My grandmother was born in Turkey and used to make bourekas and montees, which were essentially the same but shaped differently. The bourekas were turnovers filled with potato and cheese or rice or meat and onions, or spinaca. The montees used the same dough (oil, water, flour), but were made like spiral spanakopita. I’ve never found any info on montees anywhere on the web, and everyone I could ask is gone. Have you heard of them and can you tell me the origin of the name?
Thanks very much
First, let’s get you back on track with the spelling. “Montee” should be mantí, a pastry better known as mantikos.
Though your grandmother made her mantí from an oil dough, the name refers to its original star ingredient: butter. The word comes from manteca. In modern Spanish usage, “manteca” on its own brings to mind lard – emulsified pig fat – but the formal meaning indicates any emulsified fat derived from animals or plants. In the past, the specific fat was understood from context; under kosher law the consumption of fat from cow, sheep, and goat meats is forbidden, hence in a Sephardic kitchen, manteca would only mean butter.
Diminutive-sounding mantikos are small, and specifically made with butter, thus the name; they’re strictly a dairy pastry. Like your grandmother’s they’re filled with spinach and cheese.
The dough can vary widely. Some cooks make bread-like mantikos, while others make them light and flaky. The latter is closer to its roots in Spanish hojaldre dough – puff pastry, known in Iberia at least since medieval times, and still a staple of modern Spanish and Portuguese bakeries. From your description, it sounds like this is closer to your grandmother’s dough.
Pastry shapes vary for many reasons. In the most practical terms, a unique shape offers an immediate visual cue whether a pastry contains meat or dairy, a critical piece of information if you keep kosher and don’t want to mix foods. Understandably, continuity is important in a kosher environment; once you pick a shape and ingredient, you stick to them so everyone at the table is always clear as to what’s what.
Choosing the spiral shape to indicate “butter pastry” was either by your grandmother’s own design or that of her elders, ancestors, or immediate community. I’m guessing from her calling them mantí instead of mantikos that they were on the large side, more like bulemas, which are made from a light textured bread dough containing oil. She or someone before her reverted to using oil, but not before the butter reference stuck in relation to that shape. In our family we’ve got something similar going on with boyos.
I should point out that the words “mánti” and “mántikos” also exist in Greek, but with different accentuation. They have radically different meanings from the Spanish, connected with divination. I’ll grant you well made mantikos can taste divine, but that’s all about the butter.
Thanks for your question!