We know about momos, Nepalese dumplings. On occasion we have even mentioned mandoo, Korean dumplings. Throughout the world there are many forms of dumplings, which is not surprising as they are a superior comfort food. Warm, savory, carby and even a tiny bit saucy, there is a lot to love when it comes to dumplings. But Turkish dumplings, or manti, have a creaminess that elevates them to the ultimate level of comfort food.
Manti can come in different shapes and can be cooked by steaming, boiling or baking. However, regardless of preparation it is almost always served topped with garlic yogurt and sprinkled sumac. In Los Angeles, manti in its various forms can be found in several restaurants, but more often than not, we find ourselves ordering it at Best of Mediterranean, Mantee Café and Sako's Mediterranean Cuisine.
The aspiring mini chain Best of Mediterranean prepares sini manti, a variety of open faced manti. The manti here appear almost like an intricate pasta dish, with wrappers more like egg noodles than dumpling skins. Artfully arranged together on a tin plate, the sini manti are baked uncovered so that the wispy tops get slightly toasted, their bottoms sizzle and the drippings from the beef filling create a deeply flavorful crust.
Best of Mediterranean serves their sini manti unadorned with a cup of garlic yogurt on the side. At first, we were tempted to drizzle just a bit of it on top or completely eschew it. But instead, we gave into that primal first-grade and ended up dipping each and every one of the manti into it. One quick dip turned out to be the ideal application method to get just enough of the pungent garlic yogurt on the manti without overwhelming the thin wrapper and beefy filling.
Studio City's Mantee Café is not a Turkish restaurant; instead it is an Armenian restaurant with distinguished Lebanese roots. Their signature dish of Armenian style mantee are baked to the point of absolute crispness and come in two versions, 'traditional' with Angus ground beef, and 'veggie' with spinach. But no matter which one is ordered, they arrive to the table searing hot and completely bathed in what initially seemed like an excessive amount of yogurt.
After giving careful consideration to both versions, for this particular preparation, the edge goes to Mantee Café's 'veggie' version. The spinach filling is densely packed, stripped of almost all its moisture, so it avoids the sliminess and metallic boiled taste that plagues most spinach stuffed pastas. Instead what remains is pure musky spinach flavor which blossoms in to a complex and almost sweet flavor when combined with the creamy taste of each yogurt coated morsel.
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At Sako's Mediterranean Cuisine in Reseda, manti is a frequent special. So frequent, it's been on the specials board at every one of our recent visits. This has been fortunate for us, because out of all the manti we have tried, their version has the most in common with our favorite dumplings. And it has been because of their pillowy manti that we have kept on returning.
Sako's manti are fully sealed and then boiled, so their bouncy yet tender skins fully encase their crumbly beef filling. They are served crowded together in a bowl with a thin stream of yogurt and tomato sauce on the top. All it took was that first spoonful of this dish of dumplings glazed in a flavorful cream sauce to realize what we were really tasting: elemental comfort food.