A bowl of manti at MeryemAna's in Marmaris -- photo by Algis Kemezys
Unlike other Istanbullu children who spent their formative years chasing spherical objects around playing fields, I was happiest when either swimming in the sea or watching food being prepared in the kitchen.
My most delicious kitchen memory is of my grandmother labour-intensively concocting manti. These meat-stuffed little dumplings came to Turkey and the rest of the world from Afghanistan, the mother-lode of cuisine. It was the Afghans who gave us spicy slow-cooked meat dishes (such as curries and stews) via India, the Middle East and France, and it was the Afghans’ manti-concept that Marco Polo brought back to Italy to kick start such stuffed-pasta delicacies of Italian haute cuisine as raviolis (no, I don’t mean the Chef Boyardee canned variety), agnolotis, tortelinis and the rest.
The manti business is an all-day affair, which my grandmother would undertake about once a month for special occasions. It starts with the preparation of the farce, a combination of lightly sauteed minced lamb with diced onion and spices. It continues with the making of a soft pasta dough. And it culminates with endless rolling out of tiny pieces of that dough into small squares, dropping a smidgeon of farce into its middle and pinching it closed into a tiny bundle. It takes about thirty of these dumplings to make a portion, so enough for our extended family of thirty people was several hours of watching her kneading, stuffing, pinching and laying out on waxed paper.
A single manti with arugula and tomato -- photo by Algis Kemezys
Near dinner-time, the manti dumplings are quickly —and gently— boiled, and dished out into soup plates. They are covered with garlicky yoghurt, decorated with dried mint and drizzled with hot-chili laced, melted butter. They are so toothsome, wholesome and delicious, that it takes the average eater less than six minutes to slurp the plate clean. My grandmother would smile with ever more contentment the faster they were eaten —a sure sign that she had once again succeeded in getting them right— never forgetting to give me my due for my assistance, even though I had done nothing more than watch and encourage her.
The water-taxi from Içmeler to Marmaris -- photo by Algis Kemezys
I find out that there is an excellent mantici in Marmaris. The restaurant is called MeryemAna Manti Evi (Mother Meryem’s Manti-Home). I jump on the water-taxi from Içmeler for the fifteen-minute tree-lined sea-ride into Marmaris, and head towards the castle, around which lies the original settlement of the port town.
Marmaris old-town -- photo by Algis Kemezys
Meryem’s has been around so long, and is so famous that everyone I ask knows it and keeps pointing around corners until I find it. I take a seat on the terrace and sharpen my taste buds. I am not disappointed. It’s not exactly my grandmother’s (what could possibly be) but it’s damned close.
I savour every bite. And then I meet the lady herself (who purportedly still makes the manti personally). She’s so very like my grandmother that my manti-circle is complete. My nostalgia has become reality.
Meryem takes time out to meet me -- photo by Algis Kemezys