Turkish Cookery Book and its collector Turabi Effendi
In a previous piece I had talked of the gigantic affair that was the imperial kitchen of the Topkapi Sarai, the residence of the Ottoman emperors between 1573 and 1853. But what kind of dishes were being cooked in this kitchen, which served food to six thousand people daily? For this we have to turn to a rare book: Turkish Cookery Book. This invaluable collection of receipts by a gentleman named Turabi Effendi. I believe this is the most authentic representation of Ottoman Imperial Cuisine. And there is an amazing tale behind the compilation of Turkish Cookery Book.
Compilation of Turkish Cookery Book
July, 1862. The Ottoman emperor’s Wali, that is the Viceroy, in charge of the administration of Egypt and Sudan, Muhammad Sayeed Pasha arrived in London. Muhammad Pasha was a remarkable person. But this isn’t really the place to discuss his life and achievements, which we shall certainly look into in another column. Our current quest is to trace the making of the unique cookbook. The Wali came to the British capital to meet the Prince of Wales. And in this connection Pasha threw an exclusive party at a yacht parked on the Thames, curiously named Faiz Jihad, on July 16, 1862. In Effendi’s words, ‘England’s fairest ladies and greatest statesmen were guests’. And Effendi himself was present at this party.
As may be expected the spread was lavish. All Turkish and ranged from the staple to the finest delicacies, from the simple to the most elaborate of food. Even the ‘fairest’ English ladies and the ‘greatest’ English statesmen enjoyed every bit of it. Many of them had no clue to what most of these dishes were. And soon many of them, who were also acquaintances of Effendi, started badgering him for recipes of the dishes they liked. Each according to her or his taste. Finally, Effendi decided to meticulously collected receipts of every dish served at the yacht and published it from London in 1864, under the title Turkish Cookery Book.
Authenticity of collection
The authenticity of this collection of receipts being a wonderful representation of Ottoman imperial cuisine is doubly proven by the fact Effendi’s collection has an uncanny similarity with another Ottoman cookbook published in 1844 by a person named Memmed Kamil, the first ever in Turkish, which bore an author’s name. Why this similarity? Researchers have shown throwing banquets for special guests was a regular affair. The kitchen staff used to be ready all the time to serve up lavish spreads at short notices. It can easily be assumed that there must have been a set menu for such occasions. And both Kamil and Effendi were drawing from that same menu.
The Turkish Cookery Book, running into 82 pages, divides the recipes into 25 separate sections. The number of dishes served at the yacht was 253. The book contains recipes for each of those. And thus it became one of the most authentic testimonies to the amazing contribution of Islamic traditions to world cuisine. This and other similar cookbooks also prove the vast diversity, yet and integral unity, within Islamic cuisine that was partaken of in various Islamic empires across the glove in medieval times. What a treasure trove it is!
Here’s just one example, in case you are a true foodie. Previously we had dished out the Indian Mughal Pulao and the Persian Safavid Palav in these columns. Today let’s cook up an Ottoman imperial Pilaw:
Cut 1.5 Kgs of nice mutton in pieces about the size of walnuts, place them in a stewpan. If the meat is not fat, add 100 Grams of fresh butter. Put the pan on a charcoal fire, and let the meat stew till quite brown, but not burnt, and the fat is as clear as oil, which you will easily see by holding the pan on one side. Then take out the pieces of meat with a hand strainer, and put them in a basin.Then put three or four finely chopped onions in the remaining fat, and fry them a nice brown. Lay the pieces of meat over, add one or two handfuls of pistachios, the same of currants, a teaspoonful of mixed spice.
1 Kg of the best rice, well washed, pour gently two litres of cold water over, add sufficient salt, put the cover over the pan, and cement round it with flour paste, so as to keep the steam in, put the pan on the fire, and let it boil gently until the whole of the liquid is absorbed ; then take off the cover, and turn the contents of the pan carefully on to a hot dish, and serve. This Pilaw is very pleasing to the sight, and exceedingly pleasant to the palate.
My Note: Gas or electric oven flames turned medium can be easily used instead of charcoal fire. Quantities have been slightly changed to adjust to the metric system.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)