Cuisine of Harem
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Cuisine of Harem

The allowances given by the sultans to their wives came in small silk bags which contained small leather purses. The allowances of the head kalfas (servants) was sent in purses of a white fabric known as “hasse,” and these were inside their own jeweled boxes. Young girls entrusted their money to “kesedars,” the old retired kalfas without a master, who lived in a building alongside the harem set aside for them. These allowances were placed in small pouches bearing the names of their owners, and stored in silver inlaid, jeweled wooden barrel-shaped boxes. The palace concubines used their saved allowances to buy State (or Treasury) bonds.

The harem received a monthly allowance of sugar, roasted and ground coffee, candles, soap, salt and pepper. The allowances for the members of the Sultan’s family went to each of them individually. In addition, the young princesses each received white bread, simit, pide, white cheese made especially for the palace and kaymak (clotted cream) every morning. The kaymak was brought in a silver pan, the bread and other foods in leather chests, on the locked lid of which her name was worked in silver or inlay. This food, prepared especially for the palace, was of a quality impossible to find outside its bounds. For this reason, former servants who had married and left the palace but still lived in the city and knew the flavor of this food, received baskets of food sent by the princesses or their servants. In return for this gift, they generally sent foods which were not on the Palace’s food lists, which they had prepared, such as stuffed mussels and fish, and olive oil dishes. Before  breakfast they were sent snacks and sweets such as preserves, cheese, olives, pastırma, steamed meat, caviar and green salad, set on large trays lined with leather and with a copper cover, with silver around the edge, the whole thing covered with white felt. In the evenings, on separate trays, came the fruits of the season, set in dishes expressly for this purpose.

The extremely varied cuisine was naturally of another league. The pans in which the food was placed were arranged on wooden trays, and over the top was a cotton cover with ties threaded through holes in the edge. In this way the dishes remained hot as they were taken to the Palace, even during the winter months. The covers for the trays were of difference colors according to whom they were gong to; those going to the princesses were of brown or dark navy blue felt, while the kalfas’ were navy blue and those of the concubines were white.

The tray bearers (tablakar) carried the trays into a special entrance of the Palace and passed through the wards of the harem guardsmen. After leaving them on long tables placed in the marble hall of the Harem apartments, the aghas of the harem called the concubines, and immediately left in order that they would be able to enter.

Rather than an apron, the concubines wore large cotton panels tied at the front which were embroidered in gold thread on both ends. The procession of young, delicate girls on high wooden clogs called nalın1, proceeded in an orderly manner through the hall of the Harem.

When the trays were brought, those for the princes and princesses were taken by the çeşnibaşı and handed to the kalfa who would be in attendance during her master’s meal. The trays for the kalfas and girls were distributed by pantry girls charged with this duty.

1 Nalın is a wooden clog with two extensions under the ball and heel of the foot from 10-12 cm in height. They include a slipper-like portion on the front into which the foot is insertet, made from leather and sometimes adorned with silver. Nalıns may be worn over a bare foot or with another slipper; and worn in the garden, hammam or anywhere necessary. While walking in them is very difficult, awkward and dangerous for those who are not accustomed to them, those who are used to them can run in them without losing them. Because of the simplicity of their construction and the low price, nalın are still in use. Even today examples made of precious wood with mother of pearl and metal inlay, used by the wealthy, are to be found. For the palace, all-silver nalın were even made, but as they are not efficient, they are no longer much seen.

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