For mine, Merrylands isn’t the ‘drive-by shooting’ centre of Sydney.
It’s where my permanent-partner-in-dumplings (my wife, Suzi) and I have recently discovered mantu - not flying bullets.
Indeed, the Kabul House (186a Merrylands Road, Merrylands, http://www.kabulhouse.com.au), staffed by some seemingly hard men, makes marvellous mantu – Afghan boiled dumplings which are to comfort food as Lazy-Boy recliners are to lazy old guys like me.
Mantu fit snugly on a soup spoon. They’re made of very fine wonton-style dough with lamb mince and scallions filling. The filling is mixed through with what the recipe would likely say is ‘heaps’ of curry powder. This makes mantu green in colour and pistachio-like in flavour.
And just like accessories put the statement into fashion statement, what tops mantu is even better. It’s chana dhal (think Indian cuisine), which is lentils stewed in a sweet tomato sauce. AND, a cold yoghurt and mint dressing. Right or wrong, we ate ours wrapped in a really hardy and hot naan bread from a kind of improvised tandoor oven. (Asking didn’t seem like a welcome option or was it, I wonder…)
All this adds up to a soft, really nutty, and fortifying feed. A feed that surely soothed the soul after, say, a rugged fortnight on some wind-blown ridge herding said sheep in the general direction of said dumplings.
It’s like some cook of the cosmos said: “Let me extract the comfort of many kitchens and put it in one dish.”
And, fascinatingly, all that comfort was served to us by from waiters and staff who seemed as tough perhaps as their ancestor shepherds. Not a nice word or smile could be extracted - at least according to our expectations. See painting on wall for general mood.
How’s that work?
Maybe it shows the blessings and burdens visited on Afghans for being always on the cross-roads, always in-between.
Somewhere in-between East Asia, South Asia, the Caucuses, and Europe.
Somewhere in-between one empire and another one.
Somewhere in-between the last war, this war and what seems inevitably like a next one.
Somewhere in-between where many of its people are and where they want to be, such as Australia where many Afghan (including Hazara minority) asylum seekers have come in recent years.
Maybe, mantu are all about making peace with all the in-between.
Maybe, mantu are a way for Afghans to smile when it’s best not to show it. That’s why I say thank you to the Kabul House’s guys for their kindness of the kitchen even if I can't read your faces.