Eat and drinking culture

General information on the daily eating and drinking culture at the beginning and during the upswing of the Ottoman Empire.

Considering that the Ottoman Empire has lasted almost 700 years and its borders have shifted constantly, one can not generally speak of a general Ottoman eating and drinking culture. The reader will rightly ask himself; “At what time and in what local area of ​​the Ottoman Empire?” Generalizations are difficult and wrong when dealing with such a large period of time.

Important for any cultural development are the influences of time and place. For this reason alone, it is impossible to treat the first and last days of the Ottoman Empire equally. The circumstances adapt to the time. The Ottoman Empire is no exception. There is a great gap between the simplicity that prevailed in all areas during its foundation and the exuberance that accompanied its last days.

After the founding of the empire, a western influence began to take shape, pushing back Turkish culture. This was not surprising, because the Principality, from which the great Ottoman Empire was later to develop, had a direct border with the Byzantine Empire, which at the time had at least 600 years of European history.
In addition to the temporal component of course, the factor of the local location is not to be underestimated. Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans, Anatolia, Central Asia and North Africa belonged to administered areas of the empire, which was comparable in size only to the former Roman Empire. The people who lived there had their own cultures, traditions, customs and customs, whose roots often reached deep into the past. History proves that the Ottomans had no interest in changing anything and putting a new culture on the conquered peoples. Only in the capital, the former Byzantine Constantinople, did the influence of the Ottomans make themselves felt to a certain extent without, however, exceeding the limits of the tradition of the people living there, as we know from contemporary historical accounts.
Can we even speak of an Ottoman eating and drinking culture? One can; if you take Istanbul as its center and ignore the adopted European pseudo-culture that was so popular in the last few years of the Empire. The conquest of Istanbul was the first important milestone on the way to a world empire. However, we now see that Ottoman culture has changed significantly thereafter. Without forfeiting its own identity, it was influenced by the diverse predominant cultures of the former Byzantine capital and, over time, merged into a new culture that remained true to its lineage until the downfall of the Empire, although it is often vilified by contemporary Western-minded intellectuals has been. In all changes, the transformation of traditional eating and dreaming habits was one of the hardest things to do. It took a long time for renewals to be accepted.

On the following pages you will see that the Ottoman eating and drinking culture had some interesting points both at the beginning and during the further development of the empire. While the period of its founding was accompanied by a number of contradictions, it settled over the next few centuries, and Ottoman cuisine became independent and self-confident, open to innovation without ever neglecting its own ethnic roots. If you would like to find out more about this development, we recommend the manual issued by the bank “Sekerbank” on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the founding of the empire.

We would like to point out that in our following short essay not only the kitchen culture of the citizens and rural population is treated. Talking about Ottoman culinary culture, of course, includes all sections of the population, including aristocrats and government leaders.
Special occasions for certain banquets were also excluded in our presentation and as previously mentioned, we limit ourselves to the living space Istanbul.

A comprehensible line in the Ottoman kitchen culture distinguishes itself with the conquest of Istanbul. The conquest of the city had given the Ottomans the impetus for further campaigns and the Principality was to develop a world empire. This new state policy can be traced back to many examples of the now-publicized “Fatih Sultan Mehmet” behavior. Also in the field of kitchen culture now another development was observed. While the Turkish armies made their way to conquer the world, in Istanbul they also opened up foreign cultures, not least in their eating and drinking habits.

One of the first major influences was Byzantine cuisine, although many a Turkish historian disagrees in this regard. Prof. Dr. Süheyl Ünver completely excludes this possibility, which seems somewhat illogical, considering that the Turks immigrated to Anatolia in the 10th century and maintained political and economic relations with the Byzantine Empire for almost 400 years. It should not be forgotten that the Turks in Anatolia found an already existing cooking tradition when they came here and that over the next few years, apart from state relations, both ethnic groups also intermingled in part through marriage and parades. Another factor was that the Turks who immigrated from Central Asia found many foods in their new homeland that had not existed in their old homeland. What could be more natural than to use the already established cooking culture of the Byzantine population? By comparing Byzantine and Ottoman culinary culture you will certainly come across some interesting parallels. A contemporary historian in the area of ​​Byzantine history is Tamara Talbot Rice, who in her book “Daily Life in Byzantium: Constantinople, Pearl in the Byzantine Empire” proposes that the eating and drinking habits in Byzantium are more in line with our current view of modern diet as the then usual eating and drinking habits in the Middle Ages. We quote from her book:
“It was common to have three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lent was strictly observed, but at regular times, at least three dishes were prepared in the homes of the rich at each meal. They began with the appetizers, followed by a fish dish with sauce, the preparation of which came from pre-Christian times. As an alternative, also roasted meat was offered. The conclusion of each meal was a dessert. ”
In another place, the author provides concise references to the then common recipes:
“So many different dishes were served that everyone could choose according to their own taste.” She then gives an example. Constantine VII, e.g. especially loved the following: “Constantine the VII preferred delicate sauces. He also had a weakness for small olives, blanched bay leaves and Indian herbs, especially when they were fresh. ”

It is interesting that the then Western Roman Emperor was a fan of sauces. Also, a common taste for fresh and therefore naturally expensive herbs and spices was a commonality, which proves the mutual influence of the two cultures.

