is the cuisine of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...
and its successors in Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...
, the Balkans
The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...
, and much of the Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...
The importance of culinary art for the Ottoman Sultans is evident to every visitor of Topkapı Palace
The Topkapı Palace is a large palace in Istanbul, Turkey, that was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years of their 624-year reign....
. The palace houses several kitchens that are built underneath ten domes in several different buildings. By the 17th century, approximately 1,300 kitchen staff were housed in the Palace full-time. The cooks specialized in several different dishes and would feed as many as ten thousand people a day and, in addition, sent trays of food to others in the city as a royal favor.
The importance of food has been also evident in the structure of the Ottoman military elite, the Janissaries. The commanders of the main divisions were known as the Soupmen, other high ranking officers were the Chief Cook, Scullion, Baker, and Pancake Maker. The huge cauldron used to make pilaf had a special symbolic significance for the Janissaries, as the central focus of each division. The kitchen was also the center of politics, for whenever the Janissaries demanded a change in the Sultan's Cabinet, or the head of a grand vizier, they would overturn their pilaf cauldron. "Overturning the cauldron" is an expression still used today to indicate a rebellion in the ranks.
It was in this environment that hundreds of the Sultans' chefs, who dedicated their lives to their profession, developed and perfected the dishes of Turkish cuisine, which then influenced on the kitchens of the provinces ranging from the Balkans
The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...
to Southern Russia, and reaching North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...
. Istanbul was the capital of the world and had all the prestige, so that its ways were imitated. At the same time, it was supported by an enormous organization and infrastructure, which enabled all the treasures of the world to flow into it. The provinces of the vast Empire were integrated by a system of trade routes with refreshing caravanserais for the weary merchants and security forces. The Spice Road, the most important factor in culinary history was under the full control of the Sultan. Only the best ingredients were allowed to be traded under the strict standards established by the courts.
Guilds played an important role in development and sustenance of the Cuisine. All of the principal trades were believed to be sacred and each guild traced its patronage to the Prophets and Saints. The guilds prevailed in pricing and quality control. They displayed their products and talents in spectacular floats driven through Istanbul streets during special occasions, such as the circumcision festivities for the Crown Prince or religious holidays.
Following the example of the Palace, all of the grand Ottoman houses boasted elaborate kitchens and competed in preparing feasts for each other as well as the general public. This is how the traditional Cuisine evolved and spread, even to the most modest corners of the country.
The center of Ottoman cuisine was Istanbul
Istanbul , historically known as Byzantium and Constantinople , is the largest city of Turkey. Istanbul metropolitan province had 13.26 million people living in it as of December, 2010, which is 18% of Turkey's population and the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Europe after London and...
, the capital, where the imperial court and the metropolitan elites created a refined tradition bringing together elements of regional cuisines from across the empire:
...despite the disintegration of the Ottoman political empire, we can still see the survival of a large region which could be called the Ottoman culinary empire. The Balkans, Greece, Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent... are common heirs to what was once the Ottoman life-style, and their cuisines offer treacherous circumstantial evidence of this fact. Of course, they represent at the same time a good deal of local or regional culinary traditions. Besides, one should not forget that it is typical of any great cuisine in the world to be based on local varieties and on mutual exchange and enrichment among them, but at the same time to be homogenized and harmonized by a metropolitan tradition of refined taste.
This diverse cuisine was honed in the Imperial Palace's kitchens by chefs brought from certain parts of the empire to create and experiment with different ingredient. Each cook specialised in specific tasks. The creations of the Ottoman palace's kitchens filtered to the population, for instance through Ramadan
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which lasts 29 or 30 days. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex during daylight hours and is intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and...
events, and through the cooking at Yalis of Pashas, and from here on spread to the rest of the population.
Ottoman cuisine is based on the culmination of Ottoman regional and ethnic dishes and technological and innovational advancement of these with new ingredients and cooking techniques.
The Imperial cooks were tested and hired by their method of cooking rice, a simple dish. They were brought over from various places to experiment and invent new dishes, which first passed by the palate of the Chesnidjibashi (the imperial food taster), who tested the food for poison and taste before it was served to the Sultan. These cooks experimented with such extreme textures and ingredients.
Excluding its successor Turkish cuisine, the Ottoman cuisine has influenced on the cuisines such as Levantine cuisine
Levantine cuisine is the traditional cuisine of the Levant, known in Arabic as the Bilad ash-Sham. This region shared many culinary traditions under the Ottoman Empire which continue to be influential today...
, Lebanese cuisine
Lebanese cuisine includes an abundance of starches, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and seafood; animal fats are consumed sparingly. Poultry is eaten more often than red meat, and when red meat is eaten it is usually lamb on the coast and goat meat in the mountain regions...
, Syrian cuisine, Iraqi cuisine
Iraqi cuisine or Mesopotamian cuisine has a long history going back some 10,000 years - to the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians. Tablets found in ancient ruins in Iraq show recipes prepared in the temples during religious festivals - the first cookbooks in the world...
, Jordanian cuisine
Jordanian cuisine is a traditional style of food preparation originating from Jordan that has developed from centuries of social and political change with roots as far back as 2000 B.C.There is a wide variety in the Jordanian style of cooking...
, and Palestinian cuisine
Palestinian cuisine consists of foods from or commonly eaten by Palestinians — which includes those living in the Palestinian territories, Israel, refugee camps in nearby countries as well as by the Palestinian Diaspora...
Some of the more extravagant dishes remained as palace specialities and have had only limited diffusion:
- Roasted Pigeon
- Ayva Kalye
- Kavun Dolma (Stuffed Melon)
It is clear that Ottoman cuisine was unified and refined in imperial Istanbul, but its ultimate origins are less clear.
It is a matter of mere speculation whether the origins of this imperial culinary legacy are to be traced back to Greek antiquity, the Byzantine heritage, or the ingenuity of the glorious Turkish and Arab nations, not forgetting Phoenician and Jewish traditions; nowadays you may find support for any of these claims in various countries in the Balkans and the Near East.
Fragner emphasizes the importance of New World foodstuffs
The Columbian Exchange was a dramatically widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture, human populations , communicable disease, and ideas between the Eastern and Western hemispheres . It was one of the most significant events concerning ecology, agriculture, and culture in all of human history...
in defining Ottoman cuisine, which adopted them more rapidly than France, Italy, and northern Europe.