Despite the fact that Istanbul cuisine was a mixture of culinary traditions from almost all parts of the empire, it would be wrong to claim that it represented the eating habits of the whole imperial geography. Instead, this cuisine constituted the core of Ottoman cuisine, shaped by the various cultures that existed in the relevant geography. Thus, Istanbul cuisine would in fact define Ottoman cuisine. It would not be correct to present this amalgamation, which evolved from the richness of various cultures, as a distinct cultural blend with no identity. We can conveniently define this culinary culture, created from the impact of very different regional cuisines in the Ottoman capital throughout the centuries, as a cuisine belonging to this city. Generally speaking, despite its interaction with other cuisines, the cuisine of Istanbul was mostly authentic.

This study aims to define the Turkish culinary tradition in Istanbul, which would become the dominant element of the city following its conquest in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks. In the Ottoman capital, along with Turkish cuisine, the culinary cultures of various ethnic and religious groups continued to exist, along with their distinct culinary habits. For instance, the cuisines of the religious communities—although having menus and table arrangements resembling those of Turkish communities in various regions of the empire—reflected their own traditions in Istanbul.


Turkish culinary culture in Istanbul was an extension of Turkish cuisine, which changed and developed from Inner Asia to Anatolia. In other words, this culture included elements of Turkish cuisine in Inner Asia, but developed mostly during the process of migrations and eventually matured in Anatolia. The eating habits of the Turks in Inner Asia were quite plain. The menu, composed of meat, milk, dairy products, and maize (a type of wheat), reflected the eating habits of almost all nomadic Turks. One of the main factors in the change from this old Turkish cuisine, which did not include vegetables or fruits, was the adoption of Islam and a sedentary lifestyle by the Turks. Production and consumption of grains, vegetables, and fruits began to develop among sedentary groups. Furthermore, Islam encouraged a sedentary lifestyle, which reinforced this change. It should be noted, however, that not all Turkish communities adopted this agrarian, sedentary lifestyle.

The second important change in Ottoman culinary culture came as a result of migrations. Turks learned new meal types in the influential cultural regions through which they passed or stayed for a while during migrations beginning in the tenth century. As a result they began to make room in their cuisines for fruits and vegetables. This process of change was probably slow during the periods of the Qarakhanids, Ghaznavids, and Great Seljuks. Data on the Seljuks demonstrate that in that period Turkish cuisine had begun to make use of various grains, fruits, vegetables, and even some spices. Thus, it is understood that the Turkish culinary culture of Anatolia continued to change during this period, but the completion date of this transformation cannot be clearly determined. Incidentally, it should be noted that Ottoman cuisine featured regular consumption of grain, meat, milk and dairy products, vegetables, fruits, spices and a variety of other food products. Thus, by the fifteenth century at the latest, the Ottomans were enjoying a varied and healthy cuisine.

On this point, it is important to ask to what extent Ottoman cuisine was affected by Byzantine cuisine. Would it not have been possible for Turkish communities living with Greeks in different regions of Anatolia to adopt some of their culinary habits? Would it have been possible for a nation, which conquered the capital of Byzantium and made it their own imperial capital, to resist the impact of its culinary culture? These questions have both positive and negative answers. It is quite natural for two societies living together to interact. However, in the field of culinary culture, where transformation is a slow process, long-term interaction was necessary for fundamental changes to take place. Thus, the culinary culture of the Turks in both Anatolia and Istanbul was affected by the Byzantines only to a limited extent. The fact that Turks did not replace butter, a key component of their diet, with olive oil, used predominantly in Byzantine Greek cooking (although Turks began consuming more olives after migrating to Anatolia) illustrates this fact.

1- A banquet (İntizami)

Although it is possible to relate Ottoman culinary culture to those of Inner Asia, Arabia, and Persia, the interaction between Byzantine and Ottoman cuisines is not well understood, due to the lack of studies on the subject. Trying to find traces of this connection based on similarities of meals is not an appropriate method. Similarly, trying to provide examples of interaction between Byzantine and Ottoman cuisines, just on the basis of the culinary traditions of these two cultures, would ignore the fact that Byzantine cuisine also included elements from Arab cuisine. As an example, halmaia, which was consumed as a pickle in Byzantine cuisine, was a term combining the Arabic words khall and ma. Khall means vinegar and ma means water. Byzantines probably learned the word halmaia, from the Arabs. Thus, it is not surprising to find certain similarities, such as the case of halmaia, in the two cuisines. However, it would be incorrect to claim that Ottoman cuisine was a continuation of the Byzantine kitchen on the basis of these similarities alone.

The cuisine of Istanbul changed between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries due to internal and external factors. Firstly, it should be noted that the imperial elites residing in Istanbul were most influential in bringing about the transformation of the city’s cuisine in the classical Ottoman period. The kitchens of palaces and mansions in the city were where refinement and sophistication of taste were developed. However, it would be wrong to claim that the cuisine of the elites was completely free of influence from the kitchens of commoners. There was a mutual give and take, but the impact on commoners of the cuisine developed in palaces and mansions was more obvious. As an example, in the kitchens of commoners in Istanbul in the nineteenth century, meals were named with references to court life, which demonstrated an aspiration to cook according to the palace style.

2- The cooks preparing the meal (İntizami)

Another factor in the change in culinary habits in Istanbul was the arrival of new products into the city in the sixteenth century. These products included coffee, which Istanbulites encountered in the first half of the sixteenth century; okra, which was brought to the city in the seventeenth century and henceforth was used extensively; green tomatoes, which began to be seen in the bazaars of the city towards the end of the same century; green pepper, beans and oranges, which found a place in the bazaar stands in the eighteenth century; and pasta, pudding, potatoes, etc., which were seen in the markets of the capital city in the nineteenth century. These new foods contributed to modernization of the cuisine in this period and played a decisive role in the change of Istanbul’s culinary culture.