The book by Tamara Talbot Rice also gives us information about the eating habits of the common people:
“A Greek housewife still had the choice between different wild and stable animals that she could use in the kitchen. Pork, especially pork knuckle, was extremely popular in the Byzantine Empire; Poultry could be fried or cooked; Fish and ducks were eaten with pleasure. ”

Of course, pork was not included in the menus of the Turks, and ducks are a rarity in traditional Turkish cuisine. The sudden turn to fish dishes in Ottoman cuisine, however, can not escape us. From historical sources we know how much this preference for fish had influenced the culinary culture in the palaces at the time of the “Fatih Sultan Mehmet”.
In the further course of the book, the author now lists some very popular recipes, at the top of which are the various soups. Simultaneously with the soups are also called the stews, which are considered in Western culture as a soup, but in Turkey as a court.
“Soups, whose preparation was often very tedious and tedious, were eaten with pleasure. To tripe or in the clay pot cooked stews were handed various salads. “The customer review has been automatically translated from German.
Here, the mention of the salad is very important, because it gives us an indication that the Byzantines at this time already ate salad, which held shortly thereafter also entry into the Ottoman cuisine. It is not surprising that olive oil was one of the main ingredients of Byzantine cuisine. It seems equally logical that the Ottomans borrowed many recipes for Byzantine cuisine cooked in olive oil.
A taste for cheese had both Ottomans and Byzantines. However, a menu in which fruit did not have its place was unthinkable for the Byzantines.
The most popular fruits back then were apples, honeydew melons, figs, dates and grapes. Pistachios came to the table with the fruit. It is reasonable to assume that Istanbul’s tradition of offering something fresh in the form of fresh fruit after each meal was born out of this Byzantine tradition. Other Byzantine customs can be found in Ottoman cuisine. One of them is the careful presentation of the dishes on a nicely set table. This type of food decoration and table decoration was not common in medieval Europe at the time. Tamara Talbot Rice writes: “In Byzantium the table was laid with great care. At a time when no one was worried about this in Europe, in Byzantine they were distributing precious embroidered tablecloths and expecting the guests outside to remove their shoes before entering the dining room. ”

The extent to which Byzantine cuisine influenced the Turkish at that time is a controversial topic. However, even historians such as Prof. Ünver, who argue that the Byzantines have not left much mark on Ottoman cuisine, must admit that dishes such as stewed clams called “ragout”, stuffed clams and preserving anchovies due to the Byzantine cuisine. He also admits that also shellfish, such as u.a. Crabs, previously had no tradition in Turkish cuisine and their consumption was learned only by the Byzantines.
Most experts now accept that, with the transfer of the Turks from Central Asia to Anatolia, their kitchen culture, among other things, has undergone a great change, which seems only logical, given the given climatic and geographical conditions. Especially the Anatolian plant world differs quite clearly from the Central Asian. From historical sources it is known that the Turks in Central Asia had to confine themselves to a few crops. In Anatolia, of course, they came across a variety of them. In addition, there was the wealth of fish, which would have been enough for a total revolution in eating habits. Despite this, some Turkish historians express the following opinion: “In the 15th century, attempts were made to create a unified traditional culinary culture. Until then, the Turkish people had certain eating habits that had brought it from Central Asia to Malagird. These eating habits spread from there across Anatolia. As we see today, the Turkish cuisine is very diverse, because wherever the Turks went, they took their food from the appropriate regional cuisine to their taste, changed it a bit and also found a Turkish name for it. This does not mean, however, that the Turks did not have a food culture and that they appropriated themselves only in their conquest campaigns. “This quote is to be understood as an attempt to find a middle ground between the two opinions concerning the culinary culture development of the Ottomans.

The immigration of the Turks to Anatolia and their Islamization coincided in time. This alone created a Turkish-Islamic synthesis. About up to this time usual Turkish eating and Tringewohnheiten has already been reported extensively in the previous chapters. Information about the Islamic component can be found at the time of Islamic philosophers and physicians. Take, for example, the work of Muhiddin Arabi, “Religious Measures for People in an Islamic State.” (El Tedbirat-Il Ilahiyye Islahu Memleket-I Insaniye) In the chapter on food and drink he writes:
“Eat only as much as you need without being full. Do not drink too much water. Do not eat greedy and fast. But eat as much as you need to avoid getting hungry again. Take your portion by finding the middle ground between slow and urgent food. As you bite your mouth-watering bite in detail, pray silently. Have you chewed the bite well you can swallow it down. Afterwards thank God, who has given you this moment, praise him and reach out for the next bite. While you’re kissing again, silently speak the prayer-prayer formula. After swallowing repeat the previous procedure of thanksgiving to God and his praise and take the next bite. When you are alone, you should never change this process, eat what is in front of you, tame your greed, and do not look into the faces or the hands of those present when you are in company, because in this way you will escape Food accesses without rulers and who does not. So no one can give you an example with this bad behavior. In that sense, you have fulfilled your pious duty during the meal, and if someone says to you, ‘You eat little,’ pay no heed, but mind you. Stay faithful and say ‘You eat little’ to you.
When it’s time to sit down, sit down last and do not stand up until the board has been picked up. If you are invited to dinner somewhere, avoid displaying your modesty during the meal. Do not eat at home before, just so you can better control yourself from other people and everyone says, ‘Look how little he eats’. If anyone still claims that, pay no attention to it and go on with your own ritual, for such a remark corresponds to the character of certain troublemakers. Keep your normal eating time and habits. ”
This chapter from Muhiddin Arabi’s handbook is an opportunity for Prof. Ünver to make the following statement: “The quotes from the manual, which we have listed after the chapter ‘Turkish Courts in the 15th Century’, show us that the Turkish table and eating habits have been largely influenced by the Islamic culture. “For this includes a moderate meal without being fully fed, not bite down bites completely, eat slowly, chew bites well, even if you eat alone, only by his own To eat a share, not to look at the face or hands of those present at dinner, to be thankful to the hosts, to eat so little that it attracts the attention of others, as the last to start eating, regularly at the appointed meals to eat and to thank God for his generosity with every bite.
Here, however, we must immediately point out that at the same time in Europe so-called “books of manners” appeared in which similar recommendations were given. For example, people here were advised to eat only the portion they were entitled to, not greedily snare and not to look the person in the face or on the hands during the meal. From this it can be concluded that these rules simply sprang from the then usual way of eating from a common dish. Because in this way it was regulated that everyone got the same amount of food by limiting himself to the portion that lay in front of you in the bowl. In order not to embarrass anyone, one should not look to the left and right during the meal. The quintessence of all behavioral measures was in the end, which one should first think of the others and then only to themselves. This way of thinking can not only be claimed by the Islamic Turks. Without a doubt, Islam had some influences on decency and morals, but the rules of the table sprang more from the ‘zeitgeist’ than religious motives.

