In 2020, Forbes released their list of 10 Underrated Destinations To Visit. Cities in Belize, Nigeria, and Uruguay made the list, which may not have been a surprise to seasoned travelers. Also among them was Armenia. The small mountainous country is nestled between Asia and Europe, and both regions have had a strong influence on their culture. While often overlooked, as Forbes pointed out, the country has a winning combination of stunning, ancient architecture, the oldest winery in the world, and, of course, great food.
One of the country’s most famous foods is lavash. Known as “the king of Armenian breads,” this traditional flatbread is served across the country, often at people’s dinner tables. While it is mostly just wheat flour and water, making this bread is incredibly hard to master, and it is a point of pride for many Armenians, as per Nomad Paradise. Harissa is another common dish. The hearty porridge is the national dish of the country and is made from korkot, a type of dried wheat, blended with fatty pieces of lamb or chicken.
However, one of the country’s best-kept cuisine secrets may be sini manti. Sini mantis are baked lamb or beef dumplings bathed in a savory, tomato-y broth and topped with a cool yogurt sauce. They are baked until crisp and served open-faced, making them slightly different from traditional dumplings. And, they may be worth a trip to try.
Today, mantis are served throughout the Central Asian region, but their origins started with the Mongols. According to Mission Food Adventure, cultural exchanges took place between Armenians and Mongols in the 13th century. It was then that the idea of the manti first made its way to Cilician Armenia (Cilician Armenia, also known as Little Armenia, was a medieval kingdom, according to Britannica). Later, when migrating Turkic-speaking peoples entered Armenia, they learned of manti and took it with them to Anatolia, where it then became popular.
Mission Food Adventure says, “Nowadays with borders much different than those in the 13th century (and Armenia much smaller than it once was), manti is considered to be Western Armenian cuisine and is less prevalent in Armenia proper.”
It is traditional for many Armenian families to enjoy this dish on Christmas, or other big days families gather, as they are typically made in large batches, reports Serious Eats.
There are essentially four components to the dumpling dish: the broth, filling, dough, and yogurt sauce. The dough and broth ingredients are pretty standard. The dough is made up of all-purpose flour, butter, salt, water, and egg yolk. The broth is most typically chicken stock. According to Mission Food Adventure, homemade or store-bought chicken broth works great. However, they note, since the broth gets watered down, it can feel like a waste of good homemade broth. Tomato paste, salt, garlic cloves, and lamb neck are also added for flavoring, suggests Serious Eats.
The most important part is likely the filling. Serious Eats calls for ground lamb, but some recipes use beef instead. Garlic, onion, parsley, paprika, allspice, Aleppo pepper, salt, pepper, and olive oil are all mixed into the filling for perfectly seasoned meat.
The dish is garnished with a rich, garlicky yogurt sauce that compliments the heat (both the spice and temperature) well. Mission Food Adventure says to use plain unflavored yogurt here, as you will add the garlic and salt yourself. It can also be sprinkled with eye-catching sumac, “a tart, purple Middle-Eastern spice that derives from dried and ground berries of the wild sumac flower.”
For anyone who has ever made dumplings before, they know it can be a long process. However, breaking it down into steps makes it easier. And, of course, getting a few helping hands makes a difference.
First, according to Mission Food Adventure, the dough can be made by hand by filling a large mixing bowl with flour. A well is made in the center and all the wet ingredients are added. It’s then mixed until a dough ball is formed and smooth. The dough must rest covered for about half an hour.
While the dough rests, the ground meat is mixed with its seasonings and refrigerated. When the dough is ready, it’s rolled into very thin sheets and cut into roughly 1 ½ inch squares. Then, a small amount of meat is placed into the center of each square and pinched together with another dough sheet forming a canoe shape. This is then baked, according to Mission Food Adventure.
For the broth, all the ingredients are simply simmered, and the yogurt sauce has all the components mixed together evenly.
Serious Eats serves their manti in about a 1/2 cup of hot broth in individual serving bowls. They add about 15 to 20 mantis to the dish and top them with a dollop of yogurt-garlic sauce. Colorful Aleppo pepper and sumac are sprinkled to garnish. The dish is served warm. This unbeatable comfort food may be the dish you need most as the temperature begins to drop.