Unfortunately, we are unable to fully grasp the culinary culture of the Ottoman capital, due to limited sources on the subject. Information on cuisine was mostly transferred orally, rather than in written form. This resulted in our lack of information on the eating and drinking habits of people other than the elites. Our knowledge comes principally from documents found in archives that relate to food supply and distribution before the nineteenth century. However, books on medicine, chronicles, and books on the lives and narrations of dervishes provide some additional information on culinary culture.

3- Kebab makers (İntizami)

Based on imperial kitchen lists, official price lists, cookbooks, research and source books on the general features of the culinary culture in the classical period, the following information can be given:

During the Ottoman period, Istanbul was one of the most crowded cities in the world. Most of the residents of the capital city were consumers, rather than producers of food. Thus, apart from some of the perishable foods produced by farmers in and around the city for the city bazaar, most food products were supplied by producers outside the city. For provisioning of the city, a vast network was built. Meat, grain, and fundamental foodstuffs could be procured from all corners of the Ottoman Empire. Fruits were provided from numerous centers, primarily from the south of the Sea of Marmara and western Anatolia. Butter, which was also sometimes brought from Anatolia, was mostly supplied from Crimea, north of the Black Sea, and some Balkan cities. Citruswas provided predominantly from the Aegean islands and partly from the Mediterranean region. Spices were mostly brought from Egypt. The most important provision centers were the northern and southern parts of Marmara, Eastern Anatolia, the Balkans, Transylvania (Moldavia and Wallachia), Egypt, the Aegean islands, and Damascus (well known for its high quality dried fruits). The variety of the products known to have been provided for Istanbul, verifies that meals cooked in the kitchens of the Istanbulites reflected influences of cuisines from all corners of the empire.

4- Having a feast (Hünername)

One of the significant features of dishes created in the classical period was that most of them had Arabic and Persian names. Other meal names were created mostly by the translation of Arabic names into Turkish. In his work, Kitâab al-Tabîihkh, Shirwani mentions the Arabic and Turkish names of fifty-seven meals. For example, the meal named “rummaniya” in Arabic was called in Turkish nardeng aşı, mishmishiya, zerdali aşı, aruzz mufalfaliya, dane birinç aşı, hintiya, and buğday aşı. The similarity among names of dishes and the fact that most of the names were in Arabic indicates the close relation between the culinary cultures in these two geographical basins. Furthermore, the fact that Shirwani changed some of the recipes in the translation reflects the changing culinary habits of Turks over time. Indeed, the recipes that Shirwani changed take up almost half the book. In conclusion, it can be stated that Turks reshaped the Arab and Persian dishes that they were introduced to during their migrations. The changes Shirwani made in the translation reflect this reality.

Another feature of Ottoman cuisine in general and Istanbul cuisine in particular, was the close relation between medicine and nutrition. One would find references to foods and beverages in all books on medicine, as well as information on the medical benefits of foods and beverages in recipes of most cookbooks. This was a reflection of Ottoman medicine, which was influenced by Galen and Islamic medicine. Before the introduction of modern medicine into the Ottoman world, the balanced state of the four humors (blood, spleen, phlegm, and bile) was regarded as an indicator of good health. When this balance was upset, a diet was recommended that contained certain foods and beverages to restore the balance of these humors in the body.

5- Having a feast: Offering rice and zerde to the janissaries (Vehbi)

Another characteristic of Istanbul cuisine in the classical period was that the ingredients of the dishes were quite different from present-day dishes (with the exception of dishes currently served in some cities in the southern parts of Anatolia), and even from those of the nineteenth century. In other words, the taste of the classical period did not correspond to the culinary taste of the present day. As a matter of fact, a number of dishes in the classical period combined very different tastes. To some dishes cooked in this period, both honey and vinegar were added. As they did not blend, both flavors could be tasted separately. In the same way, in various stews, numerous types of fruits were included (soup with plum, apple stuffing, etc.). Although some dishes made with fruit or including a combination of different flavors remained in existence in some parts of Anatolia, in the eighteenth century Istanbul began to diverge from this traditional line. By the way, in all the meals of the classical period, butter and sauces with spices were used. The introduction of olive oil and tomato paste into kitchens did not occur until the nineteenth century.

6- The pots in Topkapı Palace kitchen (Topkapı Palace Museum)

Meals and Some Food Products

Soup, meat dishes and rice were the main meals of Istanbul cuisine, although people of limited means generally substituted vegetable dishes for meat dishes. In Istanbul cuisine there are various soups, some of which are still made. Based on records from the period of Mehmed II, the Conqueror, among the ingredients added to soups were parsley, cucumber, pumpkin, sour grape, and plums. Cabbage soup was also made in the palace. The soups containing palm and sour grape were probably the ones Mustafa Ali defined as “ekşili şorba (sour soup). ” Another meal list from the sixteenth century contained these soup ingredients: chestnut, kendene (marrubium vurlgare), carrot, parsley, sour grape, bee balm, barberry (berberis vulgaris), lemon, pomegranate syrup, sumac, mint, egg, linguine, almond, and turnip. Each of these was used to cook separate soups. Imperial and public kitchens in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries produced ak çorba (white soup), bozca çorba (mix colored soup), tarhana çorbası (tarhana soup), tavuk çorbası (chicken soup), badem çorbası (almond soup), şekerli nardeng çorbası (sugary nardeng soup), mestane çorbası (mestane soup), buğday çorbası (wheat soup), pirinç çorbası (rice soup), sebze çorbası (vegetable soup), and umaç çorbası (dough ball soup). It was also very common to make soups from heads, feet and tripe acquired from sheep slaughtered in the city. In addition to the home-made versions of these soups, there were also commercial establishments in different parts of the city where these soups were made and sold.