If we now turn to some details of the eating and drinking culture of Turks who immigrated to Anatolia, we notice first of all the pronounced simplicity of eating habits in the newly arrived principalities. At least this is proven by entries in the books of the caravansaries, foundations and poor kitchens that Prof. Ünver has researched.
Of course, one should not forget that these were charitable institutions that spent the food in vain. It is to be assumed that the menus are therefore not very lush and therefore we can not draw 100% conclusions about the diet at that time.
Despite all this we want to give some examples here. Although there are no detailed descriptions of the courts in the records of the facilities, we can at least follow the name. The indicated quantities of the portions are not of interest to us and therefore are not listed here. At the distributed food in these charitable foundations, a meat dish with bread was obviously essential. Sometimes there was a soup to go with it. A “pilaf” of rice or wheat groats was also frequently on the menu. From time to time, a sweet was also offered.
This variable menu was offered in many poor kitchens and commercial kitchens at the time of the Seljuks and independent principalities. Prof. Ünver has also found some daily specials lists of rice and wheatgrass soups, meat, pilaf, spinach, beetroot juice, various types of vegetables, flour helva, honey biscuits, etc.
Had you missed the time of the food, so there was still the possibility, at any time to get a small snack. Its nature was the same in many places; Honey, walnuts, cheese and flatbread were offered.
After the founding of the Ottoman Empire, the menu in the palaces was first of all characterized by pronounced simplicity, as we know from reliable sources. Take, for example, an incident described in the book by Adnan Giz and Ahmet Refik, “The Relations of the Turks to Byzantium.” In the palace of the ruler Murat II, a meal is given in honor of the ambassador of Milano, a good opportunity to dazzle the ambassador with pomp and abundance. It is hard to imagine that the Padisah and his advisers did not think so. But let’s take a look at the menu and marvel at the simple offer:
“… in the middle stood about 200 bowls containing some lamb and rice. These bowls were provided before the Padisah entered the room. After the Padisah had settled on his throne, the Milanesian ambassador was called. His gifts were carried after him. The gifts were first deposited next to the dinner plates, and the ambassador approached the ruler’s throne with his hands raised.
“(…) In front of the Sultan Murat, a silk towel and a blanket were laid out, which lay on a piece of red raw leather. It was apparently common here, not by a table top or a tray, but by a large piece of leather to eat as a base. Then two gilded plates with meat were served. The staff now distributed the tinned copper plates, with four people each got a helping. On these plates was some lamb with rice. Otherwise there was neither bread nor something to drink. My eyes fell on a high shelf with a small bowl in the upper compartment and a larger bowl in the lower compartment. Some stood up and got something to drink from these bowls. Whether it was water or wine, I could not tell. ”
Before we get closer to o.a. Describe, you should pay attention to the following point. What the contemporary described as rice back then was probably not a simple rice cooked in water, but a “pilaw”, probably a simple buttered pilaf, because nowhere has anybody come across sources that the Turks ever found the rice Chinese-style, So simply cooked in water, have eaten. Interestingly, the narrator points out that the meat on the plates is lamb. Lamb is a typical feature of Turkish-Ottoman cuisine and has maintained its position in Turkish cuisine until 50 years ago. Even at the time of the founding of the Republic there was hardly any beef or veal, which did not correspond to the Turkish taste. This has changed only in the last few years, although you still give preference to the lamb meat despite beef.
The fact that there is only one course in official food described above is indeed a sign of unparalleled simplicity. The fact that there is only rice and not even vegetables for the meat emphasizes the simplicity of this invitation.

Whether the contemporary eyewitness has now played a trick on his memory, or whether there really was not a single appetizer and no dessert, we do not know. That one had used not a table top, but a piece of raw leather as a base for the food, was in the Turkish-Ottoman cuisine tradition. At the same time, it is noted that only the Sultan was presented with a silk towel and a blanket that could be used as a napkin. Other guests did not receive this service. Also that no bread was offered is exceptional, because the bread is one of the most important ingredients in the Turkish food culture. That there was nothing to drink, however, was relatively normal, because with such invitations
No drinks were offered including water. However, that in a separate corner of the room was a container with a drink, probably water and no wine, from which everyone could serve themselves, is also an unusual table center for the time.
That only the ruler and his eventual guest got their own place and all the others had to eat four of a plate, is not typical for the Ottoman table manners, because in the whole of Europe at that time same customs. Sometimes two people had to share a place, but as a rule there were four. It was divided from the bowl or the plate, which stood in the middle with the help of a spoon or a knife, something of its share in front of one and laid the pieces on a piece of bread. From here, the bites were put into the mouth by hand. This bread, which had a kind of plate function, was not eaten in Europe but left for the service staff or thrown to the dogs, who were waiting at a corner of the table.
This relatively simple meal at the court of Murat II, however, was opposed by a fantastic musical experience. Our eyewitness describes it with the following words: “Next to the sideboard a music group had built up. As soon as the Padisah stepped out of his chambers, they began to sing songs that dealt with the heroic deeds of the previous rulers. Although the songs screamed more than sung, they seemed to please most of those present. It felt strange to me at first. But as I entered the hall, I noticed that the band was holding big stringed instruments that they started to play until they settled down to eat. ”
Of course, table music was something reserved only for the aristocrats. While in Europe the music was regarded as entertainment that began before the meal and culminated during the meal, we take a quote from our eyewitness that this was not the case in the Ottoman Empire. “… on which they began to play until they settled down to eat.” From this we understand that the music was silent during the meal, because eating was a serious matter not a pleasure but a sacred duty. We will discuss this topic in more detail in the section on Suleiman the Magnificent.

From the reign of Fatih the Conqueror we have fewer accounts of kitchen culture than lists that tell us what food was consumed and to what extent it was consumed in the palaces. At that time, it was common for the chief accountant to carefully record all these numbers in books. Here is an example from the 8th month of the year 878 of the Islamic era (after the Christian era of 1473), which lists all the goods purchased by the palace during this period.
Prof. Ünver gives us the registration of deliveries as follows:
3600 kg of honey, 544 chickens, 28 measures of rice, 61 geese, 24 kg of saffron, 116 mussels, 87 crabs, 400 fish, 56 grams of musk, 12.8 kg of paprika, 14 kg of olive oil, 30 liters of marl, 104 kg of Romanian salt 17 kg of cornstarch, 51 bottles of “Boza” (fermented sweet drink made from boiled millet), 616 pieces of sheep’s head and claws. 180 stomachs, 649 eggs ………

Let us examine the listed items in the list in turn and compare them with our current view of nutrition. It is known that honey was used instead of sugar, whereas the large consumption of chickens may seem interesting. Rice was one of the pillars of Ottoman cuisine, as most “pilaws” were cooked with it. Saffron was a privilege of the rich. Today, this spice has lost much of its importance and is used only exceptionally in the kitchen. However, the number of fish, shellfish and crabs delivered is amazingly high at this time. Musk is no longer used as a spice today, whereas the popularity of red pepper has not diminished until today. The fact that olive oil was ordered into the palace shows that the Ottomans slowly moved from their traditional butter to the vegetable oil from the Mediterranean. Marl, a mixture of clay, lime and earth was needed at that time for the production and processing of certain dishes, today one hardly knows this name. The source of salt is interesting, whereas cornstarch was a regional food. We may be surprised by the high number of animal heads and claws that must have been very popular at the time. The same goes for eggs.
Since we only have one month’s record here, it is clear that they do not contain all the foods that were normally on the menu. Some of them might have been bought a month before and therefore did not appear on the list; e.g. Butter. Some quantities appear quite high. However, one should not forget that this was a monthly order for a palace and how many people had to be fed here. If we take that into consideration, we must admit that even in Fatih the Conqueror’s time there was no wastefulness at the court.
At this point, we would also like to point out the number of meals, which amounted to two per day. This had not changed since the conquest of Istanbul until the beginning of the 20th century. Of course, the late morning meal was sky-high from our breakfast or lunch today. Since people had to be content with it until the evening, it was important that they ate filling food. The day was long, especially when you knew that the Lord’s Supper was taken after the evening prayer, ie after sunset.

An important part of the morning meal was necessarily a soup. It was not impossible to exclude a few small things during the day. According to Prof. Ünver, the habit of offering guests a fruit juice between meals is a leftover from this period. In addition, it is reported that at meals punctual guests of the poor kitchens except the series cheese and honey was set.
We also do not want to forget to refer to other institutions of the time, which had the same function. These include z. For example, the educational complexes, which usually also run a folk kitchen in addition to a guest house. For example, some recipes of the dishes that were offered in the folk cuisine of the Fatih School have been handed down. There were, for example, rice soup with parsley, wheatgrass stew, lamb ragout, zucchini cooked with unripe sour grapes, chard, pilaf and a saffron-made sweet. Yogurt was never missing on the food list. Furthermore, it is clear from the list of ingredients that cumin was probably the most popular spice of the time. Onions and chickpeas were also important components of various dishes. A classic menu was for example pilaf, ragout and bread. Special guests were also offered a saffron-prepared dessert, or to eat a bowl of sour pickled vegetables “Tursu”, served to the main course. Also, a fortifying broth, cooked from animal heads and claws, was reserved only for special guests, as well as a special pumpkin jam with cinnamon and cloves.

What the sultans especially like is not known in great detail. After all, the entries in the kitchen book of the palace provide us with some information. Prof. Ünver has compiled some dishes based on these entries: roast chicken, porridge, pancakes stuffed with cheese or spinach, eggs, meat dumplings “Manti”, rice-cooked vegetables “Borani” and yoghurt, soups, pies “Börek”, Honey, pudding, saffron desserts “Zerde”, cream, sweet puff pastry cake “Baklava”, sweet semolina pudding “Helva” and sweet vermicelli “Kadayif”. Beverages were grape syrup “Pekmez”, a sweet drink from fermented millet “Boza”, grenadine syrup, fruit juice and here especially grape juice with peppermint as well as a yoghurt drink “Ayran” to have been very popular. On dried and fresh fruits, pears, pomegranates and almonds were preferred. It was different when the rulers went on campaigns and then had to settle for the regional cuisine of the conquered places. Thus it is clear from historical sources that Fatih the Conqueror had to spend a week in Afyonkarahisar during his campaign in the Islamic calendar year 878 (Christian calendar 1473). Among the dishes reserved for him was a sour soup of unripe grapes, vegetables, lettuce, animal heads and claws, a soup made of dried wheat porridge with yogurt “Tarhana”, pies and bread. Fruit was offered to him with wild apricots, fresh plums, pears, grapes and apples.
Let’s return to the palace. In addition to the Padisah and his family, of course, the service staff was also served here. The menu was not very varied. As a rule, there was only one dish which was nutritious and filling. There was, for example, cabbage soup, mangold with yoghurt, broth with animal heads and pork cooked, square ravioli with yoghurt, porridge with egg, yoghurt with grape syrup and sweet puff pastry cake. You could drink Ayran or fruit juice.

