Until now Sultan Murat II, the father of Sultan Fatih, could be called the folk cuisine, as well as the kitchen in the palaces rather simple. With the accession of Sultan Murat, however, began the still popular variety in Ottoman cuisine.
An Ottoman menu began with the culmination of every Ottoman table: the soup. This compatible dish was made on the basis of meat, fish, chicken broth or yoghurt. Ingredients were also rice, wheatgrass, tarhana powder (crushed pancakes dried yogurt-millet porridge), dried and fresh vegetables and herbs, and vegetable tubers and roots. These soups had the function to prepare the stomach for the subsequent food and to facilitate the digestion.
Wedding soup, yoghurt soup, tarhana and alpine soup were the most popular soups, which were especially served with the meal in the late morning.
Assuming that the bread and soups were the main ingredient of the Ottoman dinner board, it can be assumed that both bread and soups were exceptionally tasty.
If one begins to write about soups, it would fill volumes, for the number of soup names which a simple hard-working Ottoman housewife knew how to enumerate already exceeded a hundred. The soup had such a high value in the Ottoman food culture that mothers and grandmothers of young girls were worried that the marriageable girl could not cook “proper soup” and for that reason did not get a husband. These ungifted girls were given the following lines for the sake of mercy:
What does a brainless head start with words,
and a bland soup with salt?
And what do you do with a girl who has stayed behind?
The basis for meat dishes was sheep, lamb, beef and chicken. Stables and hunted game were equally popular. With the addition of paprika and tomato puree as well as garlic or onions, the meat was cooked slowly with low heat input. Of course it could also be prepared in the oven or on the grill. The supplements differed depending on the region. It could be salads with chopped vegetables and herbs, “Tarator” a spicy sauce made from crushed bread crumbs or nuts, garlic, vinegar and oil, “Tursu” pickled vegetables, fresh green salads or simply yoghurt. Eggplant salad, meat skewers or doner kebabs were definitely served with fresh or grilled tomatoes and peppers on the table.
In the “Tandir” in the earth embedded oven, in the clay pot, in the oven, in the clay jug, in the back-pit or on the grill prepared meat, were to the different Pilawgerie usual offerings, which were offered either with the meat or after the meat.
Even poultry such as chicken, turkey, goose and duck had an important place on the Ottoman tablet. The guests were especially fond of putting the chicken into Circassian style or a stuffed turkey.
Each of the three marine regions had their favorite fish and fish dishes. Worthy of special mention are the bluefish, the bonito, the striped barbel, the dwarf rib, the plaice, the hawk mackerel and the sea bream, the turbot and anchovy from the Black Sea and the golden bream from the Aegean Sea. The most numerous offers of fish dishes in this selection provides the anchovy from the Black Sea.
In addition to the diverse meat dishes, the dishes, which are based on fish, also offer a wide range of preparation methods. They are fried, grilled, processed into soup, steamed, cured, dried and baked. Most of the then rulers and the Padisahs were outspoken fish lovers.
Kebab, which meant everything that was grilled on the wood fire, was mostly made from meat or minced meat and spread rapidly from its origins to Maras, Adana and Urfa all over the country. New and original dishes such as aubergine puree with meat, aubergines boiled in olive oil, mussels stewed in oil, wine, onions and vinegar, and boulettes fried in batter, took their place with sometimes quite imaginative names on the menus and dining tables. Recipes of selected dishes from the regional kitchens made the rounds in the whole country and the community, which believed that who wants to sweet talk also has to eat a lot of sweets, was getting bigger.
Mentioned dishes are only a small part of the wide range of new dishes.
Of course, in the coastal towns, the fish processing dominated that of the regional cuisine. But also freshwater fish were not despised. Whether grilled, roasted, cured or dried; Fish were everywhere popular and abundant. Crabs and clams loved to gratinate, cooked as a salad and with rice to a special “pilav”.
The absolute leader among the fish, however, were the “Hamsi” anchovies from the Black Sea. They were consumed in every way, whether baked, roasted, grilled, as a soup, as a stew, steamed, cured, dried and smoked.
A “pilaf” was not only made from rice, but also from wheat groats or couscous (tiny spherical noodles) and served as a side dish to meat dishes and various vegetable stews. While the simple pilaf was cooked only with butter, salt and broth, there were also variations with additives such as tomatoes, almonds, pine nuts, currants, peas, aubergines or small chicken pieces.
