I’ve long been fascinated by the connection between Turkish mantı dumplings – and all their relatives across central and eastern Asia – and Chinese mantou (my paper on the subject from a Chinese angle will be published this summer in the Proceedings of the Oxford Food Symposium, along with a paper from the Turkish/Central Asian point of view by the Turkish food expert Aylin Oney Tan). So I was completely thrilled to come across these Afghan mantu in a gorgeous Afghan restaurant in Adelaide – the Parwana Afghan Restaurant. It’s a family business just outside the city centre where the warmth of the welcome and the charm of the ambience match the deliciousness of the food (I only came across it because the daughter of the owners was a volunteer at the Adelaide Writers’ Week and came to talk to me after one of my events, but it turns out to be highly rated by the local restaurant website, urbanspoon.com).
Of course the highlight for me were the mantu dumplings: pretty little things stuffed with carrot and sauteed onion, steamed, and then slathered with a tomato and lamb stew and garlicky yoghurt, and sprinkled with paprika and dried mint. The cook and co-owner, Farida Ayubi, said they were normally stuffed with mutton and onion, but she preferred them this way, and was also keen to accommodate vegetarians where possible. The dumplings were a very interesting variant on the mantı /mantou theme: the steaming method (and original mutton-and-onion filling) connects them via the Uyghur mantı of Xinjiang with China, while their yoghurt and paprika topping is reminiscent of the serving of tiny, mutton-stuffed mantı in Turkey.
Aren’t the uncooked dumplings (shown left) pretty?! Apart from the mantu, we enjoyed rose shabat, a pink drink made with rose syrup and floaty with basil seeds, which look like frogspawn and give a mouthfeel slightly reminiscent of Taiwanese bubble tea; fabulous slices of aubergine simmered in tomato sauce and topped with yoghurt (banjan borani), fragrant grilled, marinated chicken thigh kebab served with nan bread, salad and chutney (lawang kebab), and cardamom- infused basmati rice with caramelised carrots, sultanas, slivered almonds and pistachios (Kabuli palaw).
On another day in Adelaide, I lunched on Korean mandoo (right), which were what the Chinese these days generally call bao or baozi (although similar dumplings are still sometimes known as mantou in Shanghai) – little twirled dumplings, served steamed or pan-fried, with a green salad, a scoop of potato salad, pickled cucumbers and a very good chilli sauce. And on yet another day, these divine pan-fried prawn and chive dumplings (left: jiucai xiabing 韭菜虾饼) were part of a dim sum lunch (always known in these parts as yum cha) at T-Chow, in Chinatown.