The period of the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent is known as the one to which the Ottoman Empire reached its peak and its borders expanded to the utmost. Also in wealth and prosperity, the Ottoman Empire was no longer to be surpassed, it had actually developed into a veritable world empire.
Very detailed information on the kitchen culture at that time can be found in the report of a Spanish prisoner of war. Although these statements were made from the point of view of a stranger, we can not say that they are prejudiced. On the contrary, the author makes a comparison between Europeans and Turks and takes this as an opportunity to criticize and denounce the contradictions of European fashion at the time. What’s more, this Spanish prisoner of war was a doctor who had made himself useful to the Turks in one way or another and had enjoyed a high reputation with them. In any case, this person whose name we do not know lived long enough in Istanbul to get to know the Turks up close.
This anonymous prisoner was employed for some time in the construction of the house of Marine Minister Sinan Pasha. The workers were also fed at the construction site. In his memoirs, the author writes: “Our food was cooked in huge cauldrons and consisted mostly of thick beans or lentils. However, one was not fortunate enough to catch a bean or lens every time the spoon was dipped in. “From this text, it can be seen that thick beans and lentils were given to the poor because of their high degree of satiety and nourishment. That the quality left something to be desired, is clear from the remark that the beans and lentils were rather sparsely present in the court.
On the other hand, we learn that the Turks, in contrast to the Europeans put a lot of emphasis on good tasty drinking water, which is stated in the following quote: “Thank God, the drinking water was fresh and tasty.” In the text he reports that the Water came from a well that Ibrahim Pasha had built.
The Spanish prisoner, who is named in the book Pedro, slowly gained the confidence of the Turks as a doctor and one day was called as a serf of Sinan Pasha to just this when he was ill. On this visit to the palace of the Pasha, he reports the following: “To make the present old-fashioned and trained in the Middle Ages doctors some of my instructions to understand, I let the two people who were waiting next to the Pasha read from a book brought along. One of these persons was the Pasha’s personal chef, a sympathetic, studied, Latin-dominated German, the other a Venice theological scholar who had converted to the Islamic faith. “We are astonished to learn that Sinan Pasha employed a cook who, in addition to his mother tongue German also spoke the language of the educated and scientists, namely Latin.

In another section, we learn about dietary ideas of the time.

Sinan Pasha fell ill again. Since the Pasha’s servant did not understand nursing, another assignment was given to him and Pedro was sent to his place. He went to the kitchen every morning to order the food for the pasha and to give instructions for the cooking method and serving time. With the food served, the Pasha was fed by Pedro’s hand, what he left, he ate himself.
The fact that Pedro ate the leftovers shows us that the dishes, although cooked for diet purposes, must have been tasty. Moreover, it had to taste the Pasha and also Pedro. Let’s read how this synthesis of taste came about: “One day I came to the kitchen and saw the pasha’s personal physicians tell the cook to cook half a chicken in half a bowl of water to salt the food after cooking , I immediately shouted, ‘You sons of bitches, you vile fellows,’ and scolded them with all the expressions I could think of. Then I put four pots on the stove; in the first I put two chickens with chickpeas, in another parsley and celery, in the third onions and lentils and in the fourth all sorts of vegetables. I gave the instruction that no salt should be added to the dish in the first pot. As an accompaniment to the other cooked vegetables, I had two more chickens fry. ”
The next section shows us the difference between folk and palatial cuisine, in terms of quantity and quality, and how the Pasha stands.
Pedro continues in his report, “The Jewish doctors who saw this said, ‘Who’s going to eat so much?’ I said, ‘You see, you’ve never cared for one of the big boys in your life. You will see what happens now, take a lesson from it, and later do it as I do. Do you think you can treat a pasha like your kind? You ask what happens to the leftovers from the chickens. They will remain for the servants, that will happen. ‘After this incident, I have greatly increased in the eyes of the pasha. ”
In another chapter, the author reports on a voyage that took him from Tasos to Limni, two places that lay within the borders of Greece. Pedro is on the run and tells the following:
“Fearing that the ship could drop without telling us, we did not dare to get off the shore. Our cartridges had gone to the village to eat, drink and have fun when they saw that the weather would not improve to clear. A short time later, we followed them, hoping to find something to eat. There was a wedding in the village right now. We told the guests that we were looking for some bread. They took pity on us and offered us food but unfortunately a bit scanty as we had probably caught a fasting day. There were only beans and raisins boiled in water. ”
This meal was certainly not very filling, but it was also offered alcohol.
The narrator continues: “When we saw that our hands were trembling when breaking off the bread, some fire in the form of a glass of raki was brought to us. Immediately I felt warm inside and I recovered a bit. ”
Mata asks, “Can you drink Raki between meals?” Pedro answers immediately: “It is common for the Turks and the Rumelians to enjoy a couple of drinks during their chats before eating.” Juan then asks: “Does not your mouth burn?” Pedro answers, “No, they are used to it.” Mata asks: “Do the Rumelians drink a lot?” Pedro replies: “As much as the Germans, maybe even more, with a difference, the Germans drink sometimes and then a whole glass, the Rumelier eat something and take a small sip from their drinking glass after each bite.” A better description a typical Rakitafel with their many small dishes you can hardly give.
The Spanish prisoner answers the question of the usual food with the remark that they are very diverse. One is very curious about the way the Ottoman ruler, the Grand Seigneur, eats and drinks in his palace. Pedro does not know the customs of the Sultan’s palace, but he can give examples from the palace life of Naval Minister Sinan Pasha, who after all had managed a princehood.

