It was a real treat and a major league feast when I tried Mantoo for the first time after securing a visa for Afghanistan. Mantoo is Afghanistan’s National dish and my guide Noor opts to take me to Sunatala Restaurant – the best Mantoo restaurant in Masar e Sharif. This place is boomingly popular – you can barely get a seat – the food is city-versally impressive amongst Masar e Sharifians and without a shadow one of the best meals I have had in Central Asia/Stans.
On arrival at Sunatala, first of all we wash our hands in water using the container outside. All restaurants I visited in Afghanistan have this silver water container for washing hands and the locals religiously stick to this habit. I’m impressed by that – they strictly must wash their hands before eating, great hygiene levels compared with Uzbekistan. Inside the restaurant, we manage to get two seats at one table and two at another table, the place is bunged – it’s a Friday lunchtime. There are four of us – my guide Noor, his friend Reza and our driver Sakhi.
The cool thing about Sunatala Restaurant is that it specialises in Mantoo. It’s a niche. It only serves one type of food, one dish – Mantoo. It’s famous for Mantoo and Mantoo alone.
What is Mantoo?
Mantoo is a hearty plate full of dumplings (made of dough) with beef inside, it is served on a plate with check peas, herbs, meatballs, sour cream and in a delicious sauce. It comes with bread and a small salad. There is lemon in the salad and we squeeze this on top of the Mantoo.
As I sit down next to Noor, I notice three Afghan kids staring at me. It’s perhaps their first time to see a foreigner, but here eating in the best Mantoo restaurant in town, even more odd for them perhaps. They share two Mantoo between three of them. Noor tells me it must be a treat for them – a special meal to come here.
It certainly looks and smells good all around as I take in the atmosphere of a busy restaurant in downtown Masar e Sharif. The food sporadically makes its way onto our table.
First up we get a flask of tea and two cups – Noor and I get stuck into the tea. Then the first dish of Mantoo comes and we share it. A salad comes too and the bread. We’ve just started the first dish of Mantoo, both hungry and the second one comes, so now we have a dish each.
The restaurant continues to be popular, everyone coming in, some even queuing for a plate of this epic Mantoo. It reminded me of the time I queued for ages in the city of Akko in Israel to try the best humus in Israel (which it was and was worth the wait).
How much did the Mantoo cost?
After the taste of it, the second best part is the price. The four of us paid 520 Afghani, so 130 Afghani each, that’s less than $2 US each including everything!
The Mantoo was delicious, I loved it. If you are ever in Afghanistan, please try the Mantoo, you might just love it. I have never seen it outside Afghanistan but I am sure some Afghan restaurants around the world will have their own version of it. But if you want my tip, head to Sunatala Restaurant in Masar e Sharif to try it!
Here is a video from trying the Mantoo in Sunatala Restaurant in Masar e Sharif: