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6. Spectator sports and dramatic performances

7. Fireworks, dance and theatrical performances.

On some days, if there were a large number of gifts, the giving of these began before the meal, and continued afterwards.

At the circumcision celebration:

1st day: Early on Sunday, the Grand Vizier, viziers, high ranking judges and guards, the sheikh and hodjas came to the Imperial Divan pavilion and awaited the sultan, who emerged from the harem and sat at the throne. The mehter band in front of the Divanhane began to play. According to rank, hands were kissed, and the ceremony ended. Getting up from his throne, the sultan came to the imperial pavilion. Then sofras were set and everyone sat to eat. A separate sofra was set for the Grand Vizier. Official word was sent to the Janissaries as well, who at their food quickly.

On the 2nd through 15th days, meals were given for all the officials and officers of various ranks as well as the local sheikhs, military, Janissary corps and others. The circumcision was held on the 12th day, along with 200 children from Edirne. On the last day, a feast was provided for the people of Edirne, including foreigners who happened to be there at the time.

The meals included large amounts of pilaf and zerde. There were sugar figures in the shapes of nightingales, lions, peacocks, deer and camels. In addition to these were akide candy as well. Foreigners who had come to Edirne for the festivities were received with great hospitality (28).

Ottoman celebrations began in the early morning hours and continued until midnight. The mornings were devoted mainly to ceremonies, gift giving and feasts, after which coffee, sherbet and incense was distributed, and everyone rested. In the early evening the shows began. These celebrations included fire dancers, magicians, pyrotechnics, acrobats, and various other displays of talent and entertainment.

Ramadan Customs at the Palace

Beyond its religious and social significance, the month of Ramadan is extremely significant in terms of our cultural history. In the Ottoman Empire and in Istanbul in the capitol Istanbul, iftar meals, visits, the time before sahur, and sahur were all set by strict rules and nothing was happenstance. How the fast should be broken and what foods would be at the table were all dictated by special rules. When Ramadan arrived, days at the Ottoman palaces and the harem proceeded at a more active pace than before. Residence of the palace and harem kept the fast, and those who were literate recited the entire Koran.

At the palace, the most important starter dish during Ramadan were eggs with onions. After the foods and trays were collected, the kitchen officer would bring water laced with incense and give it to the Grand Vizier first, followed by other viziers and members of the Divan. After the meals, the giving of incense water and sherbet were some of the most notable customs of the palace. The incense water was made by boiling sandalwood, myrrh, wormwood, nigella seed, sesame root, musk, orange and rose water and other fragrant materials in water for a certain interval. When the water was strained, there was a white portion which was given to the sultan, and the remainder was served to the other statesmen in bottles and bowls with and without gold leaf. It was customary to give a gift to the one who served it. To sent incense water to a statesmen of the palace served as an invitation to the Hırka-i Saadet ceremony (In which the cloak of the Prophet was viewed), held on the 15th day of Ramadan (31).

From the 15th day of Ramadan on began the invitations to iftar (the evening meal marking the breaking of the fast) at the palaces and mansions. Before iftar, the light foods for the initial breaking of the fast, known as iftariyelik, were set out. These included dates, olives, cheeses, preserves and pickles. When the cannon fired, indicating the official time for iftar, a short prayer and blessing was recited, and the feast was broken with a sip of zemzem water from Mecca. Then one would eat a date, followed by Ramadan pide (a special rich bread made for the month) together with the iftariyelik. Following the evening prayer, the meal would begin. The Ramadan feast began with soup, followed by various foods, and ended with a sweet (5).