These new dishes were created in Ottoman cuisine, mainly in the large-scale kitchens of the palaces. The rice pilaf was cooked according to the nature of the rice used. At weddings, he was served with saffron and sugar as a dessert.
The Pilaw was not only in the Ottoman cuisine one of the cornerstones, but served with all the Turkish tribes as a favorite dish.
The skillful Ottoman housewives were able to prepare the rice pilaf in at least 27 different ways: with “bamia” okra, “beyin” brains, “beselye” peas, tomatoes, “patlican” aubergines, vermicelli, pieces of chicken or just butter. There would not be enough space to list all variants.
Vegetables could be prepared with both meat and cold dishes with olive oil. Again, there is an unmanageable number of different recipes.
Beans were on the popularity scale of the absolute front runner, followed by the eggplant, from which you could produce at least 40 different dishes. Tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, potatoes, beans, zucchinis, mallow leaves, artichokes, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, celery, asparagus, purslane, potatoes, leeks and many other vegetables were also processed into a variety of dishes.
The following vegetables were mainly dried: broad beans, okra, red beans, white beans, lentils, chickpeas and green peas.
In the menu, the hot meat or fish dishes were always served in front of the cold vegetable dishes. While the hot entree was being eaten, the cold vegetable dishes cooked in olive oil waited in a pantry closed with a flying-wire door.
Another very rich topic is the dough pieces, which can be divided into two groups, the pies and the desserts. The pies were almost a main course. They came hot from the pan or oven and were filled with minced meat, vegetables or cheese. Especially during the month of fasting Ramadan, the pies had their place on the dining table.
The dough for this was prepared by hand, by rolling out the flour dough with a round wooden gossamer. If the household did not have their own oven, the covered sheets with the raw pies were sent to the bakeries in the city. They were called “Tepsibörek” according to their species.
A special specialty was the pan pâté “Tepsibörek”, of which the “Zigarrenbörek” was the most popular. The pieces of dough were stuffed with grated cheese, rolled like a cigar and baked golden yellow in hot, floating fat, and were much sought after among the men as a snack to raki.
Filled with cheese, spinach or minced meat, this “Börek” as a main course could also fill you up. One preferred to drink “Ayran”.
But compote “Composto” or a water-extended fruit juice “Meyve suyu” went well with it, and were served especially during Lent for the last snack before sunrise.
There were three types of desserts in Ottoman cuisine: the sweet pastries, the dairy foods and the sweetmeat made from fresh and dried fruits.
“Baklava” was a special treat with the sweet pastries. It consisted of several thinly rolled dough sheets, butter, sugar and honey. They were filled with chopped nuts, pistachios, walnuts and thick cream. All baklava varieties were baked in the oven. The housewife from the Black Sea offered to their guests on holiday and holidays instead of sweets “Baklava” with the words:
“Grip it, I made this pastry out of 60 thin sheets of dough.”
Particularly skilled cooks even made it to 70 or 80 thin sheets of dough.
Among the dairy foods, mention should first be made of rice flour pudding “Muhallebi”, then the thick rice pudding “Sütlaç”, the caramelized bottom pudding “Kazandibi” and a kind of pudding enriched with chowdered chicken fibers “Tavukgögsü”. The “Keskül” pudding stood out through the thick layer of finely chopped pistachios or coconuts with which it was sprinkled.
“Keskül” was offered at invitations or banquets. The production of “Kazandibi” or “Tavukgögsü” was reserved for professional chefs in the city. “Güllaç”, however, was the traditional dessert on a ramadan platter. The ingredients, such as thin leaves of rice starch, could be bought in the city and then the housewife poured it over with sweet rose water of flavored milk. The finished dish came lukewarm on the table and was refined with a whipped cream.
Let’s not forget to mention “Asure”. This dessert was not only popular and popular in the time of the Ottoman Empire, but it was also part of a special custom. It was usually prepared in the first month of the Islamic lunar year, between the tenth and twentieth day.
The date is supposed to be related to the events in Kerbela.
Others claim that Noah wanted to prepare a special meal for all roommates in the ark the day the tide was over, collecting all the supplies left on board and making a dish called “asure.” It should have been a total of 40 ingredients that Noah had gotten together. In memory of this event, therefore, in ancient times, the same 40 ingredients were given under special prayer in a cauldron and cooked again with citation of certain psalms and prayers with constant stirring.