7- The cooking caldron (Topkapı Palace Museum)

The Istanbulite mostly preferred sheep and lamb meat. Beef was consumed by non-Muslims and poor Muslims, although the amount is not precisely known. The main reason that Istanbulites chose not to eat beef was that it was not counted among the “latif gıda (healthy food)” in Ottoman medicine, and thus, it was not thought to be beneficial to the human body. It is also known that distinguished Istanbulites, who did not eat beef, included animals such as calf and goat in their diet. Prominent Istanbulites were also able to purchase several types of white meat, such as cock, duck, goose, pigeon, and red partridge, as well as chicken. The meat was used to make stew, kebab, meatballs, and çevirme (roast). At some feasts, peacock kebab was served.

8- Goats and sheep (İntizami)

9- Pastry sellers (<em>İntizami</em>)

The amount of sheep meat consumed was quite high in the city. Evliya Çelebi wrote that 27,000 sheep were brought to and consumed in the city daily, and also 500 sheep were distributed to the sultan, viziers, and others at court as tayinat (daily assigned share). In later accounts Çelebi sets the daily sheep consumption of the city at 38,000. He states that this number was presented to Murad IV in a report. The high number of sheep provided to the city was related to their low weight. In the classical period, sheep brought to Istanbul were each around ten kıyye (thirteen kg), whereas rams were twelve to thirteen kıyye (15.4–16.7 kg).

10- The butchers (İntizami)

The precision in recording sheep meat consumption contrasts starkly with the ambiguity of fish consumption records. According to the recent commonly accepted view, demand for fish in the city increased in the nineteenth century. However, detailed research on the issue demonstrates that this assumption has to be revised. For example, in the register of narh (fixed price) dating to 1640, prices for twenty-six types of fish were listed. If purchasers of these fish in the city bazaars were not exclusively from the Greek community, it can be inferred that there was a large public demand for fish in the seventeenth century. As a matter of fact, the twelve types of fifteenth- century fish recipes included in the book of Shirwani reinforces this view.

In addition to narh registers and some archival documents, Evliya Çelebi’s observations indicate that fish consumption in Istanbul was higher than what has been assumed, and Muslims consumed more amounts of fish than what has been stated in many studies. The variety of the craftsmen related to fish, which are referred to in the Istanbul part of Çelebi’s Seyahatname, also provides us with important clues on the fish consumption in the city. The first group of these craftsmen was the dalyan, who caught fish in the sea. These dalyans—five of whom represented large-scale businesses—could catch a variety of fish in the Bosphorus, among which were sword, turbot, oarfish, mackerel, bonito, salted bonito (toric), mullet, flathead mullet, mackerel, oysters, Spanish mackerel, anchovy, red mullet, scorpion fish, rockling fish, goby fish, dried mackerel, silverside, horosya, tirkis, and bluefish. Among the craftsman groups were ığrıpçı (seiners), who caught fish with a kind of net; karityacı, who caught fish with nets attached to poles along the Golden Horn; ağcı (netter), using nets thrown from the rocks; saçmacı, who caught fish along the coasts at night with special nets; düzenci, who caught rockling fish and mackerel in the harbors; zıpkıncı (harpooner), who fished with harpoons in the straits; and finally, craftsman groups, who fished with pots and baskets. Apart from these fishermen, there was also a vast group of people connected with the sale of these fish from about 2,000 shops. With 900 cooks working in 500 shops in the Fish Market, cooking fish soup, rice with mussels, oysters, and scallops, it is obvious that a vast number of people played roles in the provisioning and selling of fish, as well as meeting other fish-related demands of the public. Furthermore, according to Evliya Çelebi, istridyeciler (oyster catchers), composed of 800 people with 300 shops, were catching and selling crustaceans, such as oysters, sea urchins, mussels, scallops, etc. This indicates that the interest of the Istanbulite was not limited to fish, but also included crustaceans, which are characterized as “sea insects” by Evliya Çelebi. On this point, it should be noted that almost all the people who worked in the craft branches mentioned above were Greeks. However, this does not mean that there were no Muslims among their customers.

The consumption of offal was quite common, not only in the city but also in the palace. Fried lamb liver kebab was a meal in high demand. The demand for offal encouraged investments in this area, and, as an example, some people had more than one trotter shop. In 1726 there were twenty-one trotter shops and twenty-six trotter soup shops in the walled city of Istanbul and Eyüp. Two of these owners had two shops and one of them had four shops. Seventeen of these trotter producers were Muslim, whereas four of them were non-Muslim. Thus, it can be inferred that trotter business was mostly done by Muslims. They not only sold trotter (sheep’s foot) but also sheep’s head. To ensure the maintenance of hygiene, the state tried to take necessary precautions. However, from time to time it was possible to come across shops where sheep’s head and feet were not thoroughly washed and were cooked in a contaminated condition.

