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Aug 18, 2006 05:13 AM

Where to find Afghan mantu (steamed dumplings)?

Years ago in Seattle I was served mantu, a kind of delicate steamed dumpling, in an Afghan restaurant. It seemed to combine flavors that reminded me of South Asia with an East Asian shape and manner of cooking, although different from both of those cuisines. The name must be related to the Korean mandu 만두 dumpling and the Chinese mántóu 馒头 steamed bread.

Where can I find a good example in New York City? I have visited many Afghan restaurants, but most seem to be heavy on roast meats and fried or baked pastries, rather than steamed foods. Many thanks!

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  1. There is a small Afhgan restaurant on St Marks and a few years ago I had Mantu there, it was good. But I haven't been there for so long, I don't know now... Also Turkish cuisine a very similar dish, and it is also called Manti... The biggest difference is they don't serve that chili type bean sauce on top. They are small steamed dumplings filled with meat and spices and they put yoghurt sauce with garlic and a red pepper paprika sauce made with butter.... It is delicious and there is a small Turkish Restaurant on 34th Street and 1st ave called Ali Baba, they have really good Manti. Also Pasha on the Upper West Side has great Manti, that place is fancier though...

    1. Bamiyan, an Afghani restaurant, is on the corner of 3rd Av. & 26th St. It's been quite a while since we've been there, so I checked the menu on their website. "Mantoo" (their spelling) is listed. We've probably had it in the past since we usually order a bunch of apps. The food is always nicely prepared. I recommend you give it a try.

      Nuray's mention of Manti on Turkish menus reminds me that our favorite Turkish restaurant, Turkish Kitchen, serves them. (3rd Av., b/t 27th & 28th Sts.) We've had them often and, in fact, just a couple of weeks ago, they were part of an all-mezze lunch. Tiny, succulent meat-filled dumplings in a light yogurt sauce. Delicious!

      1 Reply
      1. re: RGR

        I love that restaurant as well... That reminds me I should go back there for a brunch soon :) Thanks!

      2. I believe I asked the same etymology question a while back, and it seems that the word started from the Chinese then spread and morphed.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Peter Cherches

          Yes, Mantu and manti sound a lot like the Korean word for dumplings: mandoo.

          1. re: Peter Cherches

            There's no difficulty connecting the words themselves. The question is, which form of food is "original" to the name? Variants of "mantou" in Chinese are known as far back as the Jìn dynasty (4th century; there is a passage recommending mantou as a good food for Springtime and later passages describe them being served as banquets). But what are they talking about? A filled dumpling or an unfilled steamed bread? A vital question.

            Something called "pork mánshǒu" 饅首 are mentioned in a Qīng dynasty text as something eaten in or with soup, and that sounds very much like it must be a dumpling. Mánshǒu (man-"heads") means the same thing as mantou and presumably is just another way of saying it. (Manshou survives as a regional word for mantou in modern China.) The Qing text is a list of foods eaten season by season in the capital city, our Beijing, and this particular food is associated with the first lunar month. So it would seem that the dumpling we know from Turkish/Afghan/Korean cuisine has also been associated with the name mantou/manti/mantu/mandu in China itself in historical times.

            A Ming dynasty text describes a banquet at which "five-color wontons and mother-and-child mantou" are served. There's no proof in this, but "mother-and-child mantou" sounds like a large item with several small ones served along with it, an arrangement that seems to me more plausible for mantou-bread than dumplings.

            A Song dynasty text describes "mantou" as being something developed in the south as a sacrificial object to spirits demanding the "head" of a victim in return for protection from sorcery. That sounds more like our steamed mantou, too.

            The syllable "tou", usually meaning "head", is also a common noun suffix and can mean simply "stubby thing". The connection to the meaning "head" doesn't seem to me to be necessary to understanding the meaning of the word, despite the Song dynasty explanation. The first syllable, "man", seems to be connected with words meaning "to spread". I think that a rising steamed bread is easier to connect with this idea than a dumpling. But of course dumpling dough has to expand a little before you cook with it, so this evidence is not decisive.

            In modern Chinese, mantou is attested not only as steamed bread, but also as a regional word for the steamed stuffed bun we know better as bāozi.

            1. re: tealeaves

              wow! Where did you learn all that? It's amazing!

              1. re: mimolette

                Yes, I agree. Beautifully written. This is Chowhound at its' best. Thank you, tealeaves.
                For what it is worth, any number of Uzbekistani restaurants in Rego Park serve their take on this. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the Uzbeks call them Manti.

              2. re: tealeaves

                Tealeaves! This is amazing! Thanks so much! It makes a lot of sense as well, as roots of Turkish people come from Central Asia and it should have been carried forward until today...

                1. re: tealeaves

                  As a native Chinese, I am sorry to let you know that the etymological explanation given by tealeaves is not accurate. Here below is from Wikipedia[] and all Chinese know this story from childhood:

                  A popular story in China relates that the name mantou actually originated from the identically written and pitched, but more heavily pronounced word mántóu meaning "barbarian's head 蠻頭".
                  This story originates from the Three Kingdoms(三國 225 AD) Period, when the strategist Zhuge Liang(諸葛亮, believed to be the smartest person in Chinese history) led the Shu (蜀,one of the three kingdoms)Army in an invasion of the southern lands (roughly modern-day Yunnan and northern Burma). After subduing the barbarian king Meng Huo (孟獲), Zhuge Liang led the army back to Shu, but met a swift-flowing river which defied all attempts to cross it. A barbarian lord informed him, in olden days, the barbarians would sacrifice 50 men and throw their heads into the river to appease the river spirit and allow them to cross; Zhuge Liang, however, did not want to cause any more bloodshed, and instead killed the cows and horses the army brought along, and filled their meat into buns shaped roughly like human heads - round with a flat base - to be made and then thrown into the river. After a successful crossing, he named the buns "barbarian's head" (mántóu, 蠻頭, which evolved into the present day 饅頭).

                  1. re: snail_chen

                    Small_chen's Wikipedia version is an anecdote found in records of the Song (10th-12th centuries ) and Ming dynasty (14th-16th centuries), and the Chinese texts can be seen at and . It's a widespread story today.

                    But there's no textual evidence of the "barbarian head" story going back to anywhere near Zhuge Liang's time. In particular, it isn't found in the the histories from Zhuge Liang's own time. It is probably a late folk etymology — the oldest example of the word we have is written 曼頭 and dates from the fourth century, quoted in an eighth century source.

                    1. re: tealeaves

                      The story could be an anecdote. But it deserves to be mentioned, right? I am not saying it is definitely the truth, yet I don't believe everything will have to be recorded in the books. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I am very impressed.

                      1. re: tealeaves

                        By the way, if you still want Afghan manti, you can try Ariana, 9th Av. between 52nd and 53rd. I've found the place dependably good but haven't been for perhaps a year or so, because when I've been on that block, I've tended to go to Wondee, across the street.