After that, a portion of the creamy dessert was filled into large pitchers, which were present in every Ottoman household and distributed to the neighbors.
There is also another legend about this famous sweet: on the tenth day of the first month, the Islamic lunar year, allegedly Adam and Eve met each other and even then cooked this dish to celebrate the day.
Another legend is that God one day forgave Adam and Eve their guilt, having previously driven them out of Paradise because they had eaten of the forbidden fruits. For the first time, “Asure” was cooked out of joy over this generosity of God.
However that may be, the Turks still love this very hard-to-make dessert, no matter for what reason and by whom it was first prepared.
Sweet dishes made from flour or semolina fried in butter
For this traditional dessert you need flour or semolina as a basis. From these two ingredients butter is fried and infused with sweet milk, creating a kind of hot porridge.
Prayers for births, funerals, adoption of the young soldiers to the service of the weapon, greeting the faithful on their return from a pilgrimage, for children to start school, when buying a new house, on the occasion of school discharge, for Regenerbittung, the calf’s graduation From breastmilk and when the first crocuses blossomed, a helva was urgently stirred in an Ottoman household and distributed to neighbors and friends.
Special dishes and table manners in Ramadan month
The month of Ramadan is considered by the Turks to be the queen of all months. The ninth month in the Islamic lunar year is the month of fasting and goes hand in hand with many different customs and traditions. Here we just want to talk about a tradition and that is the tradition of the special table culture during Ramadan.
During Lent, a table was prepared twice; Once to break the fast “Iftar” and once to the last snack before sunrise “Sahur”.
“Iftar” happened every day at a certain time and the board had to be covered until then. As a rule, all the faithful were informed by a fired cannon shot about the time of the Iftar.
The so called “Iftar” believers sat down at the table according to the prevailing table manners and began to eat. As a rule, after a full day without food, one only took a sip of water or put an olive in his mouth.
The course could be divided into two groups: In the beginning, the food was served to the “Iftar”, then brought in the warm food.
In order not to attack an uncontrolled feeling of hunger over food, one was content to get used to small snacks in order to regain food. In small plates and bowls jams, cheese, olives and other little things were offered, each of which ate something for appetizers. For this fresh hot flatbread was served from the oven.
Once everyone had satisfied their first hunger, the table was temporarily suspended, because now it was time for the ritual evening prayers. Then they sat down again to take the second part of the meal. After the traditional soup there were often eggs with roasted smoked meat (Pastirma) and onions. This type of preparation was typical of the Ramadan period.
This very expensive food was served as an avenue in the palaces every evening, in the households of the people probably from time to time.
Then it was the turn of the meat dishes and, as with a regular dinner, the course of the meal took its course until you reached the dessert, which was mostly made from the traditional “Güllaç”.
The last food that was taken before sunrise was called Sahur. Logically, no guests were invited to this meal, but they remained with each other as a family. Foods that were full but not thirsty were preferred here. A bowl of “composto” was definitely on the table. Otherwise one took something “pilaf”, noodles or “Börek” to itself.
Regardless of whether it was a Spring Festival, holidays, funeral, wedding or circumcision festival, a certain dessert could not be missing from the specially selected dishes for these occasions: “Helva”.
Whether it was happy events such as birth, regained health, or a great gain, or sad ones, such as the death of a loved one, entry of the soldiers, etc., in a cauldron semolina or flour was buttered in butter and boiled with sweet milk to a porridge, which was distributed to neighbors and relatives or to which one invited home.
And so, of course, Helva was not allowed to miss the menu during Ramadan.
The first English ambassador to come to Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire mentioned in his report to the English Queen, et al., After a banquet held in his honor. the following: that there were more than 100 different dishes to choose from, that he could not forget the fantastic taste of the juice enriched with rose water and that after dinner you had a sweet-smelling water mixed with musk and blossoms, in the aloe and sandalwood branches swam, washed his hands.
It was also the custom that the Padisah in Ramadan month for each 10 Janissaries prepare a baking sheet “Baklava”. These desserts, served on silver trays, were picked up from the palace by two Janissaries and taken to their barracks. The next morning the emptied trays, covered with the sugar-coated apron of the pastry chef, were brought back to the palace.
If the Janissaries were satisfied with their government, they accepted the sweets and ate everything, but if they were not, the full trays were sent back to the palace.
Source: Ministry of Culture Turkey