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[Empire Kitchen]


Ottomans elaborated and refined the culinary traditions of the entire Eastern Mediterranean region to create one of the world's greatest, and most eclectic, cuisines. This cultural richness that was brought and perfected in the palace kitchens of the Ottoman sultans constitutes one of the earliest exponents of fusion cooking.

Palace kitchen is called “Sultan’s Private Kitchen” or ‘Royal Kitchen”. At the Royal Kitchen, food is prepared to feed around four to five thousand of people daily; this number was raised up to fifteen thousand at the official dates; and the soldiers were served with soup, pilaf and saffron flavored rice pudding. Additionally, it was customary to offer baklava to all Yeniçeri (new soldier) soldiers and their officers at the fifteenth night of Ramadan.

The royal kitchen at the Topkapi Palace covered a large area. Besides the kitchens, cellars, servant’s and cook’s dormitories, bath, fountain were all placed within this area. The main kitchen hall was entered through three gates. Has kitchen, Helvahane (house of halva, halva = candy made of sesame flour, butter and honey), and lower kitchen where the cellars were located. The food destined for the Court of the Viziers, and privileged members of the harem was prepared in the Has kitchen, whereas Sultan’s meals were prepared at the kitchen called Kushane by different cooks. The place where sweets, jams, syrups and even odored soaps were prepared was called Helvahane (house of Halva).

The number of the personnel who ran the kitchen was 500 during the 18th century. In addition to this number 400 halva makers were preparing desserts.

The palace kitchen was active and brisk. The ingredients were provided from the tradesmen who were working under the control of the head butler.

Two trustable member of the Class of the Palace Guards, and the adequate number of chefs and halva makers who work under their control, constitute the cook staff of the sovereign. The food for the sovereign was prepared in small quantities and in small cooking pots named kushane. When the sovereign joined the military expeditions, the staff of this kitchen were accompanying to him.

The food of the sovereign was served in covered pots and in Chinese porcelain plates. Sovereigns usually had their meals alone. The celadon vessels which were called as ‘Mertabani’ (a kind of bluish green pottery originally made at Mertaban) due to the Ottoman documents, changed their colors when poisoned meal was poured in it and this property was supposed to be the reason of the usage of these pottery. Usually Chinese porcelains were preferred by the Ottoman Palace; however Iznik Porcelains were also used. To relief the hypochondriac worries of Sultan Abdulmecid II, his dishes were covered with a cloth and the corners were tied and stamped. Similar to this, bread basket and the mouths of water and syrup carafes were also stamped. The sovereign was always drinking Kagithane water, and nobody was allowed to approach the spring.

The food, kitchen services and table manners were not developed only limited by the sovereign. The kitchen of the palace became busy frequently because of the special days.

Wedding and circumcision ceremonies related with the sovereign, princes princesses and the lady sultans, feast meals for the foreigners and for the public, the meals given to the foreign ambassadors and the janissaries in the palace at the date of payment to the soldiers, feasts, evening meals during Ramadan, baklava service which became customary on the 15th day of Ramadan, Noah’s pudding (ashure) services in special cups to the privileged members of the palace on the 10th day of the month Muharrem, servicing nevruziye which was prepared on the Nevruz feast and made from several spices, special entertainments by the mother of the Sultan, princess, Sultan’s wifes were the occasions which kept the kitchen of the palace busy.

Ancient palace tables were set on the big, red, lilac-colored, blue clothes which were embroidered with gilded silver threads. Chief servant in charge of the table napkins laid napkins on each seat. The dishes were usually carried with trays from the kitchen. The servants placed the copper trays on the low tables and people were sitting cross-legged around these trays. Four or five people were seated for each tray. Frogs and knives were not used; instead, everybody was given a spoon made of box, ebony or mother of pearl. The food was eaten by the spoon or by hands.

In all the sections of the palace, after the meals, rose water and frankincense water was served, together with the ewer, basin and napkin to wash hands. On the special events, syrup, coffee and tobacco pipes were offered. This Ottoman tradition was gradually adopted by the nobles, generals, and rich people.

After Sultan Abdulmecid, foreign statesmen invited to the Ottoman Palace were entertained in a western style. Table manner in the Ottomans primarily by the Administrative Reforms, and then during the period of Republic has changed completely. The dining tables and the chairs were first adopted by the Palace, and then by the families close to the palace and later by the city houses. However, even today, it is possible to see low tables for meals in some village houses.