Foods of Ramadan
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Foods of Ramadan

As the use of forks, spoons and knives was considered unseemly for Ramadan, those who had become accustomed to using them — in order not to be scandalized by the public — instead used spoons with coral handles and bowls of ivory, mother-of-pearl or tortoiseshell, or black and white lacquered spoons. These spoons, as well as the special pide and breads, çöreks andsimits, were arranged at the edge of the table.

In addition, from the beginning to the end of Ramadan, the people had a passion for tripe soup. Everybody, rich or poor, wanted to have trip soup at the table. Five or ten minutes before iftar, they would take their soup bowl and go to the shops selling trip soup, or would even wait in line there. From the mansions came servants and houseboys with covered soup bowls, which they arranged around the kettle.

At the end of the meal it was a strict custom to provide fruit compote in cut glass bowls placed in cast trays, and at their edges, spoons as deep as a small bowl, with handles made of tortoiseshell or ivory. During the summer months, ice was added to the bowls.

Now let us leave Ali Bey’s account and examine a fine example of the creativity of Turkish culture from the writer Ekrem Muhittin Yeğen:

During the reign of Sultan Mahmut, the iftar meals prepared by Sheikh Dürrizade at his mansion gained such fame for the exquisiteness of the dishes, the richness of the tableware that they had become the stuff of grand legends, and there was not a statesman to be found who did not yearn for the chance to take part in one of these grand and sumptuous feasts. So much so, that even the sultan himself longed to attend. He longed, but how could a great sultan make himself available for an invitation from the Sheikh? And so the sultan began looking out for a convenient means to his end. At this point, the month of Ramadan arrived.

Considering this a good opportunity, one day during Ramazan, as evening approach, the sultan ordered that the royal carriage be prepared as he would like to go for a ride, and set off. After a trip around the city according to a predetermined route, the sultan suddenly ordered the carriage to be stopped in front of the mansion of the Sheikh, which lay along the route, and entered the mansion.

Seeing that the sultan himself had honored them with his presence, the people looked at each other in astonishment. As the sultan was bid to enter, servants ran to take the good news of the situation to the host. But without losing his composure in the least, the Sheikh greeted the sultan and as the time for iftar had neared, bid him to honor the table with his presence.

Deeply grateful, the sultan proceeded to the head of the table and, with the Sheikh at his right side and surrounded by the foremost statesmen of the time, and with the fine tableware, set about eating, one after the other, the foods of such fineness that they put even the palace food to shame.

After the soup, meat and vegetables were eaten, a golden tray of pilav came, and compote served in small, cheap glass bowls. After they had eaten the exquisite compote with relish, they washed their hands with a golden water pitcher and basin, and just as they were getting up from the table, the sultan turned to the Sheikh and said, “Efendi, as to the pomp and sumptuousness of the tableware and the delicacy of the foods, I can say nothing other than adoration for Allah. But there is one thing here that I’ve not been able to figure out, would you please explain it to me? Among the tableware, which was never less than silver, could you not find a nice crystal bowl for that wonderful compote, instead of those cheap glass bowls, efendi?” At this, the Sheikh answered, “Your Majesty, if we had added ice to the compote, it would have been watered down; and thus its thickness would have been ruined and its taste lost, and thus we would not have been able to gain the appreciation of Your Grace. For this reason, we carved the ice into the shape of a bowl, and put the compote into the ice.”

Returning to Ali Bey’s accounts:

As in the old days everyone ate sitting on floor pillows in a circle, the meal was served on brass or copper trays placed on low stools, and rather than napkins, they used a piece of woven cloth called a peşkir. It was considered an individual honor for the servants, on foot, to place a peşkir on everyone’s lap, such that it reached their knees. One of the rules of iftarwas to go to the table when just a few minutes remained until the evening ezan. The guests sat around the sofra, there was not a sound from anyone, and everyone looked with dour faces as if they had had a falling out. They were insatiable at the delicious smells of the simits covered with sesame, the çöreks with almonds, the oily dishes in the kettles; and the table, laid out in beautiful order. As everyone had something among the dishes they especially coveted, the last moments of the fast required patience and endurance, if only for a few minutes more; and some looked at their watches while others closed their eyes and daydreamed.

When the canons went off, the fast was broken, and an all-out attack began on the spread; soups, eggs, meats, böreks and sweets all followed in turn. As required by custom, the abundance of the foods at Ramadan were seen as a measure of the entertainment of the guests who, unable to possibly eat everything served, would leave the table with profuse apologies.

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