu Hsi tells us, ‘The beginning of the three spring months / At the junction of Yin and Yang / When cold air has been dispelled / It is warm but not sweltering. / At this time / For feasts and banquets the man-t’ou should be served.'[2] Although we cannot ascertain the exact flavour or ingredients of this dish, we know that it was a pastry dish stuffed with a savoury or sweet filling and steamed. After this poem, there was no mention of mantou in written sources for a long time, in fact, not until the 14th century. A Chinese medical treatise written in the 1300s by physician to the Chinese emperor Hu Sihui, an Uyghur of Mongolian origin, contained two dumpling recipes: the first was for steamed mantou where the dough is filled with minced meat and folded into the shape of a flower, and the second for tutumashi, in which tiny bundles of dough filled with roasted minced meat are boiled in broth and served with garlic yoghurt.[3] These two recipes bear witness to the similarity and close relationship between the modern dish tutmaç and Tatar pastry (Tatar böreği), which we will see later in Ottoman cookbooks.

Mataz (Sinop and its neighbourhood) Musa Dağdeviren, 'Seven recipes from forgotten folk dishes', Food and Culture, no. 44 || Photographer: Necdet Kaygın

Although the roots of mantı may come from Chinese cuisine, it is in the steppes of Central Asia that we find the direct equivalent of tutumashi. ‘Tutumashi’ or ‘tutmaç’ is among the dishes mentioned in the 11th century Turkish-Arabic dictionary Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk, written in the Karakhanid period. According to sources of the period, tutmaç is a watery yoghurt dish containing pieces of dough, eaten with a kind of fork called ‘siş’ (skewer).[4] As noted by Françoise Sabban, an expert on Chinese food history, the name tutumashi, a dish mentioned in Chinese sources, is of Turkish origin. Tutumashi also features in the 13th century Chinese publication Jujia Biyong Shilei Quanji [The Complete Collection of Essential Household Knowledge]. Served with garlic yoghurt and stuffed with minced meat, tutumashi bears many similarities to the modern mantı. However, the ‘tuṭmāj’ that appears in the 14th century Egyptian manuscript, Kanz al-Fawa'id Fi Tanwi' al-Mawa'id [Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table] is somewhat different. In this recipe, tutmaç is prepared with fresh pasta, yoghurt, and cubed meat and/or meatballs, flavoured with ingredients such as garlic, black pepper and coriander.[5] The same cookbook contains another recipe similar to mantı in the form of an envelope of dough filled with meat and served with yoghurt: shishbarak (şişbörek), literally meaning skewer pastry.[6] Today, the dish şiş börek, which can be described as a kind of dumpling soup, lives on in the culinary tradition of cities such as Hatay and Gaziantep in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Turkey.

Tutmaç with chicken (Isparta and its neighbourhood) Musa Dağdeviren, 'Seven recipes from forgotten folk dishes', Food and Culture, no. 47 || Photographer: Necdet Kaygın

Mantı in the footsteps of yoghurt

In Chinese cuisine, mantou would, over time, evolve into small steamed and filled buns,[7] however, mantı filled with minced meat would flourish in the Turkish-Mongolian geography of Central Asia, taking on a new identity. One example of this can be found in Uzbek dumplings, where the dough is folded into walnut-sized parcels, steamed and served with yoghurt. Throughout the entire region of Central Asia, from Uzbekistan to Azerbaijan, the culinary tradition features stuffed balls of dough, steamed or boiled, of various shapes and sizes that are referred to by a variety of names, including mantou, chuchvara, dushpere and yutaghza. Given that dairy and yoghurt consumption was first adopted by nomadic communities in Central Asia, and that yoghurt is not traditionally consumed in Chinese cuisine, it can be presumed that serving dumplings with yoghurt was a tradition that developed in Central Asian nomadic communities rather than in China.

