Manti: a Dish from Turkey
By Kathryn Meeker, Dahlia Park
As published in May 2015 Connections
Growing up in Ankara, Turkey, Pinar Güngördü Mertan enjoyed a special, painstaking treat on visits to her grandmother’s house. Manti, tiny meat dumplings smothered in homemade tomato and yogurt sauces, is still special to Pinar. Her grandmother passed away before the family could copy the recipe. But when she learned that her husband had grown up eating Manti, she asked his mother for her recipe. Now Pinar makes it every week for her husband and two children.
Sometimes called “the ungrateful dish”, manti takes hours to prepare and only a few minutes to enjoy. But in Turkey, Pinar says, “We deeply enjoy this process and once we see the pleasure of our family and guests enjoying our food, it makes it so worthwhile”. A Turkish dinner normally consists of five courses, including soup, entree, salad, a light cold vegan dish, and fruit or dessert. There may be more variety depending on the number of guests. Everything is made from scratch. A hostess can spend an entire day preparing dinner, but Pinar says, “Food makes gatherings, and gatherings make food.”
Because her parents owned an orchard outside the city, Pinar grew up watching farmers take pains over their crops. In addition to professional jobs, her parents tended the orchard themselves. All their fresh fruits and vegetables came straight from their land. In Turkish culture, Pinar says, “We almost never waste food. Growing up I learned that food is sacred. Real whole foods grow with such hard work that it is a shame to waste it. It means a huge disrespect and ingratitude to nature and to the grower’s efforts.”
Pinar’s philosophy on food is simple: “I try to buy just enough food until the next shopping and use and consume them all. I also do my best to make everything from scratch. I want my neighbors to know that they are very welcome to join us anytime for something as simple as a Turkish coffee or an abundant dinner like Manti.”