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Foods and Breads of the Selçuk (Seljuk) Period

M. Zeki Oral

The Selçuks of Turkey conquered Anatolia while struggling with infinite hardships and privations. Accepting sacrifices of all kinds, they created thousands of great works, and set a national and Islamic direction here, making Anatolia their homeland. We have very little information about these forefathers, who gave us a nation. Aside from İbn-i Bibi and Aksarayi, who wrote of the political life and conquests of the Selçuk rulers, Elveledü’ş-Şeffik, and the Anonymous Selçukname in Paris, we have no other real sources worth mentioning. And of these, the last two provide very little information. Of the mystical books written in the Selçuk period, the most important are the Mevlevi writings. Aside from these we can mention various and sundry documents such as inscriptions and charters of waqfs. All the books, inscriptions and charters containing information on the Selçuks have not yet been collected, and little Selçuk period archaeological excavations have been conducted. In the absence of this information, it is difficult and often impossible to produce works on the economy, social life, customs and traditions, houses and clothing, weddings and associations; in the broad sence, an ethnography and folklore of the Selçuks. However, an examination of the Selçuk period in all its aspects, and the combination of this knowledge with that of our modern traditions, would educate us as to our national identity and individuality. In studying the Selçuknames and Mevlevi works, and noting the names provided for articles of clothing and household utensils, and determining the women’s and men’s costumes from the ceramic tiles which emerged from the Palace of Kılıçaslan II in Konya and the Palace of Alâeddin Keykubat in Kubatabad, I hoped to take a first step towards treatment of the subject. In this article, I address a few of the dishes and breads of this period.

Selçuk Period Foods

A feast held by Alâeddin Kekykubad I in the month of Şevval, 634 (May 1237) is described thus: : Elvan taam u biryanlar ve dane ve müza’fer ve kaz ve tavuk çevirmeleri ve arı girdeler ve tennur aşları ve mümessek ve muattar şerbetler birle dökulüp yenildi. Ve içildi. Ve etraftan gelen elçiler ve sadat ve ulema ve fuzela han yiyip dağıldılar.  “Various foods, biryans, roast goose and chicken and various sherbets were served. And the ambassadors and religious scholars who came from the surrounding area ate, then dispersed.”

Among the terms we meet here are biryan, dane, müza’fer, chicken and goose on a spit, and arı girde. Let us explain them in order.

Biryan

Biryan means kebab. As biryans were mentioned in the plural in the Selçukname, we may conclude that there were several types at the feast. In Anatolia today, there are three main types of kebab:

1. Kuyu Kebab: (Kuyu: well) In some forested areas, after a sheep is slaughtered and cleaned, it is cut into pieces and wrapped in its own skin. First a hole is dug, a fire is lit inside the resulting “well” to heat it, and the meat is placed into the hole within the skin, and the top is closed. A fire is burned on top of it until the meat is done.

2. Tandır Kebab: (Tandır: an oven consisting of a clay-lined pit) In Central Anatolia, sheep, lamb or kid.after being slaughtered and cleaned, is hung in a tandır to cook.

3. Çevirme Kebab: (Çevirme: turning, rotisserie) In some areas of Anatolia, a sheep is slaughtered, cleaned, its cavity is rubbed with salt and pepper, and a long pole is passed through its mouth to its rear. This spit is mounted over a fire lit outside or over the hearth inside the house. In Kastamonu and Isparta, this type of kebab is cooked on specially constructed long narrow hearths, and the sheep is hung across from the flames.

Types of Çevirme

I am assuming that the goose and chicken çevirme mentioned in the Selçukname were prepared as I have described above.

Girde (Thin Flatbread)

Unadulterated wheat containing no other grain is called arı buğday (“pure wheat”). The bread made of such pure wheat flour is called arı buğday ekmeği. The arı girde mentioned in the Selçukname refers to yufka (a paper-thin flat bread) made from this flour. This means that yufka bread existed during the Selçuk period. It is appropriate that the yufka bread served at a feast given by the ruler should be made of pure wheat flour. Yufka bread is still made in many villages and towns of Anatolia. The bread is made thus:

The flour is sifted, and water and salt is added, and it is kneaded well to make a stiff dough. Without leavening, it is divided into 100- to 150-gram pieces known as bazı. Each piece is rolled with a long thin wooden rolling pin (oklava) on an even wooden surface, to the thickeness of one millimeter and 45-80 centimeters in width. It is then wrapped on the oklava and unrolled onto the sac, a convex griddle heated over the hearth. When one side is cooked, it is turned with an implement known as pişirgeç (from pişirmek: to cook). Museum curator Vahit Yaveroğlu informs us that in some eastern provinces the dough is allowed to rise and instead of an oklava, it is opened with another implement known as a kindirek. It is then laid over a pillow-like mazraka, with which it is stuck to the walls of a tandır. I was unable to find information as to which one of these was made in the Selçuk period. As the tandır is an older invention, it is likely that the yufka made during that period was of the tandır type.

