Turkish kitchen outside the palace, whereas palace kitchens were enormous and elaborate, public kitchens were mostly quite humble and simple. There was much less of a variety of foods available to the common people. The Turkish food culture of the palace, like the haremlik selamlık, where men and women sat at different tables, generally did not exist outside the palace. Men, Women, and children often ate together. There were, however, some similarities between palace kitchens and the common kitchens, such as eating twice daily and eating soups with the main meal.
Another similarity was that in the wealthier mansions, master cooks were brought in for special occasions, and a wide variety of foods were prepared and enjoyed. During the Ottoman period, the variety of foods available in a Turkish kitchen, to the wealthy at least, was vast. This reflected the vast geographical and cultural diversity of the Ottoman Empire at the time. This is another example of how Turkish cuisine far surpassed much of its European counterparts in terms of a variety of exotic and delicious foods. Turkish spices at the time were among the most diverse in the world.
Turkish Cuisine Meets Turkish Food Culture
Religion played a prominent role at the time, and many of the religious holidays and rituals were occasions to be celebrated with food and drink. This is again, where Turkish food culture reached another zenith. Collective invitations for festive meals were often a part of prayers for rain, engagements, weddings funerals, and such holidays as Ramadan and other religious holidays.
In the mansions of the wealthy, the cooks had assistants who carried the food from the kitchens to the tables. At a wealthy Ottoman dining table, the variety of foods present was unsurpassed almost anywhere else in the world, even if there wasn’t a special holiday. You could expect some of the Turkish cuisine and Turkish spices that still impress foodies today to be present in their meals. At Muslim houses, there was almost never a dining table, as most meals were set up wherever they were going to eat, depending on weather conditions. This is because of the custom of frequently eating outdoors to enjoy the weather.
Dining table service was usually prepared on a simple tray and brought where they would be eating. Specific characteristics and customs varied from Sultan to Sultan, and from palace to palace, but there were some Turkish culinary practices of both palace cuisine and public cuisine that are still present in Turkish food culture today.
One such custom was that trays of metal or wood were often placed on a small table on the ground, on a cloth that had been spread out for that purpose. At the time it was so prevalent to eat in this manner, that there was almost no variation to this custom. Those that were eating gathered around the tray. Other than for foreign guests, palace lifestyle and meal ceremonies generally were based on old Islamic customs. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that practical customs like eating meals on tables with utensils became common.