Hıngal Mantı: Dumplings in Exile
(Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Jeff Gibbs, a denizen of Istanbul’s Asian side and author of the very engaging blog “Istanbul and Beyond.”)
It seems like every İstanbullu I meet has a secret ethnicity lurking in their past. One cousin’s father is a refugee from Bulgaria, a Kurdish uncle has an Armenian grandmother and an ex-roommate has an Arab grandparent on one side and an Azeri on the other. In my endless quest to find a reflection of this rich diversity in Istanbul’s cuisine, my wife and I stumbled upon Hıngal Mantı, a sunny restaurant at the foot of Küçük Çamlıca Hill specializing in Dagestani dumplings.
As soon as I walked in, I knew that Hıngal was exactly what I had been looking for. The chef and amateur scholar, Melike, has done her research and can chat (if you want) about the traditional dumplings of Dagestan (called hıngal), how they are eaten, when her husband’s Dagestani family came to Turkey, where they settled and the influence of Dagestani culture on its Turkish counterpart. Everything about the place is bright, friendly and carefully tended. When I asked for a menu, the waiter grinned and said, “I am the menu!” then unveiled a wooden palette displaying the full array of dumplings.
Our meal started with a cold soup called dovğa, made from yogurt, chickpeas, fresh dill and mint and served chilled for the summer with two ice cubes in the center. It immediately cooled us both off after our sweaty walk along the paths of Çamlıca Hill. A total of 12 varieties of hıngal were on display, though not all are available – some depend on the availability of ingredients. A few of the more unusual filliings include salmon, black cumin and ground lamb with coffee. We ordered a mixed plate of everything available on hand that day just to cast a wide net.
Dagestan’s hıngal bear a strong family resemblance to their Korean counterpart, the mandu. They are large, plump and shaped like half-moons braided at the edges. They come with a wide variety of fillings; minced lamb generously flavored with onion is the traditional mix, but Melike has added others from different areas of the Caucasus and her own imagination. Our favorite was the spicy ground lamb, flavored with red pepper and şalgam (pickled red carrot juice), resulting in a taste that reminded me of a deviled crab I once had in Savannah. Other winners were a combination of walnut, currant and onion, a mashed potato dumpling in a turmeric-flavored skin, and the unusual combination of nettle and lamb. The dumping skins are handmade and either red, green, yellow or white – the colors come from natural dyes made from, respectively, beets, spinach and turmeric. Each portion comes with about 20 dumplings served with a side of yogurt and a traditional dip made out of garlic, vinegar and some of the broth the dumplings are cooked in. Melike recommended we dip our vegetable dumplings in the yogurt, and our meat ones in the vinegar. The vinegar had just the right amount of tartness to draw out the flavors of the meat. My wife didn’t even touch the yogurt, but I thought it went well with the potato.
We topped our meal off with tea and a Kayseri dessert called nevzine, a helva-like combination of walnuts, pekmez, tahini and flour topped with a fresh seasonal preserves (it was cherries in June). My wife, who is famous for declaring there is no decent tea in all of Istanbul, gave Hıngal’s brew the thumbs up. “From start to finish,” she said, sipping her çay, “they’ve done everything right.”
Now just where is Dagestan, you may ask? A quick Google search reveals a mountainous country on the Caspian bordered by Georgia, Chechnya, Russia and Azerbaijan. The family of Hıngal’s owner, Okan Sönmez, fled Dagestan in the late 1890s. The family recipes were passed down from generation to generation and now Okan’s mother has taught all she knows to her daughter-in-law Melike. The results? Some of the best food I have ever eaten.
The prices are quite reasonable: plates of dumplings range from 8.50 TL to 10.50 TL (though the salmon costs 15.50), and a rather large portion of dovğa soup is 3.50. It’s also very easy to find—take the 129T from Taksim and get off at Çamlıca, or the 14 from Kadıköy or the TB2 from Sultanahmet. From Hıngal, you could make a day of it and walk to through the beflowered park to the top of Little Çamlıca Hill for a Turkish coffee overlooking the Princes’ Islands. Perfect.
Address: Kısıklı Meydanı, Kısıklı Caddesi 132, Çamlıca/Kısıklı, Üsküdar
(photo by Jeffrey Gibbs)
Post Tags: Asian side, Dagestani cuisine, dumplings, Istanbul Eats, Istanbul restaurants, mantı, specialty foods
- Jul 2, 2012 : Caucasian Turkish Cuisine « Qaqan