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Refined Tastes in a Refined Place: Eating Habits in the Ottoman Palace During the 15th-17th Centuries
 
Arif Bilgin
 

Change In Eating Habits In The Palace

Almost nothing is known about the eating habits in the Ottoman palaces up until the mid-15th century. The reason for this is that no archive documentation is available for the previous period and the contents of the available records in book form are limited to political events. Despite this, we can say a few things about this period, beginning with political events.

It is doubtless that during the period of establishment, eating habits carried more the characteristics of a lordship than an empire. Settling in relatively fertile lands after arriving in Anatolia, the Turks gradually left their Central Asian eating habits and turned towards diet consisting mostly of agricultural products (grains, vegetables and fruit). Conquests of the area south of the Marmara Sea, Western Anatolia and the Balkans secured the possibility of raising quality agricultural products in large quantities. The kitchen registers from the reigns of Mehmet the Conqueror and Bayezid II125 indicate that the three main production centers mentioned above were of vital importance to the feeding of the palace. In these records it is also interesting to note that while a significant portion of products acquired by international trade were provided by the Istanbul market, a portion of them came through Bursa as well. On the other hand, with the conquest of Wallachia and Moldavia during the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror, the high quality mutton and honey of Transylvania began appearing in high quantities on the consumption lists, as did the much-favored Kefe oil upon the taking of Kefe (modern-day Feodosiya in the Crimea).

Development of the palace culinary culture followed the process of becoming an empire and reached its zenith in the 16th century, when the state reached its broadest expanse. The early part of that century was truly an important turning point in the palace culinary history because of the taking of Damascus, famous for its dried fruits, and of Egypt, with its plenteous rice, sugar, lentils, chickpeas, vermicelli, various drinks and in particular, spices. Even more important a breadbasket than the Marmara, West Anatolian and Balkan regions mentioned above, Egypt played an irreplaceable role in the feeding of not only the palace but of many Ottoman cities (for example Manisa, Mecca, Medina etc.), and Istanbul in particular. On the other hand, the conquest of Cyprus in 1571 secured a greater flow to the palace of sugar, which until then was produced only in limited quantities on Ottoman lands. The conquest of Egypt allowed the palace residence to try spices they had never before tasted126. In 1489 only eighteen spices were in use in the palace, whereas in 1573 over two hundred different spices had come into use127. The use of such a great number of spices points to a refinement in taste. Thus we can identify the 16th century as a period during which the palace residents experienced quite noteworthy changes in their eating habits.

In terms of variety of spices, the kitchen registers from the 17th century are considerably poorer than a century previous. At the same time, at about mid-century, foreign sugar and okra had entered the kitchen lists128. Towards the end of the century, the palace would become acquainted with tomatoes, which came from America. Known to the Ottomans as kavata129, this was identified in dictionaries as a type of green and slightly bitter tomatoes130. The first kitchen register to make note of kavata was in the books from December 10 1692–October 29 1693131. Although we see in later books that both the fruit and the leaves of kavata were bought132, this distinction is not made in the earlier books. Şemseddin Sâmi states that kavata was used especially in the form of pickles133. The fact that its leaves were used is an indication of this134. It is not known if it was used in ways other than pickling, or if sauce was made from kavata them during the years when it first began to appear in the palace. By contrast, cook books printed in the 19th century show that kavata occurred among the ingredients of many dishes135.

In the 18th and 19th centuries136, several new ingredients, many of American origin, such as green and red peppers, green beans, peas, cauliflower (karnabit) and oranges came into production on Ottoman lands137, bringing radical changes to both the common people’s and the palaces culinary culture. Especially as sauces and pastes made from green and red pepper and tomatoes became indispensable elements, we can consider this western influence a starting point for change in Turkish cuisine.

Sources:

14 Robert Withers, Büyük Efendi'nin Sarayı, transl. Cahit Kayra, Istanbul 1996, p. 108. It is noteworthy that in the early 19th century, Istanbul bakers produced three types of bread, hassü’l has, has and bayağı (harcî). (Salih Aynural, , İstanbul Fırınları ve Değirmenleri, İstanbul 2002, p. 112.

15 Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi Bâb-ı Defterî Başmuhâseebe Kalemi Defterleri Tasnifi (D. BŞM) 10511, p. 18; D. BŞM 10524; Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi Maliyeden Müdevver Defterler Tasnifi (MAD) 274, p. 37; MAD 5095, p. 34.

16 Barnette Miller, The Grand Seraglio of Stambul, New Haven 1931, p. 164; Salih Aynural, İstanbul Fırınları ve Değirmenleri, p. VII (Dedication by Suraiya Faroqhi, example of France), 146 (Example of İstanbul).

17 Barkan, "İst. Saraylarına...", p. 100.

18 Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi Kamil Kepeci Tasnifi (KK) 7094, p. 10.

18 DBŞM, 10509.

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