Table 1 Shops Selling Lamb Feet in the Walled City and Eyüp in 1726

Owner of the Shop

The Location of the Shop

Kethüda (Chamberlain) Murad Beşe (A prominent janissary)


Yiğitbaşı Osman


Molla Ahmed

Karagümrük, Yenikapı




Molla Şerif Mahallesi


Aksaray, Odunkapısı, Tahtakale, Küçükpazar

Ebubekir Beşe

Büyük Karaman

Mustafa Beşe

Eski Darphane

Mahmud Beşe


İsmail Beşe


İslam Beşe


Ömer Beşe


Zeynel Beşe

Tavukpazarı, Vezir Hanı

Yiğitbaşı (Guild Executive) Beşe

Kadırga Port

İsmail Beşe


Murad Beşe


Ömer Beşe







Sultan Süleyman



Compared to the trotter shops, the number of the tripe shops was relatively low. In the Tulip period, there were twenty-two tripe shops in twenty-two different districts in Istanbul, Galata, Tophane, and Kasımpaşa. Nine of them were owned by Muslims, one of them was owned by both a Muslim and a non-Muslim, and the rest were owned by non-Muslims. Of the shops owned by non-Muslims, three of them were jointly run. Evliya Çelebi describes tripe soup, which he called zerafet-ü kabahat (grace fault), as a hangover remedy. He noted that all the tripe makers in Istanbul were non-Muslim Greeks.

Almost all beef was used in the production of pastrami and sucuk (a sausage flavored with garlic). Thus, high amounts of beef were delivered to the city. In the eighteenth century, Muslim butchers were allowed to take 85 percent of the whole amount of cattle brought to the city, while Jewish butchers could take 15 percent of it. Unfortunately, it is not known if Muslim butchers used all the meat designated for their share to make pastrami and sucuk. While the Istanbulite had very limited types of pastrami and sucuk towards the mid-seventeenth century, there was a variety of pastrami and sucuk available in Istanbul markets a century later. In addition to the local pastrami, Kili and Edirne pastrami, which already existed in the capital market, pastramis from Kayseri, Ankara, Silistre and the Black Sea were also added to the list. Most of the sucuk, on the other hand, was produced in the city, and some was brought from Şumnu. Both of the meats were sold in dried and fresh forms. A type of local sucuk was the “göden sucuk” made from the end part of the intestine. There were thirty-two different sucuk shops in Istanbul and Galata in 1726. Among thirty-two people working in these shops, only four of them were non-Muslim. The fact that these four people were working in districts such as Samatya and Balat, where the non-Muslim population was dense, should also be taken into consideration.

Table 2 Tripe Shops in Istanbul, Galata, Kasımpaşa and Tophane in 1726

The Location of the Shop

The Owner of the Shop

The Location of the Shop

The Owner of the Shop

Around Şehzade

İsmail Kethüda




Osman Ağa

Büyük Karaman

Hasan Beşe

Küçük Karaman

İbrahim Beşe


Ali Beşe


Murtaza Bey


Deryani and his partner, Yorgi
















Mitro and his partner, Tribo

Samatya, close to the church


Langa, Yenikapı

Veryani and his partner, Palas

Galata, Balıkpazarı

Simo and his partner, Hıristo


Zeynel Beşe


İbrahim Beşe


Osman Beşe and his partner, Apostol

Reference: Court of Istanbul Sijil no. 24

11- A roasted beef (İntizami)

Pilaf was the signature dish of Ottoman cuisine. There were three types of pilaf: rice pilaf, bulgur pilaf, and vermicelli pilaf. Considering the fact that the price of rice was lower than flour even in the fifteenth century, it would not be wrong to assume that pilaf was among the indispensable elements in all Istanbulites’ kitchens. For a long time, rice was imported from Egypt and Plovdiv (Filibe). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, varieties of rice from Beypazarı, Beyaz Ada, Kırmızı Ada, Boyabat, and Trabzon were added to culinary ingredients available in Istanbul. From the kitchen books of Topkapı Palace, we learn that rice pilaf was consumed both in plain form (sade pirinç pilavı - plain rice pilaf), and by adding fried or blanched meat to the rice. Almond was an interesting addition to bulgur pilaf. The mixture made by adding different types of vegetables to both rice and bulgur pilaf was called “dane-i sebze” (pilaf with vegetables). In addition, erişte (linguine), which is a type of pasta, was named dane-i reştiye, as it was regarded as a dish similar to pilaf. Colored pilaf made in Istanbul was called saru dane (yellow grain), yeşil dane (green grain), kızıl dane (red grain), dane-i nardeng (maroon grain), or siyah dane (black grain).

12- Fish hunting (İntizami)

13- Fruit juice sellers (İntizami)

People in Istanbul would eat two meals a day. Breakfast would be in mid-morning and dinner would be after the late afternoon prayer. The meals would be eaten on low tables, while sitting on the floor. Meal time would not last long. On the table, each person would not be served separate plates. Rather, each dish would be put on one platter and everyone would eat from it. People in the city would generally use shallow copper pans. People with high incomes, on the one hand, might serve their meals on silver and porcelain plates. During the classical period, no fork or knife was used for eating. With the exception of the elite, the general public did not use the fork or knife until the nineteenth century.

As for foodstuffs in the classical period, we can say that the variety of products in the markets of Istanbul increased relative to the expansion of state borders and commercial relations. For example, the variety of spices in the market considerably increased following the conquest of Egypt. The introduction of coffee into the city and its widespread consumption occurred during the same period. Other than these imported products, new products, which began to be produced on Ottoman imperial lands or imported from other cities in the seventeenth century, would change the texture of the city cuisine slightly and slowly. This transformation was relatively superficial, at least until the eighteenth century. People living in the capital had access to almost all products from throughout the empire, with the exception of certain items, which began to be seen in the city markets in the seventeenth century. Those items included okra (mid-seventeenth century), kavata (green tomato, late seventeenth century), frenk badincanı (European eggplant/ a type of red tomato, second half of the eighteenth century), bean (eighteenth century), green pepper (eighteenth century), cauliflower (eighteenth century), corn (eighteenth century), pea (eighteenth century), orange (eighteenth century), potato (nineteenth century), mandarin (nineteenth century), and tea (black tea, nineteenth century).

