Furnishing an Ottoman kitchen
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 8/19/2011 12:00:00 AM | NIKI GAMM
The kitchen in an Ottoman palace or mansion would traditionally be located away from the living quarters to minimize the possibility of an entire house going up in flames and to allow people from outside to come and go
The Ottomans enjoyed a large and varied diet, most of it cooked in different ways and some of it eclectically borrowed from the cuisines of the cultures they were exposed to.
A discussion about the origin of Turkish cuisine with an eminent Byzantine scholar once elicited the vehement assurance that there was nothing original about Turkish cuisine; all of it came from the Greeks. While it might be true that the Ottomans were very good at adopting aspects of other cultures such as religion, architecture, art and so on, it would be nice to retain the illusion that şiş kebab at least was Turkish. However, the nomadic Turkic tribes would most likely have accepted the kitchens and kitchenware they found in towns and cities. It would have been the simplest thing to do.
The kitchen in an Ottoman palace or mansion would traditionally be located away from the living quarters to minimize the possibility of an entire house going up in flames and to allow people from outside to come and go. We can see this in the location of the kitchens at Topkapı Palace and elsewhere. For instance, a kitchen used to connect the main part of the Mocan Yalısı in Kuzguncuk with the harem but a fire broke out at one point and the kitchen and harem were destroyed.
Large wooden houses were usually built atop brick or stone basements. A kitchen would normally be found there or if it contained a garden or courtyard, the oven would be there both to prevent fire and eliminate the smell of cooking. Examples of ovens can today be seen in some shops that sell bread and especially pide during Ramadan. They were also used to cook meat and dishes that required an oven. Even until recent times, a housewife might take her dish to such a shop for cooking if she did not have an oven. Braziers would also have been used for grilling and for heat. For example, the best Turkish coffee is said to be the kind prepared over the charcoal in a brazier.
Every household would have had pots and pans, depending on what kind of dish was to be prepared. Pots with and without covers; kettles of varying sizes for soup and aşure pudding; pans; sieves; knives; spoons including ladles; mortar and pestles; jugs; jars; coffee pots; salt boxes; water ewers; lanterns; hooks for hanging meat and thousands of plates and trays would cover most eventualities. Almost all of the kitchenware at Topkapı Palace was made of copper and in some special instances would have been copper mixed with a gold and mercury alloy known as tombac. Some of the items in the kitchen were also made of stone. In less eminent households, the palace porcelain would have been simple earthenware. Although not mentioned in the sources, tables for preparing the food would have been marble or wooden blocks and presumably there would have been plenty of towels and containers for water.
Trays would be set out in front of the diners who sat cross-legged. Judging from miniature reproductions, the men would have their laps covered bit some kind of cloth so that they did not spill on themselves or drop bread crumbs on the floor. Neither forks nor dining room tables, however, were used until the second half of the 19th century.
[HH] Huge operation for meals at palace
Today’s dishware collection at the palace on exhibit appears small when one considers that the palace might have served 4,000-5,000 people every day and many more, perhaps as many as 10,000 on holidays and for the fast-breaking meal, or iftar, during Ramadan. Records show as well that whole sets of dinnerware would be loaned out to Ottoman princesses when they married and set up their own households. It is also known that those sets had to be returned to the palace when they died.
The amount of food served was staggering. One source for the circumcision ceremony festivities for the two oldest sons of Sultan Ahmed III in 1720 writes that food included 1,000 ducks, 8,000 chickens, 2,000 turkeys, 3,000 roosters and 2,000 pigeons. Of course there would have been all the other dishes from hors d’ouevres to sorbet. Ten thousand wooden trays were ordered for people to eat on and 1,000 small trays for distributing sweets. When one thinks about the size of the kitchens at Topkapı, the amount of organization that had to go into the preparations for such a feast was enormous.