As we observe the foods in the palace, we notice that three foods were indispensable at meals there: soup, pilaf and meat dishes. Many types of soups were made at the palace from a variety of ingredients, foremost among which were wheat, rice and lentils, and also including chicken, lamb and pomegranate syrup53. From records made at the time of the Conquest54, we learn that parsley, cucumber, squash, green grapes and plums were added to soups and that cabbage soup was also made at the palace. Those with green grapes and plums in the mixture were most likely the ekşili çorba (sour soups) identified by Alî55. In a list of foods from the 16th century, we see chestnuts, horehound (Marrubium vulgare), carrots, parsley, green grapes, lemon balm, barberries (Berberis vulgaris), lemons, pomegranate molasses, sumac, mint, eggs, noodles, almonds and turnips used in soups, with different soups being made from nearly every ingredient. In addition, we know that ak çorba, bozca çorba, tarhana çorbası and tutmaç çorbası were not unknown in 16th century palace cuisine56. It would also not be mistaken to assume that soup was made from the head, trotters and tripe of the sheep mentioned in the archives.
Of the travelers visiting Turkey in various periods, every one mentions pilaf, the favorite food of Turkish cuisine. Edmondo de Amicis defines pilaf as the “holy food” of the Turks, like the macaroni of the Neapolitans, the couscous of the Arabs and the puchero of the Spaniards57. Appearing in the kitchen registers as dâne (grain) or dâne-i pirinç (rice grain), rice pilaf was eaten plain in the palace, as well as with the addition of fried, roasted or boiled meats. Another type of pilaf made in the palace was bulgur pilaf (dâne-i bulgur). Bulgur pilav with chestnuts appears on lists from the time of the Conquest as well as from the 16th century58. Various vegetables were also added to pilafs in the palace, this mixture was known as dâne-i sebze59.
There was a wide variety of meat dishes at the palace. Mutton, lamb, chicken and other fowl were prepared both as kebab as well as stewed. For ceremonies and festivals in particular, rotisseried meat and fowl were prepared and served to guests60. Meat dishes appeared at everyone’s meals, even those of the lower-level novice boys61. However, those below a certain level, including the novice boys, could only eat mutton.
One characteristic of Ottoman palace eating habits that should be emphasized is that one should not suppose that day-to-day meals were as elaborate or rich as feasts and ceremonial meals. The everyday meals served in the palace were quite simple and with little variety. For example in the mid-17th century, each of ten meals which came out of the Dârüssaâde, which served the harem lords and the women here (thus an elite group), included five plates, including pilav with vegetables, mestane soup, wheat soup, a stew and a milk pudding62 . And the day to day meals of the palace residents did not include more than three items63. In contrast to this, in the late 16th century, Master Edward Barton, who came to Istanbul representing Queen Elizabeth of England, mentioned that there were more than one hundred different dishes at an ambassadorial feast given for him in the Divan64. Even if we cut Barton’s probably-exaggerated numbers in half, the difference is evident.
Below is an alphabetic list of dishes mentioned in some sources dating to the 15th and 16th centuries65. Though one of our traditional dishes, çılbır (poached eggs with yogurt) does not appear on the list, we should not assume that it was unknown in the Ottoman palace; because archival documents show that this dish was prepared in the palace kitchens even in the 17th century. On one list, dated May 2, 1651, there is mention of 50 eggs bought to make çılbır for the sultan66. The statement that memuniye, a dish which appears frequently on the kitchen records, was made for two bayrams67, is interesting in that it indicates this dish practically became a holiday food. Certain sources also allow us to determine the ingredients for aşure, which was considered a special dish in the palace. In the second half of the 16th century, aşure contained (besides sugar and rice) almonds, broad beans, black eyed peas, dates, currants, crushed wheat and toasted hazelnuts68. From records kept in the 17th century, we learn that walnuts, razaki raisins, chickpeas, eggs and apples also had a part in the making of aşure69.
C. Sweets and Pickles
In addition to sweet foods and baked goods, various other sweets were made in the palace including baklava, halvah, preserves, rub (marlade) and macun (pastes from a variety of ingredients). Of the baked goods produced here, the most important in the records wasrikak baklavası, which sometimes appeard as rikak and sometimes as baklava. This baklava, which was among the indispensable foods for iftar and bayram meals70, was distributed to the janissaries when the ulufe (money for horse fodder) was paid, as well as on the fifteenth day of Ramadan following the viewing of the mantle of the Prophet. The yufka (paper thin pastry) were baked in clarified butter; and when given to the janissaries, had a much higher proportion of honey to sugar and included almonds in the filling71. Another baked sweet determined to have been made in the palace is kadayıf, which appears in the records askadayıf-ı hassa72. It is emphasized that it was only for the Sultan and his mother73, thus this sweet was eaten by few people in the palace.