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

Ceremony for the Distribution of the Janissaries Ulufe

Once every three months, the Janissary Corps and other military classes were paid their salaries, called ulufe, in a special ceremony. If there was a newly-arrived ambassador present, the ulufe distribution ceremony was more ostentatious. After watching this ceremony, the ambassadors were accepted for an audience with the sultan (20).

On the day the ulufe was to be paid, the Divan would meet, with the Grand Vizier and other high-ranking statesmen in the Kubbealtı and the sultan on his throne, to witness the ceremony. The Divan placed the ulufe, recorded in the books for each corps, into a leather purse. While this was taking place, soup, pilaf and zerde was placed before the Sultan’s court (18). As the Divan was assembling, the Grand Vizier would greet the members of the Divan on his right and left before taking his seat, and after sitting, say “Sabahınız hayrola” (an elevated form of “good morning”). At this point, as required by the old law and as a sign of the military’s good intent and allegiance, the Janissary general would distribute candy to the members of the Divan, beginning with the Grand Vizier and continuing in order of rank, and everyone partook. This was called “akide şekeri” (lit. “good faith/allegiance candy”); the same name is still used today for this traditional hard candy.

At this point, the chamberlain in the Kubbealtı would at the appointed time make a sign with the skirt of his uniform, upon which the Janissaries waiting at the Middle Gate would run like lightning and eat the food laid out before the Sultan’s court. Following this, a sacrificial sheep was slaughtered. During this distribution of wages, there were times when the Janissaries did not eat the food, in order to make certain demands known. The sacrifice of the sheep was a celebration of the understanding that the Janissaries had not rebelled (18).

At the end of the meal, the Janissaries again withdrew to the Middle Gate and stood, then took their leather purses and departed. In addition to their wages, the Janissaries received meat, bread, bulgur and clarified butter, and rice on Fridays. Every day they received 100 dirhems of meat and 50 dirhems each of bulgur and clarified butter (rice on Friday nights instead of bulgur). Every Janissary unit had a çorbacı (literally “soupmaker”), who was a commandant. However in this context, the word did not mean an officer who made soup. Just as the Janissaries, in order to praise the bread and blessings bestowed to them by the sultan, called their own organizations “hearths,” they called their officers either çorbacı oraşçı usta (master chef). They called their kettles Kazan-i Şerif (Honorable Kettle) and showed more respect to it than to their flags. When they staged an uprising, the term kazankaldırmak (to pick up the kettle) meant “to revolt” (22).

Among the Janissaries, the distribution of soup was carried out in a special way. For security in Istanbul’s neighborhoods, sufficient officers from the Janissary corps were sent to one or several gendarme stations in the various quarters. Every morning an officer known as the baş karakollukçu (head gendarmerie officer) would bring a large iron soup ladle and behind him, two Janissaries would bring the soup kettle hung from a pole they carried on their shoulders, and in this way would ladle out the soup (22).

Feasts Given for Foreign Ambassadors

During the Ottoman period, foreign ambassadors entering the boundaries of a country were considered the guests of that country, and the costs for his sustenance were covered by the host country. Ottoman sultans gave various gifts to the ambassadors’ countries upon their return. In the same way, the ambassadors also brought various gifts to the sultan, the Grand Vizier and the upper heads of state (23).

In 1530, Hungarian King Ferdinand I sent Joseph Von Lamberg and Niclas Jurischitz as ambassadors to Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. The ambassadors were invited to the palace on November 14, 1530 at eight o’clock, and before their meeting with the sultan, they and their knights were served a meal at the palace. Seventy-two different dishes were brought to the hall, and seven dishes came to each group of two or three people; thus a rich feast had been provided according to the demands of tradition. According to protocol, four different tables were set (24).

First table: Four pashas (Ibrahim, Kasım, Ayas and Hadim Paşa) and the two ambassadors sat at a silver table.

Second table: The two highest-ranking clergy men were seated at a silver table.

Third table: Here at the sultan’s highest-ranking registrar.

Fourth table:  Here sat the sultan’s four chamberlains.

