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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Ramadan in Topkapi Palace, Royal Iftars, Ceremonies & Religious Rituals - Ottoman Khoshaf

For more info on Topkapi Palace

"Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultan, my one and only love.
The most beautiful among the beautiful...
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf...
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this world...
My Constantinople, my Caraman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshan, my Baghdad and Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of mischief...
I'll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi of the eyes full of tears, I am happy."

- Under his pen name, Muhibbi, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent 
composed this poem for Hurrem Sultan (AKA Roxelana or Huyam)

Topkapi Sarai - The Imperial Gate
Topkapi Palace, which was the house of the Ottoman Sultans for more than 400 years, witnessed innumerable lavish events, ceremonies and celebrations. The Holy month of Ramadan was certainly one of those spectacular celebrations enjoyed by those living within the walls of this marvelous castle. Those who lived in the palace enjoyed gatherings filled with entertainment and spirituality and savoured a diversity of flavours - of course fit for royals.

Other than the daily celebrations and the lavish food, Topkapi Sarai saw many ceremonies during Ramadan such as the opening of the Hirka-i Serif (the Holy mantle that belonged to prophet Muhammad) and the Baklava Parade of the janissaries (described in yesterday's post) as well as the ceremonies of the Sultans breaking fast with the attendants of Enderun (the palace's school) and the general public, and as with everything done at the palace, all will be held in accordance with the palace's rituals.

On a more personal level, the Ottoman Sultans were also romantic people. Despite all the ceremonies and obligations, they dedicated days for breaking fast with their wives and would even go the length of having specific areas constructed especially for breaking the fast with their loved ones. For instance, Sultan Ibrahim i, ordered the construction of an alcove in the palace's garden so that he could privately break fast with his wife enjoying the scenery of a nearby park. 

The porch outside the Imperial Hall (Divan)

Topkapi Sarai - The Palace
As well as being a royal residence, the palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. At its peak the palace housed over 4000 people. The palace included mosques, Enderun (school), hospital and bakeries... and among its facilities was the Imperial Harem, which was the house of Valide Sultan (the ruling sultan's mother), concubines, wives and children of the sultan and all their servants. Most fascinating through of all the facilities are the palace Kitchens.

Apart from exhibiting Kitchen utensils, today the buildings contain a silver
gifts and utensils collection, as well as large collections of Chinese
blue & white, white and celadon porcelain
The Kitchens of Topkapi 
(Saray Mutfakları)

The elongated palace kitchens are a prominent feature of the palace. While some of the kitchens were first built in the 15th century at the time when the palace was constructed, they were enlarged during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Then the kitchens have been rebuilt to the old plan after having burnt down.

The palace kitchens consist of 10 domed buildings, forming two rows of 20 wide chimneys, rising like stacks from a ship from domes on octagonal drums. 

Marvelous in their functionality, they were the largest kitchens in the Ottoman Empire. These buildings include: the Imperial Kitchen (for the Sultan and his guests), Enderûn Kitchen (for palace school), Harem Kitchen (for women’s quarters), Birûn (outer service section of the palace), beverages kitchen, confectionery kitchen, creamery, storerooms and rooms for the cooks. 

While at first this sounds oddly huge, after consideration and taking into account that the meals for the Sultan and guests (when present), the residents of the Harem, Enderûn and Birûn (the inner and outer services of the palace) were prepared in these buildings, also considering the number of people to feed was a minimum of 4,000 people at any given day, makes this enormity a little easier to understand. The kitchen staff alone consisted of more than 800 people, rising to 1,000 on religious holidays such as Ramadan.

A tray of fruits including pomegranates, pears and apples
For the Harem to enjoy as they lounge

Topkapi Food During Ramadan
The most popular foods served at the palace for Iftar were

consisting of 
hoşaf (a stewed fruit compote)
şerbet (a traditional nectar)
yufka (filo pastry with assortments of fillings) 
breakfast foods (such as olives, cheeses, cold cuts...)

Main Meal
consisting of 
varieties of dishes containing meat 
the favorite being fried eggs with pastırma (cured spiced beef) and onions, was always included among others

generally pastry-oriented 
the most traditional Ramadan dessert being 
Güllaç (made by layers of thin cornstarch pastry soaked in rosewater-infused milk).  