“I want to tell you how Sinan Pasha ate. Then you understand what the upscale society has for habits. From another example you can see how the middle class ate and drank. If you add some luxury and pageantry to the dining and drinking culture of Sinan Pasha, then you can imagine how it must have approached the Sultan’s court. ”
After these words, Pedro does not begin immediately with the description of the food, but first introduces the table manners in some sentences. “Just as you like to sit on the floor, the food on the floor is taken. So that the carpets are not soiled, you first spread out a mat of horse leather. A large cloth is laid over the edges of which one lies down like a napkin over the knees. Like in church, when you go to communion. The underlying leather underlay they call ‘Sofra’. In this land, you will not even find fruit, knives, salt barrels or a plate on the table of a great gentleman. ”

The lack of fruit seems to be met with great misunderstanding, because it asks, “Do not they eat fruit?” Pedro answers: “Yes, very much, but not over food.”
For the western world it may be an interesting fact that one did not use a knife, although the meat usually came in large pieces on the table. The curiosity about the question was answered by our Spanish prisoner as follows: “They have a kind of flatbread what they call” Pide “. These patties are divided into three parts and placed on the table. The pieces of bread fulfill the function of plates. Everybody takes a piece of meat with his hands and lays it on his bread in front of him. “In the Middle Ages, this custom of eating was not just for the Turks. Even in European aristocratic households, the custom was to lay down food on a piece of bread lying in front of it and to take smaller bites from there.
The author’s explanation why there was no salt on the table is a compliment to Ottoman cuisine. “Salt is not necessary, the chefs are so masterful that they give the food a perfect taste.”

The servants at the table must have impressed Pedro most in their refinement and simplicity, for he devotes a long section to them: “Sinan Pasha’s household had about 40 servants serving only at the table. At its head was the master chef, whom we call Maitre d’Hotel. Her wage was one and a half riyal a day. Their only job was to apply food and serve it at the table. For this purpose, they were all specially dressed. The pasha gave them two coupons per year. One of silk, one of another thin fabric. On their heads they wore high jersey hats, except that they were red. “In the next section, we are told that these servants now and then also went out with the Pasha, changing their clothes slightly. For example, they put a belt around their waist instead of a waistband, which was made of silver thread and gave the impression of a tank.
The tableware was in its simplicity for the Spaniards a source of great astonishment. When asked, “Were the bowls of silver?” Pedro replied, “Above all, you should know that Islamic laws do not approve of eating and drinking from silver bowls or using silver saltpans and spoons.” With reference to Sultan Süleyman He continues, “Even to the greatest Turks, princes, adults and children, Shari’a gives no right.”
That a mighty ruler should not dispose of silverware was met with unbelief among the audience, and they asked again if the sultan really had no precious crockery in his palace. The answer to that was clear: “Yes, he already owns such treasures, but he did not let them make them himself. They came from Venice, France, Hungary and Croatia as gifts. They are kept in the treasury and not used. Sinan Pasha, too, was in possession of such favors as he had received from here and there, but he also did not use silver tableware. ”
Furthermore, our Spanish prisoner declared that the Turks at that time, following the Sharia, claimed that anyone who ate silver in this world would not have the right to do so in the hereafter.

But what material was the dinnerware from? What did the bowls consist of? “From copper,” Pedro informed, “the Turks were better at processing the copper than the English. Just as we manage our fine woodwork on the lathe, so the Turks made ornamentation of copper. Once the vessels had their final shape, they were tinned and polished until they shone like silver. When the dinnerware was taken off, it was tinned again and looked like new again. In addition, this procedure was extremely inexpensive. ”
Of course, the Spaniards want to know something about the Trinkggefäße and learn that the Great Senor drank from porcelain cups. The reason for your surprise was the mistaken belief that porcelain would shatter if it came into contact with poison. But also handle-less tinned copper shells were often used. Many even held up to a liter. If porcelain cups were too expensive, copper cups and cups were more popular than porcelain.
Although glass was known, it was not included in daily use. Pedro explains the reason for this: “There were very beautiful thin Venetian glasses. But like other things they were not used by the Ottomans because they did not want to be like us Europeans. Besides, why should they use glasses when they did not drink wine? Glass was only interesting for her as a container for her jams. ”
Let’s turn to the topic of serving at the table. Pedro tells us the following observations: “At the beginning of the meal, the table staff went in two rows towards the kitchen. In their hands they held bowls that were closed with a lid. The bowls were filled in the kitchen and the servants came out in the same order. The chief kitchen supervisor was the first to put down his bowl on the set table, then took Schüsel out of the hand of the nearest servant and placed it on the table. Now all the bowls were passed from the back to the chief cook, who placed them on the table with his own hand. The unused bowls were removed in the same way. ”

And who was allowed to attend such a meal? The answer is a bit contradictory to our understanding of etiquette and social ranking today.
Even then she was astonished at the Spaniards and our narrator, aware of their surprise, with true enthusiasm about the table companies of the Minister of Marine and temporary manager of a princedom, Sinan Pasha: “Everyone could go to table with the Pasha, with the exception of his slaves , Among the slaves were some high-ranking people, among them even a governor, but they had to eat separately from the pasha. Otherwise, every employee, even the smallest kitchen boy, was allowed to sit at a table with his master! ”
Important for Pedro is also to note: “Even with the seating arrangement, there was no hierarchy. Even those who knew no one, took off his shoes, squatted down, took a spoon and began to eat. After the meal, he thanked God and closed with the words ‘pick up the board’! ”
The many exclamation marks in previous paragraphs do not come from the author of the book, but from the author of this report. Because this kind of table culture is difficult to understand even for a Turk living in the 21st century. Our narrator continues: “The steward and the master chef were responsible for the Pasha’s table, but they did not dine with their master at a table. On the other hand, there were 20 Turkish servants who were not slaves. They were the rowers of the boat, which was used when the Pasha wanted to take a boat trip. These 20 rowers were allowed to eat with him at a table. ”
Let us return to the other table societies. When the bowls had been removed in turn from the Pasha table, they did not go to the kitchen, but to the board of the palace staff. Here the eunuchs and the room staff ate. This group of about fifty people, in which our Spanish prisoner was also, satisfied their hunger and then handed the bowls to the blackboard where the rest of the staff sat. These finally stood up and left their places to the artisans of the palace, the tailor, shoemaker, armourer, goldsmith, etc. Pedro notes:
“Since the food went through many hands, nothing good was left, especially meat, even though the bowls from the steward’s and master chef’s table were passed on to the rest of the staff.
If nothing “good” was left, did that mean that the last few were not fed up? We find the following answer in the text: “One thing I have to tell you, though! It was always cooked so much that even the last could not empty the bowls and for dogs, cats and birds still a remainder was left. For if it had not been so, it would have been considered as a shame a sin that drew misfortune. ”
Pedro is also asked about the size and characteristics of the kitchen and cooking utensils and gives the following information: “Pots and kettles in which cooking took place were correspondingly huge to the number of palace inhabitants. They had no handles and the opening rejuvenated slightly towards the top. The pots were made on the lathe and made of copper. There was also a kind of pans, but without handles, which were also made of thick copper sheet, the edges of which were high. ”