Among the grains that had a place in the markets in the classical period were wheat/flour, rice, lentils, chickpeas, horse beans, and vermicelli. In the capital there was a variety of food made with flour. In addition to has (high quality) and harci (average or low quality) breads sold in the markets in the mid-eighteenth century, a new bread with a considerably higher quality, called hassü’l-hâs, began to be produced. Apart from bread, there were other products made with flour, such as çörek (pie/bread), susamlı çörek (seedcake), yağlı çörek (scone), kaba çörek (fluffy cake), yarma çörek (cracked wheat cake), çakıl ekmeği (dotted thin bread), Şam pidesi (Damascus pita), hurde (small) halka (ring), hurde yağlı halka (small oily ring), simithalkası (Turkish bagel ring), Şam halkası (Damascus ring), harci (low quality flour) halka (ring), simit (Turkish bagel), susamlı halka (seed ring), sükkeri (sugary) Galata halkası (Galata ring), gevrek (crisp), halka gevrek (ring crisp), kak gevrek (crisp with dried fruit), yarma gevrek (cracked wheat crisp), Arap gevreği (Arab crisp), yarma Arap kakı (cracked wheat and dried fruit), halka kuru kaki (dried fruit ring), gözleme (Turkish pancake), lokma (yeast fritter), lokma-i safi, ağdalı lokma, yağlı lokma, tabe lokması (pan fritter), hurde lokma (small fritter), börek (timbale), etli börek (timbale with meat), Şam böreği (Damascus timbale), kahi börek, tabla böreği, hurde kahi, tabla kahi, katmer kahi (crisp flaky pastry fritter), birerlik kahi, börekli kahi, poğaça (filled pastry), and yağlı poğaça (filled pastry with oil). Preferences among the elites of the capital living in the palace were for nan-ı müdevver (ring nan), nan-ı piç, nan-ı nohut, nan-ı mirahuri, nan-ı kirde, nan-ı sükkeri (sugary nan), nan-ı pite, imam ekmeği (imam bread), çörek (pie), poğaça-i revgani, poğaça-i piç, semiz halka (big ring), simid halka (Turkish bagel ring), gözleme (Turkish pancake), börek (timbale), börek-i sükkeri (sweet timbale), tavuk böreği, rikak (phyllo pastry), peksime (hard/twice baked biscuits) nukul (meat pie), and nukul-ı sükkeri (sweet pie). Other pastry types were offered on feast tables. For example, at the circumcision feasts of princes Mustafa and Bayezid, sons of Mehmed II, the Conqueror, in addition to the şekerli nukul (sugary pie), bademli, fıstıklı, kişnişli, çam fıstıklı (habb-ı sanevber), tarçınlı, and karanfilli (pie with almond, peanut, cilantro, pine kernel, cinnamon, and clove) were also served. Evliya Çelebi also mentions the production of lavash in addition to loaf bread, and like today, pita during Ramadan.

14- Fruit sellers (İntizami)

The history of the simit, a traditional pastry, goes back to the early periods in the city. Simit was produced in eighty-three pastry bakeries in the eighteenth century. Of the eighty-three bakers, fifty-nine were Muslim and twenty-four were non-Muslim.

As a final note on the pastries produced in the city, black cumin and sesame were sprinkled atop bread. Almond, poppy seed, black cumin, anise, and saffron were added to pitas. Saffron, pimento, egg, and sesame were added to pie-like pastries.

Milk and dairy products also had an important place in Istanbul cuisine, as livestock was quite common in the city. In some parts of the city, there were numerous farms for raising livestock and for dairy farming. Thanks to an abundance of meadows, raising livestock and dairy cows was possible, especially outside the walled city on the European side and on almost every part of the Asian side, including the coastline. Thus, almost all the milk, yoghurt, and clotted cream (kaymak) sold in Istanbul were produced in or around the city. Dairy products, popular among Turks since their time in Central Asia, were sold in the city markets. According to the official narh register of the period, milk was sold in two forms: halis (pure) and mahlut (water added). Pure butter (sadeyağ), butter, and cheese were mostly procured from the rural areas. Yoghurt and clotted cream, which could be produced in the city, also were sold in the markets.

Yoghurt was named after either its container (pouch, pot, bucket or barrel), its distinctive feature (meadow, farm, garden, etc.), or by its place of production. The ones named after their place of production are important as they indicate districts famous for their yoghurt. The walled city district of Istanbul was well known for its pot yoghurt, and Eyüp, Hisar, and Kasımpaşa, where livestock feedlots were common, were known for yoghurts named after them. Kanlıca, which is still known for its yoghurt, held a prominent position in the city market with both its pouch yoghurt and pot yoghurt.

15- Vegetable sellers (İntizami)

In addition, Eyüp and Üsküdar were famous in Istanbul for their clotted cream. In the late seventeenth century, there was a special type of clotted cream called Üsküdar tereşe kaymağı, which was in high demand by the public. In the city markets, there were also other types of clotted cream called camus kaymağı (clotted cream of water buffalo milk), çavuş kaymağı, and koyun kaymağı (clotted cream of sheep milk).

Sadeyağ was a type of butter produced by extracting sediment from the melted butter, and it was used solely in cooking. Regular butter was probably consumed as it was. In some of the lists, it was stated that sadeyağ was sold according to its certain characteristics, such as sade ergin yağ (plain soft butter), süzülmüş halis yağ (filtrated pure butter), tulumdan süzülmüş halis Kefe yağı (pure filtrated butter from Kefe), halis süzülmüş desti yağı (pure filtrated pot butter), etc.

