Turkish Cuisine in the 11th Century

October 2, 2009 00:14 by haci

Turkish Cuisine in the 11th Century

Reşat Genç

The great 11th century Turkish writers Yusuf Has Hacib** and Kaşgarlı Mahud*** gave us very detailed information on Turkish cuisine, as they did on almost every subject. Of the two, Yusuf gave most of his attention to the preparation of feasts, and what should be served at such feasts; he also addressed Turkish table etiquette in the 11th century among young and old. As for Kaşgarlı, he introduces us to 11th century Turkish cuisine from the aspects both of space as well as its material culture, and also provides information, sometimes very detailed, on various dishes and their preparation. From this standpoint, though what comes to mind at the mention of Turkish cuisine is the foods and drinks that lend it its richness, I deemed it more appropriate to give some brief information on table etiquette and the 11th century kitchen utensils, and then move on to the subject of food.

a) The Kitchen and its Implements: It is well known that in the 11th century, in the Karahan and Selçuk palaces in particular, various Turkish rulers and lords had kitchens run by master chefs, as well as wine houses run by special administrators. In addition, every Turkish home, like those of today, had an area set up as a kitchen, which was called and aşlık, meaning a place where food was made. However in time this Turkish name was abandoned; the modern word mutfak is derived from the Arabic matbah.

Below are the names of some of the implements used in the 11th century aşlık, with their modern equivalents if they have changed, and their translations.

Old Turkish Mod. Turkish English
Bardak " Glass
Bıçak " Knife
Selçi biçek Aşçı bıçağı Cook’s knife
Etlik " Meat hook
Iwrık İbrik Large pitcher for heating water
Tewsi Tepsi Baking pan
Kova " Bucket
Saç " Convex pan
Şiş " Skewer
Soku Havan Mortar and pestle
Susgak Susak Wooden bowl with handle, scoop
Küp " Earthenware jare
Çömçe " Ladle
Kaşuk Kaşık Spoon
Tekne " Trough
Tuzluk " Salt cellar
Yasgaç Yasdıgaç  
Sanaç Dağarcık Pouch, bag
Sarnıç Su Tulumu Water Bag
Tagar Dağarcık Pouch, bag
Tulkuk Tuluk  

The fact that so many of these implements are still known today by the same names shows that these have undergone little change in one thousand years, even in their names.

b) The Sofra and Etiquette: In the 11th century, some Turks called the sofra the tergi 1, and the laying of the sofra, tergi urmak. In some provinces, the word tepsi (tewsi) was used to mean both a baking pan an the sofra itself 2. If we note that large tepsis are called sofra in some regions, we see that this has been true for centuries. Just as is the practice today, Turks during that time spread a wide cloth over the sofra so that bread crumbs would not fall to the floor 3.

Concerning the laying of the sofra, I am not sure that its preparation in Turkish homes of the 11th century was much different than it is today. As for what must be done for feasts, Yusuf Has Hacib says:

The house, hearth, sofra and plates should be clean. The room must be outfitted with cushions, and the food and drink should be top quality. Again, so that the guests may eat comfortably, the foods and drinks should be clean and flavorful. All that is to be eaten and drunk should compliment each other and be abundant. The guest should never run out of drink, and when one drink is finished should be immediately replenished. As for drinks, offer fııka, or mizab, or cülengbin (rose honey, jam), or cülab (rose sherbet). After the food and drink, give nuts and fruit. Along with the dry and fresh fruits, there should also be simiş. If you are of sufficient means, give gifts of silk cloth. If possible, also give diş kirası so that the guests will not gossip.” 4

Yusuf Has Hacib has this to say about the basic manners that should be observed at an 11th century feast:

Do not begin eating until those older than you have begun. Begin eating with a besmele (the blessing “In the name of Allah the merciful and compassionate”), and eat with the right hand. Do not touch the morsels in front of others, only eat what is in front of you. Do not take out a knife at the meal and scrape bones. Do not be gluttonous and do not recline too much. But however full you may be, extend your hand and eat the food offered with relish, so that the woman of the house who prepared the food will be please. Thus do not make those who have gone to the trouble to prepare a feast and invite you feel they have done so in vain. Bite off only what your mouth can hold and chew subtly. Do not blow on hot food. Do not wipe your hands on the sofra when eating, and do not make those around you uncomfortable. Eat with moderation, because people should always eat and drink little 5.

