Cuisine of Harem
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Cuisine of Harem

The palace meals always included a lamb dish, in addition to which there was usually a dish of some sort of fowl as well, böreks with meat or cheese, various vegetable dishes with onions and cubed meat, and traditional pilaf. Pasta was extremely uncommon. The evening meal also included tall pitchers of compote prepared from fresh fruits. As the fruits and preserves were already present in the Harem, they were brought separately.

Prior to the ascent of Sultan Abdülaziz to the throne in 1860, the meals of the princes and princesses were prepared in their own rooms.

In order to prevent crumbs from being scattered around, a floor covering2 embroidered with gold/silver and sequins was laid out over the carpets in one corner of the room. In the center of this floor covering, a low table with six silver legs attached in the middle and extending out towards the edges was set. Over this low table, a covering similar to the first , and on this, a wide silver tray called a sini. Floor pillows called minder were placed around this table.

The sini was laid out with small round condiment plats containing fruits and pickles, a three-sectioned salt cellar containing salt, pepper and cinnamon, and a small pitcher with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Two spoons set on fine muslin napkins indicated where the diners would sit. One of these spoons, with coral handles inlaid with precious stones and a mother of pearl or ivory bowl, was for soup or pilaf, and the other, with a bowl of tortoiseshell and a handle of ivory of pearl, was for the compote. There were no water glasses/pitchers on the sini, as water was generally not drunk during the meal. Sliced bread and hand napkins for wiping the mouth were also laid out in particular places. There were no plates on the sini.

Before the meal, a kalfa would come with a pitcher and basin, and pour water over the prince or princess’s hands. The person whose hands were being washed would be seated on the abovementioned pillows. The Saxony porcelain or silver serving platters were set on trivets, which were of silver if in the palace, or copper/brass if in a mansion. The food was eaten only the thumb, forefinger and second finger of the right hand, with the help of a piece of bread.

It must be noted here that the manner in which people picked up their food was an indication of their breeding and delicacy. This was sometimes performed with such skill that food never even touched the fingertips. It was considered impolite to confuse what food on the serving platter belonged to oneself and to one’s neighbors, put large bites of food into the mouth, or make noise while eating.

2 The chief reason for laying a cloth over the carpets was cleanliness. A second reason was that it was considered a sin to allow staple foods such as bread and rice to fall to the floor and be crushed underfoot.

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