During the meal, sherbet was served to the guests. After the meal, the four chamberlains took the ambassadors to the hall in which the Sultan was waiting, and there they remained for half an hour. The Sultan gave the ambassadors ten thousand akçes (small silver coins), two gold items each, various items of silver, shawls and candles (24).

The first fully-authorized sent by Queen Elizabeth of England was Edward Bardon, and his ambassador’s report states that he ate one hundred different dishes at the palace and drank rose sherbet (14). When Edward Barton was welcomed at the palace in 1595 during the reign of Mehmet III, he left his home and boarded a boat with seven men dressed in silk under silver thread embroidered suits as well as forty assistants, at the short he was met by two generals and forty to fifty sergeants, who brought the ambassador and his men horses. Upon coming to the palace, the ambassador was greeted by the Grand Vizier, who took the letter from Her Majesty. They then entered the banquet room. Hundreds of dishes of food had been prepared, most of which were grilled or simmered. Forty or fifty people were charged with the serving of the food. They were given water mixed with rosewater and sugar (sherbet) to drink. If the serving of the food, which took half an hour, was conducted silently and in an orderly fashion; the gathering of the dishes was equally noisy and disorganized (9).

Petis de Crois, a member of the French mission to Istanbul, greatly enjoyed the dishes he ate at the table of Sultan Mehmet IV in 1674. Among the dishes included in this feast were various seasonal salads with rose petals, lamb and chicken kebabs brought in dishes called “martaban,” pigeons fried in butter and onion, then baked with kaymak, sugar and rosewater, various types of fish, stuffed chicken and meat-stuffed grape leaves, soups, pilafs,böreks, tavuk göğsü (a sweet milk pudding) made with the breasts of capons, almond baklava, apples and pears baked with musk and ambergris, cherry pudding, hoşafs and sherbets (25).

Among the memoirs of John Covel, secretary to Sir Daniel Harvey, who served for seven years (1670-1677) as English ambassador, was a section regarding the feast served to them after they were received by Mehmet IV on July 27, 1675 in Edirne (26):

Basins, pitchers and towels were brought. The Grand Vizier, the Registrar, the Nişancı and my lord (the ambassador) washed their hands. Each had their own servant. Later, small round tables, identical one to another, were carried in. One of these was covered with cloth, and the others with leather, after which bread was distributed among the tables. Small wooden spoons were laid on the tables. First, small bowls with olives, parsley and dill were brought. To these were added pickles, brine, salt and pepper. The three tables reserved for the Grand Vizier, the Registrar and the Nişancı were set in the same way. At the Grand Vizier’s table a place was reserved for the ambassador. At the table of the nişancı sat Mr. North (Treasurer) and Mr. Hyet (financial attahe); Mr. Cook and I sat at the table of the Registrar. The other merchants and gentlemen were hosted in another room, some of them sitting at the table of the Reisül-Küttab and others at the Çavuşbaşı’s table. The table where we sat was treated equally. Twenty plates of meat were brought one by one. When one plat was finished, the next was brought and distributed in an orderly manner with no loss of time. The serving of the dishes was so organized that due to the skill of those serving the separate tables, all of the tables finished at the same time. In place of napkins there were towels placed in our laps; these were to wipe our hands with. There was smaller but higher quality version of this towel; this had been provided for us to wipe our mouths and beards.

The dishes served at this meal were, in order of service: chicken with mushrooms and no sauce, roasted on a spit; fried pigeon (it may have been partridge), fried spicy kebab, vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice (etli yaprak sarma), soup with rice and wheat, pilaf with chicken, another very delicious dish for which no name was given, another pilaf with pine nuts (iç pilav), raisin hoşaf, baked börek filled with bits of meat (talaş böreği), then a delicious milk pudding (sütlaç or muhallebi), a dessert sweetened with honey, and large pitchers of lemonade and sherbets to quench the thirst. Covel states that the meat dishes were eaten with the hands (26). Ottoman feasts were certain to include several types of meat, sherbet, and both milk-based and baked sweets.

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