The journey of mantı and tutmaç to Anatolia begins with the Oghuz tribes’ migration to the West from Central Asia. Turkmen tribes who, from the 11th century on, began to settle in Asia Minor, particularly in the cities of Central Anatolia, brought with them their own culinary culture and traditions, transporting various flavours such as yufka (thin sheets of pastry), yoghurt, tutmaç, Tatar pastry and mantı from the cuisine of Central Asian Turks to Anatolia. Mantı, which today takes on different names and forms in various cities around Turkey, arrived in Anatolia during this period.

Mantı at the Sultan's table

We come across traces of mantı in Ottoman lands in written sources from the 15th century on. In the expense lists documenting the ingredients purchased for the table of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, we learn that onions and garlic were purchased for preparing mantı. This information can be found in the imperial palace kitchen accounts for 1469–1474, published in 1979 in Türk Tarihi Belgeleri [Turkish Historical Documents], the journal of the Turkish Historical Society established by renowned Ottoman historian Ömer Lütfi Barkan. We understand that mantı was one of the favourite dishes of Fatih Sultan Mehmet from the fact that it graced the Sultan’s table 26 times over just one month in 1469.[8] Other dishes that featured in the ledgers and that were served at the Sultan’s table along with mantı included marinated carrots (kalye-I gezer), sheep head and trotter soup (kelle-paça), a soup made with unripe grapes and yellow plum, lamb trotters with egg and turnip (landuy-ı hassa), oysters, shrimp, cod, caviar, fish eggs, eel with thyme, dried fish, bulgur with chestnut (dane-i bulgur-ı hassa), black raisin juice, fried chicken (kavurma-yı makiyan-ı hassa), chicken kebab, savoury pastry filled with chicken (tavuklu börek), lamb stew with dried fruits (mutancana), fish with onions and garlic, kabuni rice pilaf with meat and chickpeas, chard with yoghurt, kind of beignets with cheese (lalengede), biryani kebab, shish kebab with onions and garlic (şiş kebab-ı hassa), fried eggplant with egg and yoghurt (kavurma-yı badıncan-ı hassa), flat bread with gourd (pide-yi kedu-yı hassa), flat bread with cheese (peynirli pide), gherkins, chard mastave (yogurt with chard), and finally for dessert, memuniyye (a kind of fried halva enriched with chicken breast), zülbiye (deep fried pastry curls soaked in syrup) and muhallebi (milk pudding) for dessert.

(to be continued)

Translation by Kate Ferguson

  1. Mantı (mantou) is originally a Chinese word; see Hasan Eren, Türk Dilinin Etimolojik Sözlüğü [Etymological Dictionary of The Turkic Language] (Ankara: Kişisel Yayınlar, 1999), 287.
  2. David. R. Knechtges, ‘A Literary Feast in Early Chinese Literature’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 106, no 1 (1986): 49-63.
  3. Françoise Sabban-Serventi, ‘Ravioli Cristallins et tagliatelli rouges: les pates chinoises entre XII et XIVe siècles’ [Crystalline ravioli and red tagliatelle: Chinese pasta between the 12th and 14th centuries], Médiévales (1989): 16-17, 29-50.
  4. Reşat Genç, ‘XI. Yüzyılda Türk Mutfağı’ [Turkish Cuisine in the 11th Century] in Yemek Kitabı [Cookbook], ed. M. Sabri Koz (Istanbul: Kitabevi Yayınları, 2002), 7.
  5. Nawal Nasrallah, Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table: A Fourteenth-Century Egyptian Cookbook (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018), 140.
  6. Ibid., 104.
  7. Françoise Sabban, ‘Cuisine à la Cour de l'empereur de Chine au XIVe Siecle’ [Cuisine of the Chinese Emperor’s Court in the 14th Century], Médiévales: Nourritures, no.5 (November 1983): 32-56.
  8. Ömer Lütfü Barkan, ‘İstanbul Saraylarına Ait Muhasebe Defterleri [Ledgers of the Istanbul Palaces]’, Türk Tarih Belgeleri Dergisi [Turkish Historical Documents] 9, no. 13 (1979): 187.