Cheese was also one of the indispensable additions to both public and palace tables. Like today, the markets offered a variety of cheese. The following cheeses represent only a small part of this variety: Çayır (a kind of soft cheese), dil (string cheese), Eflak, teleme, lor (quark cheese), Midilli loru, kaba lor, Midilli, Midilli baş, Mora, Balkan, Limni, Anabolu and dil peynirinden ezme kaba peynir, and Limni tulumu (brynza). In addition, the kaşkaval (round sheep cheese), introduced to the city market in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, was quickly accepted by urban residents. For a long time this cheese was supplied from rural areas. When it began being produced in the city, dependence on the rural areas decreased. Kaşkaval cheese, sold in Istanbul markets, was generally named after its place of production, such as Tekfurdağı kaşkavalı, Eflak kaşkavalı, Çorlu kaşkavalı, Limni kaşkavalı, and Karadeniz kaşkavalı.

16- Dining table and plates (Topkapı Palace Museum)

Almost all the vegetables consumed in the kitchens of Istanbul were produced in the city or they were provided from nearby districts. Some vegetables were brought from eastern and southern Marmara to the markets of the capital city. For example, artichokes came from Bozburun and Darıca, and fresh broad beans and vine leaves were brought from Gemlik, Değirmendere and Katırlı. Among the vegetables and greens on the official price lists were onion, mint, cucumber, lettuce, cucumber root, bean, eggplant (badincan), leeks, okra, spinach (isfinah / isfinac), beets (çükündür) pumpkin (kedu), cabbage (kelem), vine leaves, garlic, carrot, turnip, black-eyed peas, pickle leaves (probably bitter tomato leaf), anchusa leaf, parsley, and celery. In addition, mallow, dill, estragon, purslane, corchorus, and artichoke were included in the records of palace kitchens. None of the vegetables introduced to Istanbul kitchens was accepted by the public as quickly as okra. This vegetable, introduced in the capital in the seventeenth century, was in high demand by the public. As a result, a post called bamyacıbaşılık (chief of the okra business), was established in order to ensure that okra brought to the city would be unloaded at Eminönü and would be distributed by an officer.

There was also a great variety of fruits . Fresh fruits were brought from places around the city; dried ones were provided from a number of places throughout the imperial lands. Among these fruits were apple, pear, grape, plum, fig, pomegranate, citrus, apricot, cherry, cranberry, lemon, hazelnut, pistachio, chestnut, hawthorn, unripe almond, sour grapes, melons, watermelon, jujube (unnab), locust (harnub), rowan, medlar, peach, olive, walnut, wild pear, quince, mulberry, wild apricot, and date. It should be noted that there were several types of each of these fruits. Especially in the seventeenth century, varieties of fruit multiplied because of increased commerce between cities and rural areas. Apple varieties included: mayıs, misk, orak, Canik, misket, ferik, misk, and Sinop. Pear varieties were: [Mustafa] Beğ, dalkıran, şeker, burunsuz, Göksulu, menendi, Bozdoğan, gelincik, inesi, alacainesi, akinesi, dikenlice, Çine, and Göbelandorak. Types of grapes were: çöplü kızıl, çöplü razakı, çöpsüz razakı, Beğlerce, Şahlar, razakı, razakı kızıl, kutu razakı, siyah tabla, İzmir siyahı, Baş İzmir siyahı, Kızlar siyahı, Edremit siyahı, siyah, ayıtlama İzmir siyahı, küp, parmak, kuş, Şam, âveng, hora, savurma siyah, parmak and gürb. Types of figs were: Nazillilob, İzmir lob, sarı Nazilli, sarıca, Midilli, Menemen, taze çiçek, taze hurde, dizme taze, and akandsiyah. Olive varieties included: Karaburun, Karamürsel, Tirilye, and Edincik. Types of cherries were: beyaz, kara, Bursa, dalbastı, Dergani, kızılca, and Hisar (Rumelihisarı, the most well-known cherry type). Varieties of plums were: can, kaysı, ekşi, bardak, Maverdî, aş, fıçı, Amasya, Boyalı, Bursa, karnıyarık, and Belgrad. And chestnut types were: Bursa, hurde, baş, Karadeniz, İzmir, and Akbaba.

Evliya Çelebi adds new fruits to this list, based on narh registers and books of palace kitchens, and provides new information on these fruits. Çelebi mentions the agreeable conditions of the gardens in Istanbul where fruits were planted, and refers to different types of peach, such as papa, sultani, cani, baba, derraki, and çelebi. To describe the perfection of these peaches, he characterizes them as ayah min ayat Allah (a sign from the signs of God). Among these peaches, the ones grown in the Kiremitçi Mustafa Ağa Yard within Eğrikapı were extra special. According to Evliya Çelebi, this peach, which was juicy and red, was given exclusively to the sultans.

17- A feast attended by military class (Vehbi)

Çelebi mentioned with surprise the size of the Malatya and Göksü pears, grown in the Elçi Kara Mustafa Garden, near Kızılmusluk. One single pear in this garden was 150 kıyye (480 gr). Even the pears of Tesu and Ordubar in Iran were not this heavy. Similarly, kumru apricots, planted in the garden of Halıcılar Köşkü, were bigger than the Hamevi apricot from Damascus, and they each weighed 50 kıyye (160 gr).

18a- Spoon (Topkapı Palace Museum)

18b- Spoon (Topkapı Palace Museum)

18c- Spoon (Topkapı Palace Museum)

18d- Spoon (Topkapı Palace Museum)

18e- Spoon (Topkapı Palace Museum)

18f- Spoon (Topkapı Palace Museum)

18g- Spoon (Topkapı Palace Museum)

Evliya Çelebi also mentions lüffan (sour) pomegranates, each weighing 1.5 kıyye (2.56 kg), grown in the gardens of a woman near Avratpazarı, and sent to the sultan as a present; and about the figs of Şüğlün Garden, three of which weighed 1 kıyye (1.3 kg). Furthermore, he declares that a filahatname (farming book) could be written with just the praises of some especially excellent fruits of Istanbul.