Söğülme or Söğürme

A whole slaughtered turkey, goose or chicken, or a piece of meat, is rubbed with salt and spices and placed in a deep sided pan. It is then roasted in the oven or tandır; the resulting dish is known as söğürme. Still used in Anatolia, this word appears in the Selçukname as söğülme, possibly the result of an error during the copying. We read: “...Nagıh çaşnigir Nasirüddin bir tavuk söğülmesin ısıcak deyu sultan önünde doğradı. Sultan ondan birkaç lokma tenavül buyurdu.” Let us dissect the sentence.  Çaşnigir was a civil servant’s title in the Selçuk government, whose duty it is to oversee the meals of the ruler and sample the foods. So the sentence reads, “Nasırüddin, the çaşnigir [late in the reign of Alâeddin Keykubat I] brought a chicken söğürme and saying that it was hot, carved it before the ruler; the ruler took a few bites of it.”

Nukul

We find this word in the Selçukname of Yazıcı Ali : “. ..Gül’izar, bademçeşm ve lale had şarapdarlar altun ve gümüş tabaklar birle dürlü dürlü nukullar her kişinin önüne tezyin ettiler.” (Gülizar and the almond-eyed and tulip-cheeked cupbearers graced the [place in] front of everyone wıth all manner of nukul on silver and gold plates.) The dictionaries tell us that this word refers to mezes and sweets consumed at drinking parties. In Anatolia this is known as “nukl” or “lokul” and is made as follows: Dough is kneaded, rolled out to 2-3 mm, and topped with ground meat, ground walnuts or sugar. The dough is then rolled from one side into a roll 3-5 cm wide. This is then cut into pieces 8-10 cm in length, and placed in a baking pan, and cooked on the hearth or in the oven.

Buğday Çorbası (Wheat Soup)

Buğday çorbası is made in one of two ways:

a) Wheat is beaten, threshed and dried. In Anatolia this is called “den” or aşlık (“for stew”) In some parts of our country, the wheat is ground to one fourth of its size in a hand grinder. This is known as çorbalık (“for soup”). Either aşlık or çorbalık wheat is boiled in an earthenware or other pot and boiled, then mixed with salt and yogurt or ayran. It is topped with butter and a bit of dry mint for serving. This is known as “buğday çorbası,” “ayranlı” or “yoğurtlu çorba.”

b) In several parts of the country, in the spring when yogurt is plentiful, wheat prepared in the aşlık manner is wet with yogurt and made into walnut-sized pieces. These are flattened out and left to dry on a clean cloth, and are stored in this form. When soup is to be made, this yoğurtlu aşlık is put in a pot with water, salted and boiled, and served in the same way as above.

Tandır Bread

Before moving to the bread, let us describe the tandır. Tandırs exist in nearly every part of Turkey, excluding the forested regions. They are on the lower floors of the homes, in a room of the same name. The tandır is constructed as follows: A vertical hole is dug 60 to 80 cm deep. From one side of the base of this hole to up to 1.5 meter to one side of the hole, an air hole, or “chimney” is dug, to vent the smoke from the wood, brush or manure that will be burned in the tandır. The inside of the tandır is coated evenly with clay. In this way bread can be cooked on the sides of the tandır, and other foods can be cooked in a pot hanging from the top. Mevlana held up tandır bread as an exemplary food as he found it more flavorful than other breads. The dough is rolled out to various thicknesses and as mentioned earlier, stuck to the sides of the oven. The top is closed, and a short time later the bread is removed.

Sugar

Sugar was being produced and eaten during the Anatolian Selçuk period.

When Alâeddin Keykubat I, the great emperor of the Selçuk State, came to Konya for the first time, a ceremony was held, the likes of which are rarely encountered in history. These ceremonies and festivities included elegant feasts and drinking revelries. M. Th. Houtsma’s edition of the Selçukname describes these feasts: “. . . Çini ve altun sahanlar, tepsiler içinde elvan niam dane ve müza’fer ve kalliyat ve boraniyat ve me’muniye ve halavat-i mümessek ve muattar ve yahniler ve söğülmeler ve biryanlar ve tavuk ve güvercin ve keklik ve bıldırcın söğülmeleri sedire ve iki kola Oğuz resmine göre döşenip müzeyyen oldu ve kasat, kımız ve mümessek ve muattar şerbetler oğuz resim ve erkanı üzere yenildi ve içildi.” (“Porcelain and gold platters, pans laden with various niam dane and müza’fer and kalliyes and boranis and me’muniye andhalvahs wıth musk and fragrances, and yahnis and söğümes and biryans, and söğümes of chicken and pigeon and partridge and quail, were served to the Oğuz officialdom, the two tribes of which were seated according to Oğuz tradition.”) Now let us look at the names of these foods:

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