Opening An Imperial Menu: Kitchen of the Ottoman Palace
The characteristics of the dishes from the Ottoman Palace kitchens can be observed through the kitchen notebooks used to record food and ingredients delivered to palace kitchens. According to those notebooks, foods frequently supplied to the palace kitchens were mutton, rice, plain oil, olive oil, chickpeas, bakery products such as flour and bread, sugar, honey, seasonal vegetables and fruits, spices, dried fruits, small amounts of chicken, olives, eggs, milk, cheese and yoghurt.
Foreign foods found their place in Sultan Abdulhamid’s kitchen in the late 19th century. Dutch cheese, pineapple, English mustard, French vinegar, apricot paste, conserved asparagus, conserved mushrooms were some of those foods. In addition, fish varieties and oysters were also taken into Sultan Abdulhamid’s kitchen during the same period. A kitchen notebook from 1917 provides food menus showing which foods were cooked in Besiktas and Yildiz Palaces on specific dates. According to those menus, there were three types of dishes in one meal: a meat dish, a vegetable dish and rice or pasta. Sometimes soup or dessert was also given as extra.
24th June 1917 Meal Menu
Fried Courgette with Yogurt
As shown in the table above, the meal comprised of a soup, a meat dish, a vegetable dish, pastry and rice. The foods are quite familiar since this menu is not really that old. Considering our daily menus, the palace kitchens had a very rich menu.
The first dish, rice soup, is a dish that is authentic to the geography. Rice was widely used in soups, stuffed vegetables and desserts in the Ottoman Cuisine. The main ingredients of the soup are meat stock, rice, tomato, spices and herbs. The recipes of the dishes can be found in Yunus Emre Akkor’s book, an award-winning chef who has mastered the Ottoman cuisine.
Lamb and mutton were the most used meats in the Ottoman kitchen. Kebab is still a very popular dish pretty much in all Anatolia regions, as well as in the United Kingdom, Germany and various other countries due to the impact of immigrants. Fried courgette with yoghurt is a very simple yet delicious dish. According to a source I came across online, the zucchini would be boiled first, then dredged and pan-fried, then combined with garlicky yoghurt. This technique of cooking courgettes is used in making Greek-style fried courgettes, while Turkish people prefer pan-frying alone.
The borek shown on the table is called cigarette borek, it was named after its shape. It is stuffed pastries made of very thin dough called phyllo. Today the borek is filled with cheesy mixture, however, according to some sources, different fillings would be used in the Ottoman kitchens.
Lastly, the bulgur wheat pilaf is a very traditional dish, which can be enjoyed both as a main or a side. Ottoman chefs always included a type of rice dish with every meal.
Until the Janissaries (Yeniçeriler) were disbanded, the palace cooks came from Nevşehir (a city in Turkey). After the disbandment, the cooks were replaced by new ones. Nearly 4,000 recipes disappeared when the cooks left which is why it’s so hard to find reliable recipes that have survived to the present day.
Zülfikar, B., In Aydın, R., & Uluslararası Osmanlı Araştırmaları Kongresi. (2018). Osmanlı’da mimari, sanat ve yemek kültürü.