Now we come to the menu. The author gives a lot of examples, some of which corresponded to the then usual cuisine and part of the Turkish traditional cuisine. Some of the recipes are attributable to the author’s objective view and his meager experience in a closed group. For if he claims that the Turks did not like to eat animal heads or offal, that is rather unbelievable if we look at Fatih the Conqueror’s business books and can only attribute this claim to a particular aversion at the court of Sinan Pasha. Moreover, since their time in Central Asia, the Turks have always been animal breeders and it seems natural that they have exploited all the components of the animals. Even in modern Turkish cuisine, this is still the case today.
But let’s talk about our Spanish eyes: “Every day a pilaf was cooked. The rice was cooked in a broth of beef or lamb, making sure that the dish was not liquid, but grainy and loose. Sometimes the pilaf was enriched with small seedless currants. Next to the pilaf, it was not enough to make clove puree or honey, as was the case here, but pieces of lamb cooked in a sauce. Compote of fresh or dry plums, which is refined with almonds, also fits very well. Then they make another dessert from rice they call “Zerde”. This yellow viscous dessert needs a lot of honey in the production. Chicken soup is the third dish they make from rice. The chicken is cut up and the pieces are cooked with pepper, paprika and rice. One thing you should know is that the Turks never cook anything without adding butter. For roast, ragout, roasted, with lentils or chickpeas, it is always served with butter. They even smear butter on their bread. ”
According to the Spaniard, the most delicious dishes on Sinan Pasha’s table were a lamb stew with onions, chickpeas and dill. Also the often eaten spinach tasted good. In addition, the following dishes were among the preferred dishes: cooked wheatgrass or vermicelli with meat, a spinach dish refined with lemon juice, spicy and spicy grape leaves, stuffed aubergines and zucchinis, and minced meat pies stuffed with gossamer puff pastry.
“To eat, you have to order a sauce or tomato or pepper brand extra, because they do not use it during cooking,” says Pedro.
The variety of fruits will be discussed in more detail on the following pages. What is said is that Istanbul was not only limited to the consumption of fruits from the region, but that fruit was brought to the capital from all over the empire. This is especially true for the dried fruit and nuts. From reliable sources we learn that dried figs, raisins, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts were abundant. Especially with the raisins there was an abundance and a variety that is second to none in other countries. As for other types of fruit, our eyes register these varieties: “Cherries are abundant, but sour cherries are less popular; they do not like to be eaten. They are usually dried to be cooked later and processed into fruit juice. It does not taste bad. Sour cherries are not very common in Italy, most of them are in Bologna under the name ‘Maraska’.
If you set out from Castile, you will not find anywhere in the world the striped apples that are so popular with us and the plums that dissolve so easily from the stone. Only in Istanbul will you come across a similar apple variety, which they call “scented apples”. This small apple variety tastes just as good as our Spanish apples. Pears, apples and honeydew melons are plentiful and much cheaper than ours.
When Sinan Pasha ruled Istanbul instead of the powerful ruler, much fruit was delivered to his residence as a gift. Once, as a gift from a 20-day journey, 8 honey melons were brought as a gift. I can not describe the taste to you! Even the melons that started to soften tasted even better than the best melon I’ve eaten so far. The kernels were reminiscent of peeled almonds. It had aroused my interest in how and where these melons were grown and I asked about it. They told me that they were grown in Iraq on the edge of a water. I can not remember the name of the place. They bury two to three cores in the sand that sprout when the water rises and then leave everything to nature. ”

What the author has told us so far was, of course, normal daily specials. At another point, he states that, of course, sometimes there was “kebab,” grilled meat or a roast, but the other dishes were more the norm.
One big exception, of course, were the big festivals that took place from time to time. For example, There was a party that gave Sinan Pasha in honor of Fleet Commander Dorgut “poultry of all kinds, pork dishes of all kinds, goat and lamb, and what else.”
In another part of the book, our Spanish contemporary noted that game and game meat was hardly ever on the table. Of course, the author is not aware that many Turks shared the aversion of the Prophet Muhammad against hunting for religious reasons and therefore also renounced hunting meat. Pedro also noted that no one else was allowed to hunt near Istanbul except for the Great Senor. That may be an additional explanation. Because if only the Sultan could hunt, it was an impossibility that hunting meat ever got on the dining tables of other Turks. Once, however, the Spanish prisoner Sinan Pasha had asked for a permit for partridge hunting, whereupon he directed a corresponding order to the relevant governors. Shortly thereafter, there was a veritable rebuilding flood in the palace. In spite of all this, the Turks were not interested in using exotic animals in the kitchen, and the author suggests that they prefer the domesticated animals, whose procurement was much easier.
Pedro also says of the caviar that it is a type of puree made from the brain and fat of fish caught in the Black Sea. Of course there is a misunderstanding here. It is true that the caviar stems from the Black Sea, but not from his brain or his fat. The caviar was formerly and still today from the eggs of the sturgeon and only these fish eggs may even bear the name “caviar”. Probably the author has confused the caviar with a Turkish fish specialty, the “Tarama”, or he has come to know a second quality of crushed fish eggs under the name of caviar. This possibility is supported by the following lines: “Caviar is eaten most eaten by Rumelians. It tastes good with alcoholic drinks, as well as anchovies or Black Sea herring. You lubricate the caviar between two slices of bread. It is a popular specialty in the coastal regions. You do not need to cook it, it can be eaten cold. Since it has nothing to do with meat, it can also be eaten on fasting days. ”

