A Dinner at the Topkapı Serai - mid-16th Century

Mists Principality Fall Investiture Feast
10 November 2007


In 2006 I purchased À la table du Grand Turc ("At the table of the Sultan") by Stephane Yerasimos, also published in Modern Turkish as Sultan sofralari : 15. ve 16. yüzyilda osmanli saray mutfagi (where the author's first name is given as Stefanos). Yerasimos, a native of Istanbul and a professor at a university in Paris, translated historical recipes from Eski Osmanlıca (Old Ottoman), and added a wealth of historical information on available foods, menus, quotes from memoirs, etc.

The valuable information about actual 15th and 16th century Ottoman food as well as the small selection of actual late 15th C. Ottoman recipes - twenty-three published, out of eighty 15th C. recipes - is something about which many of us have speculated. But prior to its publication, we had not often been able to find genuine SCA-period Ottoman recipes.

I was very excited by this book, so i translated the entire thing -- except for several verses of poetry -- from the French into English. I have hesitated to make it publically available because of copyright issues, although i have brought it to some events to give people the opportunity to look it over. I also taught several classes at our Kingdom A&S and Collegium events based on my translation, sometimes cooking a few dishes. But i was eager to cook an entire feast. I was fortunate to be allowed to cook the Fall 2007 Principality of the Mists Investiture Feast.

I decided to make a much simpler feast than i usually make, both because my arthritis is making it more difficult for me to do marathon feasts and to keep the cost down.

I had intended to make the manti and the meatballs ahead of time and freeze them, but i had an unfortunate 2-week long intestinal ailment prior to the event and was unwilling to handle meat intended for others, lest i pass it along (yuck!). This meant we had to make them at the event, which slowed things down a little.

The intrepid Belli Bailey drove some distance to come to my house to help me make the pastries a couple days before the event.

Tickets for the feast not only sold out, but i was asked to add at least a half-dozen more diners. Unfortunately, the weather was rather unpleasant and many people left early or did not show up. Nonetheless, i brought the feast in under budget and i believe The Principality actually made some money on the feast.

I must thank my crew of cooks, without whom this feast would not have been possible: Belli Baily, Anna Serre (who drove a long way to get to the event), and Marsail inghean Aindriasa, for whom this was her first time helping in a feast kitchen. I also had the assistance of Geoffroi Bonfils and Aelf (the rest of whose name i'm forgetting) for assistance in moving stuff and keeping the kitchen clean and organized - it helped that this kitchen had a commercial dishwasher and plenty of hot water.

Feast Service

The typically 16th century order to the service of the food in the meal is unlike what we would expect in the 20th and 21st centuries. Typically the first dish would be dane, rice, generally mixed with onions and chickpeas. Dane would be followed closely by a chicken soup. Next would be other grain dishes, some sweet, some with meat, along with grain porridges, and other soups. The third group of dishes would be followed by vegetable and fruit dishes, generally including some meat. These might be "stews" of vegetables, fruits and meats. Or they might be dolmas, fruits or vegetables stuffed with meat. Or they might be prepared vegetables or fruits arranged on a dish of cooked meats. In the middle of the meal would be a multitude of baked and fried sweets. Then the substantial meat dishes would come out, both meat "stews" and plain roasted meats. The final course would include things like sheep's heads and sheep's trotters with vinegar, meat and trotters stuffed into a sheep's stomach, and cold sliced meats. Often zerde and muhallebi would come out just before or just after this final sequence.

Second, the service of the dishes would have been quite different than our feast expectations. In Ottoman times dishes would have been served one at a time, but in clusters. That is, one dish would come out. People would serve themselves and the dish would be whisked away to be replaced by another related dish or typically expected dish. We generally do not have enough servers to remove the dishes shortly after they have been touched and replace them quickly with a different dish. Additionally, I have attended feasts during which dishes came out only one at a time, and i remember the restive diners, waiting, often not patiently, for the next dish.

I intentionally chose to serve the meal in a more-or-less modern fashion. After all, it is typically cold and rainy during Fall Investiture and i did not want to experiment with single dishes and odd food order and make people even crankier. I chose to group the dishes in a more European manner: first, soup and appetizers; second, meat, vegetables, and grains; and finally sweets. Note that the soups, were typically served first or second in a 16th century Ottoman meal, so they was not out of place in my feast. Then i chose to serve the second and third courses as we would expect - meat in the middle and sweets last. This is not completely off-base, as many festive meals ended with zerde and muhallebi, as this meal did, although the baked and fried pastries would have come in the middle. To us, the dessert course signals the end of the meal. In a typical Ottoman feast, the final course would have been cooked sheep's head and sheep's trotters with a vinegar sauce, which would have followed the zerde and the muhallebi.

I have eaten sheep's heads and feet (or rather, the meat from them) when i was in Morocco (in the Jmaa al-Fnaa in Marrakesh). But i figured that most diners would not have been happy to have them as their final course. I hope these deviations from the historical can be understood and forgiven.

First Course
SOUP - Choice of either
Buyresiyye (kadin tuzlugu shorbasi) - Meatball Soup with Barberries
Terbiyeli Tavuk Chorbasi - Chicken Soup with Small Noodles, Seasoned with Egg-Lemon Sauce
Mantı - Seasoned ground lamb in thin dough wrappers, boiled, then served with garlic-sumac-yogurt sauce

Second Course
Flat Bread (purchased)
Fresh Pickled Cucumbers
Rose Petal Jam (purchased)
Merserem - Lamb and Chard in Herbed Yogurt
Mahmudiyye - Chicken and Apricots with Noodles and Almonds
Kâchkül-i kabak - Spiced Stewed Gourds
Four Colors of Rice - White, Yellow, Red, and Green
Bulghur with Chestnuts, cinnamon, and ginger
Beverage Syrups - Morello Cherry and Mulberry

Dessert Course
Sheker Burek - Almond-paste-topped yeasted "cookies"
Senbūse Mukallele - Fried almond-paste-filled pastries
Muhallebi - Delicate Rose-Scented Rice Flour and Milk Pudding
Zerde = "Yellow" - Rice Pudding with Saffron and Nuts
Turkish Coffee (Peet's, of course), with sugar and Splenda on the side

  • À la table du Grand Turc
    by Stéphane Yerasimos
    L'Orient gourmand series : Sindbad/Editions Actes Sud. Arles, France: 2001.
    ISBN 2-7427-3443-0

  • Published in modern Turkish as:
    Sultan sofralari : 15. ve 16. yüzyilda osmanli saray mutfagi
    by Stefanos Yerasimos
    YKY. Istanbul, Turkey: 2002
    ISBN 975-08-0386-8

  • The Illuminated Table, the Prosperous House : Food and Shelter in Ottoman Meterial Culture
    Suraiya Faroqhi and Christoph K. Neumann, editors
    Orient-Institute der DMG, Würzburg, Germany: 2003
    ISBN 3-89913-323-4

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