Desserts, pickles and beverages were important in Ottoman cuisine. We can learn something about them from the official narh registers, although the lists reflect only a small part of the desserts, pickles and beverages that people in the city consumed. To make up for the paucity of information, the translation of the book Kitab al-Tabikh by Shirwani, and kitchen books/records of the palace will be used. Among the desserts given in the lists were zülbiye (zülabiye/zülbaye) halva, sabuniye halva (helva-yı sabuni), gaziler halva, kozlu halva (walnut halva), keten halva (cotton halva), Karadeniz ceviz halva (Black Sea walnut halva), tahin halva (tahina halva), susam halva (sesame halva), beyaz halva (white halva), halkaçini halva, Frenk halva (European halva), kurabiye (cookie), sade paluze (plain blancmange), bademli paluze (blancmange with almond), bulama (grape juice), pestil (fruit pulp), köfter (starched grape), cevizli köfter sucuğu (starched grape with walnut), bademli köfter sucuğu (starched grape with almond), Kuşadası pekmezi (Kuşadası grape molasses), Boğazhisar pekmezi (Boğazhisar grape molasse), Gelibolupekmezi (Gelibolu grape molasses), ayva reçeli (quince jam), zerdali reçeli (apricot jam), and kabak reçeli (pumpkin jam), as well as some types of macun (paste), which can be counted among desserts. In addition to these, Shirwani refers to some other desserts, such as şekerli kuru halva (sugary dry halva), bal halva (honey halva), unsuz halva (halva without flour), halka halva (ring halva), mekşufe, levzine (honeyed almond halva), mükeffen, bal lokması (yeast fritter with honey), muhallebi (pudding), sumak paluzesi (sumac blancmange), yumurta güllacı (rice wafers with egg), tava güllacı (pan rice wafer), şekerli levzine halva (sugary almond honey halva), kahi halva (honey halva), şekerli müşkife halva (sugary müşkife halva) and ballı müşkife halva (honeyed müşkife halva). Based on the records of palace kitchens, the following desserts might also be added to the list: baklava, zerde (saffron and rice desert) and kadayıf (shredded dough with syrup), almond, saffron, ball-shaped, chestnut, festival, scoop, peanut halva, and pişmaniye (Turkish fairy floss), apple, pear, quince, cherry, rose, citrus, cranberry, medlar, peach, unripe almonds, melons, walnuts, jujube, lemon, pumpkin, eggplant, mürekkeb (a kind of citrus fruit, each slice of which tastes different), citron, and European lemon. The dessert called gülbeşeker (rose jam), made in the palace, and rubb (marmalade), made from a variety of fruits and vegetables, can also be counted among the desserts of Istanbul cuisine—the last two found at the tables of particularly wealthy people. The fondness of the Istanbulite for dessert could be seen in the number of the shops selling kadayıf, which was less in demand than baklava. There were twenty-four kadayıf shops within the jurisdiction of the qadi (judge) of Istanbul. Other desserts were of interest to Istanbulites. Macun (paste), made by skillful dessert masters in the capital, was most desired during cold winter and spring days. That Evliya Çelebi records a number of pastes in the Seyahatname also reflects public interest. Incidentally, Çelebi was accustomed to eating a special type of paste, called dilber macunu, a favorite of his father.

Besides desserts, Istanbulites were fond of pickles, a fact drawn from the number of the pickle shops in the city. For instance, at the beginning of the eighteenth century there were fifty-five pickle shops under the administration of the qadi of Istanbul. This number reached eighty-seven in the second half of the century. Cucumber and cabbage pickles were the most consumed pickle types. Along with these, mint, eggplant, grape, and turnip pickles were also in high demand. Also, pickles were made from lemon, citrus, squash, artichoke and capers in the palace kitchens. Istanbulites could buy cabbage pickles, which they loved most, from grocery stores, as well as in pickle shops. However, grocers were restricted to selling cabbage pickles, as the sale of all other types of pickleswas under the monopoly of the pickle shops.

As for water, it was mainly provided by the saka (water carriers) in the city. There were different sakas, such as arka saka (carrying water on their back) with kırba (waterskin) holding 30-44 kıyye (38.5–56 kg) of water, and at sakası (carrying water on a horse) with kırba (waterskin) holding 140 kıyye (180 kg).They also brought water from fountains in different parts of the city for consumption by residents. Most of the saka, who carried water for sale on their backs, were non-Muslim. Within the boundaries of the walled city of Istanbul during the Tulip Era (1726), fifty-six (with the addition of nine Muslim yiğitbaşılar - - guild executives - -totaling sixty-five) were Muslim, while 202 were non-Muslim. These people, divided into branches, worked in the fields they were assigned to. There were a total of 276 arka saka, carrying water on their backs, in Istanbul, whereas the number of the at sakası, who carried water with horses, generally in groups of five to six people and assigned to certain fountains, was twenty-seven. This number would change over time. For instance, the number of the arka saka increased to 301, and the number of at sakası reached thirty-six in 1754.


Among the most important non-alcoholic beverages consumed by the Istanbulite, apart from water, were hoşaf/hoşâb (dried fruit juice) and şerbet (sorbet). In addition, lemon juice, which can be regarded as a type of sorbet, and boza (fermented millet drink) were popular beverages. Unfortunately, we do not know the types of the hoşaf that the people in the city prepared and consumed. As for the hoşaf made in the palace, it is known that grape, fig, wild apricot, apricot, and pear were used. These represent a very limited part of the whole picture. It is highly probable that at least apple and pear hoşaf were made in both public and imperial kitchens.