Now, the author compares caviar with soft soap, which suggests a confusion with “Tarama”. In the next chapter of the chapter, Pedro explains: “Give an asper (smallest sibble coin) and you get so much caviar that the whole family gets full.” If that should have been true for real caviar, one can only say that people at that time very much had good!
In the same chapter we also learn something interesting about the food of fish and seafood. Asked by a friend “If there are so many delicious fish and Islamic laws forbid consumption, why eat the Turks so much meat and so little fish?” Perdro replies: “They are hostile to the fish, just as they are Wine always drink only water. They say the fish will come to life again after eating them in the body and believe in it. ”
Pedro can not help but omit the preference of the Turks for yogurt. He notes that they do not like fresh milk, but they can not get enough of sour yoghurt. Pedro says, “Although we do not particularly like sour yogurt, it is a treat for the Turks. The cream we like so much, they call ‘Kaymak’. However, it is by no means as popular as yoghurt. “When asked about the production of yoghurt, he says:” The milk is thickened with a propellant. Yoghurt is again used as a propellant. “At another point, Pedro even reports about drained yoghurt in a linen sack:” Sometimes they fill the yoghurt in a burlap sack and let the water drip off. Then each time you take as much as you need from the solid mass, stir it with some water and eat or drink of it “. The author also gave a description of the Turkish national drink “Ayran” at the same time.
Our Spanish observer continues to explain that you do not drink water while eating. What he writes afterwards is a bit disrespectful, but we still want to repeat it here: “But when they get up from eating, they immediately go to a spring or well where they drink water like oxen.”

As an explanation for the lack of water on the dining table, the author concludes that most Turkish foods are juicy or liquid. This is another reason why the spoon is the most widely used tabletop unit. “Because the food is mostly juicy, the Turks are not as thirsty as our seniors.”
Also on the various fruit juices Pedro enters: “In the residence of Sinan Pasha there were always different fruit juices to choose from, which was called” Serbet “. Cherries, apricots or plums were cooked and fortified with sugar or honey. Since these juices were not very durable, you cooked a fresh fruit juice every day. Without having offered visitors a glass of it, they were not released. “The author also reports that in the coffee houses and taverns Turkish fruit juice vendors showed up, who offered their juice for little money.
The wine was also known in the Ottoman Empire. However, the author does not point out that the Islamic Turks were wine drinkers. Every now and then, except the janissaries, no one reached for the wineglass. But that was not tragic, he writes in another place, because “what does it matter if the Turks drink no wine, where the Christians and Jews compensate for it again.” He also addresses the topic of taverns: “There were very good and very cheap gifts. Once you are turned on, you are immediately put to the test by asking ‘white or red?’ If you say ‘white’ you will immediately be asked ‘Kandiye or Gelibolu?’ No matter which one you choose, there is no avoidance of it third question, ‘How many years old should he be?’ ”
One of the listeners responds to this report with the exclamation: “We do not even have that much choice in the palaces!”
Now Pedro goes into detail and raves about a wine: “Among the Muscat wines is the best of the ‘Malvaziya’, and a liter costs only 4 Asperos (Spanish currency), if it is a four-year wine. If it is a one or two year old, you get the liter for 3 Asperos and it is no worse than the ‘San Martin’.

Among the Rumelian reds the Topiko is the best. Topiko means Regional. He is dry, strong and light in color. One liter costs 2 asperos. Then come the heavy wines from the island of Lesbos and Chios. One liter for every 1.5 Asperos. Many wines come from the Trabzon, Marmara and Egriboz regions. Since one liter costs only 7 Maravedi (Spanish currency), these wines are very popular among POWs. ”
The fact that despite this rich offer, the Turks have not become wine drinkers, the audience in astonishment, but Pedro immediately provided the explanation in the form of a legend about the Prophet Muhammad: “What I am telling you now, I have heard of many Turkish scientists and sages , One day when Muhammad passed by a garden, he saw a group of youngsters jumping and playing around there. He enjoyed the game of the youth and went his way to the mosque. When he returned to the same garden on the way back from the mosque in the evening, he saw that the young people had become drunk and that the harmless play and jumping around had turned them into a brawl. After this incident, Mohammed forbade the young people to enjoy wine that turned them from humans into animals. “The author also reports that despite the ban on wine, the grape juice can be drunk for the first three days after it has been harvested, as it has not yet been fermented , From the fourth day, however, the enjoyment of the grape juice is prohibited.
The Spanish prisoner, who introduced himself as Pedro and who for a long time worked as a doctor of the Minister of the Navy and prince of the then ruler Suleiman the Magnificent, Sinan Pasha, at one point makes an interesting judgment about the Turks. The author describes here the Turks’ table manners at their most glorious and richest period, to which Pedro Zeuge was also astonished by the astonishment of a foreigner accustomed to European table culture: “The Turks do not care much about food. In my opinion, they only eat to stay alive and not because they enjoy eating. As soon as they have a spoon in their hands, they eat so hastily, as if the devil were after them. The good thing about them is that they do not talk at the table and talk in any way. The one who has become full rises with the words ‘I thank God’ and leaves his place immediately to the next one. ”

The complete form of this prayer of thanksgiving, which in its shortened form is Allah’a çok sükür, was, as we can see from the notes of the Spaniard Pedro:

“Elhamdullah, çok sükür ya rabbi, Allahu Teala Padisahimiz’in bir gününün bin eylesin”, which roughly corresponds to this wording in German:

“Let us thank God the Almighty, and may a single day of our vaunted ruler be worth a thousand days.”

Source: Ministry of Culture Turkey