Ramadan Traditions in Topkapi Sarai
As with all else, even the serving of food to the sultan was strictly regulated by protocol.

Janissary Parade
During Ramadan, both Enderun and the harem would take their Iftars and Suhurs as well as perform the Terawih prayer with the sultan. At Iftar, starters will be served and after consuming these Iftar starters, the evening prayer would be performed. Once done with the prayer, the main meal will be served. When the main dishes were consumed, there would be table talk before desserts were served by order of the sultan.
These intervals between courses were intended to prevent potential indigestion.

In her memoirs, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (an English aristocrat who visited Istanbul in the early 1700s) noted that at the palace, there would be two performances each day of the Terawih prayer. Young girls would attend a quick Terawih prayer session at the harem, while the older ladies would opt for a session that was slower and longer. The sultan and students of Enderun would also attend this second session, during which the Quran would be recited in length, aiming to read the Quran in full within the month. 
This way of performing the prayer came to be known as the Enderun-style Terawih prayer, and has recently returned to public appeal in Turkey.

Evenings at the palace would see lessons specific to Ramadan taught in the royal presence with the attendance of the students of Enderun. During these lessons, senior clerics would discuss religious matters. In his writings, the investigative author Talha Uğurluel argues that this program, held in the Royal Room, was intended to “teach the sultan some lessons under the pretext of Ramadan”. 

Another custom that takes place at the palace during the exhibition of the Hırka-i Şerif, held on the 15th day of Ramadan, is the Baklava Parade. On the day, trays of baklava would be distributed to the janissaries, who then - in troops - would carry these trays to their barracks.

Relative Links


Quince Ottoman Khoshaf

Ottoman Khoshaf
(Fruits in Sugar Syrup)
Serves 8

Khoshaf was frequently served in Ottoman palaces especially to the Sultanas in the afternoon or when in the company of guests. It was a staple Ramadan dish at the palace. Because sugar was a rare commodity at that time - sugar cane does not thrive in Turkey, and it was not yet discovered that sugar can be made from beets - only the palace could indulge in this delicacy relying in principal on the use of sugar. 

Khoshaf has evolved much since then, but this is the base from which Khoshaf sprung. There are many applications as the recipe lends itself well to adaptations and creativity, so feel free to run with it :)

In this recipe, quince is used, however the recipe applies to a variety of fruits including apples, peaches, pears and even pumpkin.

You Need
4 quinces, peeled and cut into wedges, cores removed and reserving the seeds
8 cups water
5 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 slice red beetroot if desired for colour

In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar cloves and cinnamon stick as well a quince seeds and heat (over medium heat) stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Poach the quince wedges and the slice of beetroot in the sugar syrup until the quince is tender but not too mushy.

Carefully transfer the poached quince wedges to a large bowl. Discard the slice of beetroot, cinnamon, cloves and quince seeds. Pour the poaching syrup over the fruits in the bowl and bring to room temperature. Chill until ready to serve.

Serve cold in small dessert cups along with the syrup.


Food For Though
In pursuit of perfection we tend to lose sight of what's real. In the bigger picture reality is just perfect.

It must have been wonderful living at those times! Wouldn't it be nice to have access to experiencing moments in history? Well the closest you can get is by visiting Topkapi and really imagining how life was. The museum over there makes it even more visual giving you a glimpse. 
Watching the Drama (Hareem Al Sultan) too gives you a sense of the era, however do keep in mind that it is not entirely accurate and it is more a TV Drama than a historical record. For that and to explore the most modern Ramadan tradition 'The Ramadan TV Dramas', I am dedicating tomorrow's post to Hareem Al Sultan, which I think you will find interesting.

I hope that you have enjoyed my Trio of 'Ramadan in Ottoman Times', I would love to hear your thoughts so please do share them :) leave a comment before you go and help me keep the conversation alive.

Do you know more about Topkapi Sarai, or life of the royals back then? There are so many other such prominent characters in the history of the Ottoman empire, do you happen to know any? Share with us, we would love to know more.

Come back tomorrow for 
Hareem Al Sultan, The Reality & the Drama:)

The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end - all out there for us to explore...
Ramadan Kareem