Rounding out the national food countdown, today we feature manti, an Uzbek stuffed dumpling, likely spread all over Eurasia by the Mongols in the 13th century, and ever since as a staple food of travelers along the great silk road. Like lag’mon, manti features prominently as an ethnic cuisine across the Turkic speaking world, and beyond. Recipes for manti that include Russian steamed dumplings, Kayseri mantisi, Korean mondu, Chinese Mantou, Armenian manta, and Tibetan momo, are all variations on a common theme.
From the Uyghur people of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, to the eastern and central provinces of Turkey, Manti is regarded as a traditional “local” dish. The expansive reach of this global-local stuffed dumpling can be attributed to the conquests of the warlord Genghis Khan in the 13th century as his army spread westward into Europe, invading, intermarrying, and settling, bringing traditions with them that henceforth passed from generation to generation. Recent estimates suggest that as many as 16 million men alive today are direct descendants of the great warlord. No wonder cuisine attributed to the mongol culture is so widely appreciated to this day!
The great silk road helped solidify the cuisine as a staple across the reach of the former Mongol Empire. Preparation techniques have also not changed that much in the past 800 years. Ideal for travelers, manti can be prepared in advance and then frozen or dried out. Frozen manti on the cold steppe in winter can keep for weeks as the temperature stays below freezing for nearly half the year. In the hot dry climate of Central Asia, dried manti can also be carried for long journeys and rehydrated when needed. In either case, manti are basket steamed or boiled, a technique which also works when the manti are freshly prepared.
Traditional Uzbek manti are available at most national food cafés all over the country. Typically stuffed with meat mixed with minced onions and pepper, but also potatoes, and seasonally with pumpkin, the manti are usually served with a a sour-cream smetana sauce. Uzbek manti are delicately assembled, lightly stuffed, and steamed, sometimes boiled. Variations exist where the dumpling is thicker and pinched together to form a tight seal stuffed full of meat and onions. The variations are based on regional, ethnic, and family recipes. No two cafés will serve exactly the same thing.
Manti, lag’mon, somsa, and plov are at the top of the list of national foods that every visitor must try when exploring this country of diverse cultural origins. As the crossroads of the silk road, conquered again and again by empires from the east and the west, every time a claim was made in Uzbekistan, bits of cultures, and their accompanying cuisine, were left behind.