Foods and Drinks of the Palace
A. Breads and Other Baked Goods
Breads at the palace were made of two types of flour. One was the has un (special flour), of high quality and made from wheat from the Bursa region; and the other was fodula unuwhich was brought in great quantities from the Balkans. Within the fodula unu category were two further categories, meyâne (medium quality) and harcî (low quality). These flours were basically made into two types of bread (ekmek), has and harcî ekmek. The first was made of has and meyâne flour while the second was made from harcî flour. Although written sources indicate that breads belonged mostly to two grups, has and harcî, as has ekmek was made from two different types of flour, one could say that there were three different grades of bread made in the palace. Thus Robert Withers, who came to Istanbul in the early 17th, writes of three different grades of palace bread. The first (made from the has flour) was very white and flavorful and was served to the sultan and high-level officers; the second (frommeyâne flour) was given to the middle classes, and the dark and hard third grade (from harcîflour) was served at the meals of novice boys and other low-ranking employees14. However documents in the archives record two different breads, has and harcî. From the same documents we learn that bread made from the high quality flour was served to the sultan, special members of the chamber, the high ranking people of the palace and harem, the Vâlide Sultan (mother of the sultan), the princesses, princes, viziers, defterdars, the şeyhülislâm, the nakibüleşrâf, the nişancı, military judges, the imam and hoca to the sultan, the head physician, the old lords of the palace, and the secretaries, lords and retired lords of the imperial kitchens; while the has and harcî breads made from fodula flour was given to a broad spectrum of people ranging from the Vâlide Sultan to the novice boys, excluding the sultan15.
Bread consumption in the palace increased continually parallel to the rising population. The yearly consumption of has ekmek was 200,000 at the end of the 15th century; and had risen to half a million in the beginning of the second quarter of the 16th century. This had risen to one and a half million in the first quarter of the 17th century, to surpass two million by mid-century. Harcî bread consumption, which was 300,000 yearly at the end of the 15th century, had risen to half a million in the first quarter of the 16th century, to reach a million in the third quarter of that century. It had risen to two million at the beginning of the 17th century, and by mid-century reached two to three million, one year reaching four million.
It is also possible to estimate the daily consumption of bread from the yearly amounts in the table below. According to it, the daily consumption in the palace at the end of the 15th century was 650 for has bread and 915 for harcî bread. In the first half of the 17th century, the figure for has bread was between 4041 and 5982, and 4774 to 11176 for harcî bread.
The weight of individual loaves of bread made in the palace changed. It is known that just as in the west, in the Ottoman Empire as well, the price of bread was not changed during times of scarcity so as to avoid a reaction from the people; instead, the quality or weight was changed16. The frequent changes in weight witnessed by the common people were not so often encountered by those within the palace. The weight of has bread, which was 637 grams at the end of the 15th century, fell below half a kilo in the first half of the following century; and from the beginning to the middle of the 17th century was around 400 grams.Harcî bread, which in the late 15th century weighed 550 grams, decreased to 400 grams toward the end of the 16th century and in the beginning of the following century went down further to 377 grams, where it remained for the first half of that century.