In addition to this general sofra etiquette, Yusuf Has Hacib also provides some advice concerning health from the standpoint of food and drink. I believe it is useful to include this from the standpoint of 11th century ideas and understanding concerning nutrition. On the subject, he has the following to say:

If one has too much heat due to the excessive consumption of hot foods, then one must immediately drink something cold; if too much coldness, this should be remedied with heat. During youth and the spring of life, eat cold things, because your blood will warm them. Past the age forty, in the autumn of life, remedy your nature with hot things. At sixty, the winter of life, eat hot things, do not be friendly with cold things. If you have eaten too much of dry and cold foods (in order not to be harmed) have hot and moist things ready at hand. If the warmth and moisture is excessive and you are harmed by it, remedy it with hot and dry things. If you have a cold nature, strengthen it with heat. If your nature is hot, then eat and drink cold things. If your nature is absolutely neutral, then eat hot and cold things alternately. If you want to remain healthy always and never take ill, take the medicine called “little” (in other words, eat little) and live that way; if you want to live long and in peace, eat the meat called tongue (swallow your tongue) and live thus, be clean-hearted person 6.

c) Basic Foods of 11th Century Turkish Cuisine: As far afs is understood, tutmaç, which heads the Anatolian Selçuk and Ottoman kitchens registers, was the Turks’ most famous dish in the 11th century. Known in the other countries to which the Turks had spread in the Near and Middle East, tutmaç is still made today in various parts of Anatolia. For this reason, some of our writers characterize this as the Turkish national dish, which I believe is correct. As much has already been written on the preparation and main ingredients of this dish, we will not write about that here. However it should at least be said that the making of tutmaç was a long and involved process, and the ingredients therein were very rich and nutritious, even curative. To the same extent, it was difficult to digest, in other words, it was a very sustaining dish. Tutmaç was not eaten with a spoon but rather with a type of fork called a şiş. After the noodles or mantı in tutmaç were eaten, the broth was drunk.

At the top of the list of other foods was certainly meat and meat dishes. In the 11th century, Turks at mostly mutton. Still, though the slaughtering of horses was decreasing steadily under the influence of Islam, according to Kaşgarlı, one of the Turks’ most loved meats was a fatty meat called kazı 7 from near the horse’s stomach. On the other hand, fresh fatted lamb was also held in great esteem. We know that the Oğuz called lamb and kid suitable for the making of kebab söğüş 8, so that even if its composition has changes somewhat, söğüş has at least a thousand-year history in our language. In the same way, the Turks of the 11th century called animals fed and prepared for slagher etlik 9 (“suitable/used for meat”), and the fact that its modern usage means a male goat with suitable meat is a fine example of the continuity of Turkish eating traditions. If we add to the above that just as in the 11th century, so today in some parts of Anatolia the butcher is known as an etçi (standard Turkish, kasap), we find ourselves a bit more enlightened on the situation.

During the century at hand, it is certain that chicken and other fowl, fish, and game animals such as deer and rabbit were less desired.


Kııtadgu Bilig, 1 (Text), Haz.: Reşit Rahmeti Arat, Ankara, 1947, LIX, 656 s.
a)Divanü Lugatı’t-Türk, C. I, Haz. Kilisli Rifat, İstanbul, 1333 (1917) IKilisli Il
Divanü Lııgati’t —Türk, C.II, Haz.: Kilisli Rifat, Ist., 1333 (1917) [Kilisli İİ]
Divanü Lügati’t—Tıirk, C. III, Haz.: Kilisli Rifat, tsi, 1335(1919) [Kilisli III
b) Divanü Lugat-ıt-Tiırk Tercümesi, C. 1, Haz,: Besim Atalay, TDK Yayınları, Ankara. 1939, xxxvi, 530 s. [Atalay I]
Divanü Lugat-it Türk Tercümesi, C. II, Haz,: Besim Atalay, TDK Yayınları, Ankara, 1940, 366, 111 s., 1 folding map. [Atalay II]
Divanü Lugat-it Türk, C. III, Haz.: Sesim Atalay, TDK Yayınları, Ankara, 1941, 452 s. [Atalay III]

