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

David, an Italian ambassador to Selim II. says that meals were eaten with silver utilsils; French ambassador Comte de Castellene who came in 1741 informs us that Seladon China service which changed color if the food was poisoned was used (18). At a feast given for the Russian ambassador in 1776 by Mustafa Ağa, the assistant to the Grand Vizier, at his palace on the Bosphorus, seventy different dishes were served on silver platters (27).

The English naval officer Adolphus Slade, who came to Turkey in the early 19th century, was served a banquet by the Commandant of the Ottoman fleet. This feast was eaten on a sofra set up between two cannons on the deck of a warship cruising the Black Sea. The feast included twelve dishes, from fried red mullet to chicken, meat with pilaf and hoşaf (25).

A feast held for an English Admiral on June 14, 1912 included the following dishes (14):

Cold meat broth
Sea bass
Young duck with pilaf
Cold grilled lamb with liver
Chicken kebab
Keşkülü fukara (a milk pudding made with bitter almonds and pistachios)
Ice cream
Şekerleme (could be one of several different sweets)

Feasts Held for Heads of State Visiting the Palace

After his tour of Europe, Sultan Abdülaziz desired to have what he saw in the palaces there and the feasts that were held for him to be instituted in the Ottoman palaces as well. Very proud, and a lover of ostentation, it was he who had the Çirağan, Beylerbeyi and Küçüksu palaces built. But there were no personnel suitable to provide the kind of service he was in the European palaces, and acquiring such personnel would take time. Sultan Abdülaziz was thinking about how he would host the Empress of France, the Emperor of Austria or the Crown Prince of Prussia, who he had invited to Istanbul. Cooks and pasty chefs and been brought from France for these guests. At the same time his sofracıbaşı Marko was making regular trips to Paris. Tables and service were rented for the guests, and reparations were paid for broken or cracked items. Bonets, robes and jackets had been bought for the kitchen orderlies and he had forty suits sewn bye the tailor Lori, for those who would serve the guests. He had also hired additional personnel for the palace kitchen for these guests – cooks and assistants, candlemakers, ward boys and coffee makers. He also brought three chefs, bakers and pastry chefs from Europe (14).

The first great feast in Dolmabahçe Palace was given in honor of Bulgarian King Ferdinand and his wife. Everyone invited to this feast wore their uniforms. The women were dressed in fine gowns and glittering jewelry. Only Ali Rıza Bey, President of the Meclisi Mebusan (Legislature) wore a suit coat. Although the queen was present at the feast, the sultan’s harem was not there. The Queen was able to visit the Kadınefendi (wife of the sultan) only by going herself to the harem. Gold-plated tableware was used at the feast, enough sets for twelve dozen people. Eight different dishes could be served without being washed(3).

The guests were met by royal wards dressed in red trousers, silver thread embroidered jackets and a crested cap. The orchestra wore white trousers and red jackets. The sultan met the king queen at the mounting block, after which the orchestra played the Bulgarian and Turkish anthems. It was a dazzling spectacle, from the candles in the chandeliers to the gold-filled candelabras and table service, the guests’ silver embroidered suites and their jewelry. The feast lasted two hours, after which the guests entered the great hall. The sultan sat on an armchair and paid his respects to the guests one by one, and coffee was served (3).


Ceremonies and Celebrations for Princes’ Circumcisions

In the Ottman Empire, celebrations were held for such events as the birth, circumcision and marriage of princes and the sultan’s campaigns. We observe that at these celebrations, the sultan and high ranking statesmen mixed with the common people. Royal celebrations were an important part of the lives of people during that period. As in Renaissance Europe, these celebrations were not held only behind the walls of the palace but rather took place with the participation of the people as well. Thus with their ceremonies, rules of conduct, order and feasts, such celebrations are important events in Turkish cultural history (28).

During the early Ottoman periods, birth celebrations were not common. Up until the time of Murat II, we see that celebrations, whatever the occasion, were more modest. The dazzling and ostentations celebrations were more of a display of power, and emerged during the stagnation and decline of the Empire. However the first great celebration was staged in 1457 by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in Edirne on the occasion of his sons’ circumcisions. Other great celebrations of importance which took place in later years were held by Suleyman the Magnificent in 1530, Murat II in 1582, Mehmet IV in 1675 and Ahmet III in 1720 (28).

The most important celebration of a birth was that held in honor of Mehmet IV’s son Mustafa (Mustafa II), held in 1663; this event was celebrated in various regions of the Empire. In 1758, the celebration in honor of the birth of Hibetullah Sultan was arranged to last seven days and seven nights, but due to the people’s enthusiasm, was extended three days more to last ten days. Hundreds of master performers took part in the festivities, with richly outfitted celebrations, parades and theatre performances held in various parts of Istanbul. The most significant occasions for great celebrations by sultans were the circumcisions and marriages of princes (28). The wedding of Grand Vizier Kanijeli İbrahim Paşa to Murat III’s daughter Ayşe Sultan was carried out in grand style. The wedding celebration lasted eight days, with Ayşe Sultan moving into her husband’s palace on the 9th day. The wedding was celebrated with great pomp and circumstance; it took 300 people to carry the gifts given by the Captain of the Navy; and at the head of a procession including the Janissary Ağa and a particular Governor General were fifty loads of gifts. Among these was a great cake, carried by sailors, in the shape of a castle. Among the items in Ayşe Sultan’s dowry were fifty loads of dining room and kitchen sets. A great many feasts were held during the course of the wedding; and after the princess came to the palace, another great feast was held for İbrahim Paşa, the generals, viziers and other high-ranking officers (29).

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