Ceremonial and Celebratory Meals
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Kitchen Organization, Ceremonial and Celebratory Meals in the Ottoman Empire

Up until the Conquest of Istanbul, sultans ate together with others, but after the Conquest they ate alone. The custom of sultans eating alone continued until the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz (1861-1876), who was the first sultan to dine with Crown Prince Edward VII of England and his family at the same table (16).

Sultan Murat III (1574-1595) had very many children, several of which were three and four years old. Every day exquisite dishes were brought to the sultan, and the leftovers were put on a large tray, with four bowls of hoşaf each, and sent to the princes. A separate sofra was set for each (16).

As Mehmet the Conqueror had stated in his book of statues that “His Imperial Majesty dines alone,” the sultans ate unaccompanied (11). Before that time, Mehmet ate together with scholars. In the palaces of Istanbul and Edirne and in the mansions, he preferred to eat with those who according to protocol must be present, conversing with invited scholars. He did not separate himself from these wise men even during ceremonies and weddings. In 1456 in Edirne, on the occasion of the circumcision of his son prince Mustafa, he invited the most esteemed of the scholars to the celebration. He sat Mevlâna Fahreddin Acemi at his right and Mevlâna Ali Tusi at his left, the remainder sitting to their left and right. Mevlâna Hızır Bey Çelebi and Mevlâna Şükrüllah took their places across from him. As mentioned before, he dined with the scholars but later decreed that he would eat alone. One of the reasons that he decided to eat alone was that eating with the scholars gave rise to unpleasant arguments about who sat at his left or his right (13).

Some of Mehmet the Conqueror’s favorite foods included fried chicken, rice porridge, cheese pide, eggs, spinach pide, mantı, borani, soup, börek, honey, muhallebi, zerde, kaymak, baklava, memune halvah, kadayıf with milk, grape molasses, boza, nardenk and sherbet. There was also a type of ayran with mint and raisins. His favorite nuts and fruits were pears, pomegranates and almonds. In 1473, when Sultan Mehmet went on the Uzun Hasan campaign, he stayed for nine days at Afyonkarahisar. Among the foods he ate while here are wild apricots, fresh lums pears, apples, grapes, vegetables, salad, soup with sour grape molasses, lamb’s head and feet, tarhana with cheese, bread and börek. This information was obtained from records entered into the kitchen registers. No ready-to-eat food was bought other than fruit. Throughout this journey he avoided heavy foods, taking care to eat little and few foods (13).

On days when there was not a meeting of the Divan, the sultan generally went to the royal chamber, where he would pass the time with his bookkeepers and the ladies-in-waiting, read, or engage in his particular interests. One of the places where the sltans sat and entertained themselves daily was the magnificent Hall of the Sultan, located just beyond the Fountain Hall; there was a throne here for him. Sometimes he would stayed at the various kiosks of the palace until evening, perform his evening prayers after eating, and then after the last prayers of the night, retire to his quarters to sleep (11).

In order to learn the people’s opinions of the administration, and secretly learn the doings of the viziers and other statesmen, they would sometimes change their clothing and wander around the city in disguise, sometimes during the day, sometimes at night. We know that while walking in disguise in the market, Osman III bought and ate foods such as gözleme,kebab and leblebi (18).

As Sultan Abdülaziz had a passion for fine food, he expected special dishes from his wives. He had an Black cariye known for her culinary skills brought to the palace. These Black women were know for their skill in making certain foods including a plain meet dolma called emin dolması, eggplant with olive oil, stuffed peppers and various vegetable dishes. The dish we know today as Hünkârbeğendi was prepared by one of these Black women. The sultan enjoyed this dish extremely, thus its name became “Hünkârbeğendi” (Liked by the sultan) and the name has remained unchanged to this day (15).

As the westernization movement in the country gained momentum following the Reform period, the custom was adopted, specifically during the reign of Abdülhamid, of eating in a separate room or hall, sitting on chairs at a table, with separate plates, and with a knife and fork. Everyone also had a separate water glass. Disregarding the palace rules, Abdülhamid II ate his noon and evening meal alone with his favorite wife Müşfika Kadınefendi for twenty years. The fork and knife he used were of pure gold (5).

Concerning the eating habits of her father, Abdülhamid’s daughter Ayşe Osmanoğlu wrote:

My father would retire early, and rise early in the morning, go to the hamam and take his bath. He would then have his breakfast, which was very light. Because of his illness, he would drink powdered senna, mixed with sugar. Ye would drink half a glass of milk mixed with mineral water, followed by coffee and a cigarette. He loved coffee, and only drank coffee from Yemen. In addition to the coffee after meals, he would also order six or seven coffees in between. He drank his coffee with no sugar, neither extremely strong nor light. The coffee was made in the coffee room. The kahvecibaşı put on white gloves and brought the coffee to the door of the harem, rang the bell, and gave it to the guard. The coffee tray was small and of gold; upon it was a silver Turkish coffee pot and two white porcelain cups.

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