1 Kilisli I, 169 - Atalay I, 194.
2 Kilisli I, 354 - Atalay I,423
3 Kilisli I, 322 - Atalay I, 385. Although Sesim Atalay has translated the word bürük as “round yarn, bürük,” it should be “all round sewn items, sofra spreads, trouser band and similar items.”
4 Kutadgu Bilig (=KB), LXVI. Fasıl.
5 KB, LXV Fasıl.
6 Ibid.
7 Kil isli III, 169 - Atalay III, 223-4
8 Kil isli I, 308 - Atalay I, 369
9 Kilisli I, 93 - Atalay I, 101
10 Kilisli I, 87-88 - Atalay 1, 95

Kitchen Organization, Ceremonial and Celebratory Meals in the Ottoman Empire

Doç. Dr. Metin Saip Sürücüoğlu


In the late 13th century the Ottoman State, founded in northwestern Anatolia in the are of the Sakarya River and the valleys of its tributaries, developed rapidly and grew into a great empire. Taking the place of its predecessor the Byzantine Empire and wiping it from the map, the Ottomans became a great political presence as well as the most powerful representatives of the Islamic world. People from regions quite remote from each other, and from different ethnicities ad cultures were gathered together under a single political umbrella(1). Spreading over three continents, the Ottoman Empire thus blended with many different culture and as in every area, so in the areas of food and drink as well, found itself in cultural exchange with them in them.

Parallel to the development and growth of the Ottoman Empire, the cuisine of the palace also showed great development, and the gathering of high-ranking palace residents became one of the most important social activities of the period. This gave rise to the development of extremely rich and delicious dishes which displayed all the creativity and skill of the cooks(2). Sultans and state officials, in order to feed and hold feasts for foreign guests, ambassadors and other palace guests, had their cooks develop certain recipes. Of those working in the palace and mansions, the chefs were among the most beloved; French statesmen asked permission to retain the chefs which Sultan Abdülaziz took with him on his visit to Paris(3). During the rise of the Empire, the Ottomans added the cuisine of every area they conquered to their own cuisine(4). Thus the cuisine of the Ottoman palace and Istanbul in particular became even richer during this period, to reach its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries when the Empire was moving into faster decline(5).

The Organization of the Kitchen and Rules Concerning Food in the Palace Kitchens

Historians have classified the period from the establishment of the Empire until the end of the 16th century the “Classical Period;” the following period lasting until the  18th century the “Post-Classical Period,” and the 19th and 20th centuries, during which various experiments in modernization were undertaken, the “Final Period (1).” The historian Cevdet Paşa said, “If Istanbul had not been conquered, the Empire would not have attained this elevated power.” According to this him, Istanbul was in one of the most ideal geographical locations in the world, and it was natural that whatever state owned it would also have power over other nations. As Napoleon said, “If there were a single world government, its center should be Istanbul. (6).” Clearly, Istanbul has never lost its importance throughout history.

After Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror) took Istanbul and settled in Topkapı Palace, he also decreed the official etiquette and manners concerning food and eating. For this reason, the kitchen held an important place in palace life. Every day, Topkapı Palace produced food for 1,500-2,000 people, including servants, Janissaries, members of the Divan, civil servants, the Sultan and his family; and on feasts and other special days this number increased threefold(5).

Receptions and feasts given at the Divan for foreign ambassadors followed more or less the same protocol. Large silver trays bearing food brought by palace servants were placed on low tables and the guests ate in small groups. Information on this subject gained from foreign ambassadors and travelers as well as Ottoman sources show that Turkish society included an extremely rich culinary tradition and practice. In addition, weddings, military decorations and celebrations included some of the most brilliant pages of Ottoman history. With their ceremonies, guests, tributes, displays, and food and drink served, these celebrations were a cultural treasure.

This article will address subjects including the organization of the kitchen, rules for meals in the palace, the eating habits and etiquette of the sultans, the eating etiquette for paying of the ulufe (money paid to the Janissaries for fodder), receptions of ambassadors and foreign guests and meetings of the Divan; foods and customs at the palace during the month of Ramadan, and feasts given on the occasion of princes’ circumcisions and other celebrations.