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Turkish Cuisine in the 11th Century

Reşat Genç

The great 11th century Turkish writers Yusuf Has Hacib** and Kaşgarlı Mahud*** gave us very detailed information on Turkish cuisine, as they did on almost every subject. Of the two, Yusuf gave most of his attention to the preparation of feasts, and what should be served at such feasts; he also addressed Turkish table etiquette in the 11th century among young and old. As for Kaşgarlı, he introduces us to 11th century Turkish cuisine from the aspects both of space as well as its material culture, and also provides information, sometimes very detailed, on various dishes and their preparation. From this standpoint, though what comes to mind at the mention of Turkish cuisine is the foods and drinks that lend it its richness, I deemed it more appropriate to give some brief information on table etiquette and the 11th century kitchen utensils, and then move on to the subject of food.

a) The Kitchen and its Implements: It is well known that in the 11th century, in the Karahan and Selçuk palaces in particular, various Turkish rulers and lords had kitchens run by master chefs, as well as wine houses run by special administrators. In addition, every Turkish home, like those of today, had an area set up as a kitchen, which was called and aşlık, meaning a place where food was made. However in time this Turkish name was abandoned; the modern word mutfak is derived from the Arabic matbah.

Below are the names of some of the implements used in the 11th century aşlık, with their modern equivalents if they have changed, and their translations.

Old Turkish Mod. Turkish English
Bardak " Glass
Bıçak " Knife
Selçi biçek Aşçı bıçağı Cook’s knife
Etlik " Meat hook
Iwrık İbrik Large pitcher for heating water
Tewsi Tepsi Baking pan
Kova " Bucket
Saç " Convex pan
Şiş " Skewer
Soku Havan Mortar and pestle
Susgak Susak Wooden bowl with handle, scoop
Küp " Earthenware jare
Çömçe " Ladle
Kaşuk Kaşık Spoon
Tekne " Trough
Tuzluk " Salt cellar
Yasgaç Yasdıgaç  
Sanaç Dağarcık Pouch, bag
Sarnıç Su Tulumu Water Bag
Tagar Dağarcık Pouch, bag
Tulkuk Tuluk  

The fact that so many of these implements are still known today by the same names shows that these have undergone little change in one thousand years, even in their names.

b) The Sofra and Etiquette: In the 11th century, some Turks called the sofra the tergi 1, and the laying of the sofra, tergi urmak. In some provinces, the word tepsi (tewsi) was used to mean both a baking pan an the sofra itself 2. If we note that large tepsis are called sofra in some regions, we see that this has been true for centuries. Just as is the practice today, Turks during that time spread a wide cloth over the sofra so that bread crumbs would not fall to the floor 3.

Concerning the laying of the sofra, I am not sure that its preparation in Turkish homes of the 11th century was much different than it is today. As for what must be done for feasts, Yusuf Has Hacib says:

The house, hearth, sofra and plates should be clean. The room must be outfitted with cushions, and the food and drink should be top quality. Again, so that the guests may eat comfortably, the foods and drinks should be clean and flavorful. All that is to be eaten and drunk should compliment each other and be abundant. The guest should never run out of drink, and when one drink is finished should be immediately replenished. As for drinks, offer fııka, or mizab, or cülengbin (rose honey, jam), or cülab (rose sherbet). After the food and drink, give nuts and fruit. Along with the dry and fresh fruits, there should also be simiş. If you are of sufficient means, give gifts of silk cloth. If possible, also give diş kirası so that the guests will not gossip.” 4

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