Abdülhamit’s daughter Ayşe Osmanoğlu gave the following information about Ramadan in the palace:

Ramadan in the palace was wonderful; the preparations began a week beforehand. Various syrups and several different iftariyelik came in large pitchers from the palace kitchen, and were sent to all the apartments. On the first night of Ramadan, gold-leafed folding screens were set up around the tables in every apartment, prayer rugs were set out, and prayers were performed. At night, the doors were opened, the sahur (pre-dawn meal) were brought in, and when the cannon fired, everyone stood up. In the evening when the cannon went off, the fast was broken with zemzem water, the iftariye were set out, and everyone drank iced lemonade and syrups. There was a syrup made of fragrant jonquils made only at the palace, which was very delicious. Those who came to the inner palace received a gift from the Başmabeynci. Every evening a battalion of soldiers would have iftar in Yıldız Square, perform their prayers and then pass out Ramadan gifts. On the Night of Power, the 27th night of Ramadan, there was a great procession. Before prayers, we headed out in the harem carriages, with that of the Mother of the Sultan in front, and stopped in the yard of Hamidiye Mosque. After the sultan entered the mosque, all the soldiers were given large cheese pides and delicious sherbets from the palace kitchen. Rockets were fired from Yıldız Square until the prayers were over (19).

From the reign of Abdülmecid on, cooks prepared the iftar dishes in secret, as if they were in competition with each other, and wrote their names on papers which they attached to the cloths covering the food trays. The sultan tasted the various dishes, and if he liked the eggs with onions, he would choose the chef who prepared the dish as his own head chef. The onions for eggs with onions were cooked very slowly in oil without browning, until they darkened in color; this process took 3 to 3 ½ hours (27).

Two different kinds of meals were set at Ramazan, one Turkish and one with with western dishes. At the Turkish style meal, diners sat around a wide copper tray. The sultans of old gave gifts wrapped in red silk pouches to those coming to iftar at the palace, in order of their rank. This was called diş kirası. A similar custom was practiced at the mansions (3). The diş kirasıgiven to those in need consisted more of money while for wealthy people a precious gift of some sort was preferred (32). During the serving of coffee, cigarettes and sherbet, there was a silver tray containing golden watches with or without enameling, and gold plates, with the names of those invited on a piece of paper. After these were handed out one by one, the guests got in their carriages and left the palace (3). In Istanbul during the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror, one Grand Vizier, Mahmut Paşa, after whom a quarter is named, always prepared his guests a “pilav with chickpeas” which contained “chickpeas” made of gold. When someone came upon one of the chickpeas while eating the pilaf, that was considered his diş kirası. While during the 19th century, during the reigns of Sultans Abdülmecid and Abdülaziz, the wealthy continued the tradition of giving diş kirası to each other, Sultan Abdülhamid II continued this tradition more for the poor (32).

From the 19th to the 20th centuries, the procession for the Night of Power was held in the courtyards of Nusretiye Mosque in Tohpane, which was commissioned by Abdülmecid, and the Hamidiye Mosque in Yıldız, commissioned by Abdülhamid II. That night, the Mosque area was decorated with colorful lanterns and the courtyard was transformed into a world of light. For night fell, the wives and princesses in the harem would get into two horse-drawn carriages which would stand in their designated places in the courtyard. The would not get out of the carriages, and the curtains remained drawn. To each carriage, the harem guards would bring iftariye, food and fruit on silver trays, ice cream if it were summer, and would serve coffee (10).

During Ramadan, statesmen would serve the iftar meal to each other according to their ranks. Every Ramadan, a list of those to be invited was prepared and announced. On these announcements everyone was informed when he would come. During this month, the sultan wished to remain alone, and the Grand Viziers would send delicious food to him (21).

On the 20th night of Ramadan, the Janissary officer and his corp were invited to an iftar meal given by the Grand Vizier, and two tables were laid out in the audience hall. At the first table sat the Grand Vizier and the higher ranking Janissaries; and at the second sat the lower ranking officers (21).

The two other corps officers ate at two sofras set up in the guest room.

On the 26th day of Ramadan, it was the custom for the Grand Vizier to go to the sheikh to offer wishes for the upcoming Bayram (Feast of Ramadan). From the 26th on, all the statesmen would go to offer their Bayram wishes to each other, in the order dictated by protocol. This lasted three to four days. On the first day of Bayram, following prayers, the Janissary Corps first came to the palace, and stood in respect at a spot near the Middle Gate. The sultan, together with the viziers and other statesmen, came through the Middle Gate and then returned to his quarters, after which the Janissaries went to eat soup. Coffee and sweets were also eaten during the course of Bayram greetings.

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