Some of the şerbet types, however, are known, at least some that were made by the public in Istanbul, and all the şerbet types prepared in the palace. While most şerbet were consumed to quench thirst and aid digestion, some şerbet types were used as medicine (syrup). In a cookbook manuscript from the eighteenth century, there are recipes of several şerbets such as şerbets of rasen, tüffah (apple), apple, rose, viola, citrus, quince and hummas. The şerbets, made at Helvahane (the dessert and medicine preparation area) of the palace, were listed as follows: şerbets of viola, rose with rose jam, rose and lemon, red rose, lily, lavender, mulberry, jujube, quince, quince leaf, cherry, tamarind, narcissus, usul, dinari and fumitory, as well as ecza (medicine) şerbet, made with the mixture of various plants. The şerbets brought to the palace from rural areas were hummas1 from Egypt, ribas2 from Damascus, pomegranate from Bursa, anberbaris (berberis) from Yanbolu, red rose and rose-lemon from Edirne, lemon juice sorbet from Chios, Istanköy Island and Alanya. The people would drink these şerbets, brought from places around the city or from different regions, after cooling them with snow and ice. Snowmen (people selling snow) would store the snow they brought to the city in four or five vaults, and the şerbet makers would get snow from the nearest vault.

Table 3 Pickle Shops and their Owners in Istanbul in 1726

The Location of the Shop

The Owner of the Shop

The Location of the Shop

The Owner of the Shop


Kethüda Süleyman b. Ali

Around the Azepler Hamam

İbrahim b. Hüseyin


Mustafa b. Mehmed

Küçük Mustafapaşa

Halil b. Mehmed

Outside Kumkapı





Halil b. İbrahim



Around Mehmed Agha

Ahmet b. Hüseyin


İsmail b. Ebubekir

Sultan Selim

Hasan b. Ahmed

Küçük Karaman

Mahmud b. Abdullah

Around Karagümrük

Süleyman b. Abdullah


Hacı Abdullah b. Mehmed


Seyyid Mustafa b. Mehmed


Ahmed Odabaşı b. Abdullah


Ahmed b. Mahmud


Hasan b. Ömer

Mimar Bazaar

Ali b. Osman


Mehmed Beşe b. Mehmed


İbrahim b. Ömer


İbrahim b. Mehmed


Abdullah b. İsmail


Hüseyin b. Mehmed

Around Aksaray

Murad b. Mahmud


İvaz b. Abdullah

Sofular Hamam

Ahmed b. Abdullah

Yeniodalar başı

Mustafa b. Ömer


Mehmed b. Ali


Osman Beşe

Müftü Hammam

Mustafa b. Osman


Mehmed Odabaşı b. Ali

Hacıkadın Hamam

Ali b. Mehmed


Hacı Mustafa b. Bekir


Mustafa Beşe b. Mehmed


Mustafa b. Mehmed


Osman b. Mustafa


Osman b. Ahmed


Mustafa Çelebi b. Abdullah

Around Çarıklı Hamam

İsmail b. Mustafa

Kadırga Harbor

Ali b. İbrahim


Mehmed b. Ramazan



Around Yenikapı

Ahmed b. Abdullah





Agha Hamam


Kaliçeciler Mansion






Sultan Hamam




Around Kavuk Inn




Elvan Street

İbrahim b. Musa



Reference: Court of Istanbul Sijil no. 24

Boza held an important place in the beverage culture of the Ottoman capital, as well. The consumption of boza increased in the seventeenth century. In the middle of that century, 105 boza producers were working in the city. While boza made of rice was preferred in the palace, people in the city had the opportunity to drink boza made from both rice and barley. Tekirdağ millet was also highly prized in boza production. Evliya Çelebi emphasizes the whiteness and intensity of boza produced with this millet. He also states that grape molasses of Kuşadası was added to this boza, and cinnamon, clove, ginger, coconut were sprinkled on it, and it was sold in copper mugs and buckets. While Evliya Çelebi mentions in several parts of Seyahatname that he successfully refrained from consuming most of beverages (including coffee, tea, salep, badyan and mahalep), he did drink Istanbul boza.

19- A porcelain plate

20- Animal, fruit, and nut figures made from sugar (Vehbi)

He also informs us about the best boza shops in the city. The best sweet boza, made mostly with Tekirdağ millet, was sold in the shops in Ayasofya Bazaar, Atmeydanı, Akılbend Bazaar, Kadırga Harbor, Okçular, Aksaray, Unkapanı, in front of Azebler Hamam, and Koca Mehmed Paşa Hamam in Küçükpazar. Their boza was white and there was clotted cream in it.

Evliya Çelebi refers to some other boza types, which he characterized as breathtaking. Among the boza, with a very tangy taste were boza of Yasemin and boza of Arnavut Kasım in Süleymaniye, boza of Taşaklı in Ayasofya, and boza of Sinan and Momo in Unkapanı.

21- A feast attended by the class of scholars (Vehbi)

The last non-alcoholic beverage to be mentioned in this respect is coffee. There are several studies on coffee’s journey to the capital. It was first consumed in the first half of the sixteenth century and became widespread in a short time. There are two important points to make concerning coffee. Firstly, the earliest coffee shops were opened in the capital. Secondly, despite the long-lasting attempts of the state to prohibit coffee, its consumption was approved by the state at the end of the sixteenth century with the implementation of mukataa (tax-farming district) on their taxes. The kahvehanes (coffee shops), which spread around the capital quite quickly, were particularly important establishments that demonstrated not only the change in the public’s eating and drinking habits, but also how deeply a drink might affect the daily lives of people. From the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century, Ottoman people preferred to drink coffee collectively. Thus, coffee was made in quite big pitchers. Similarly, the first coffee cups were almost as big as soup bowls. From the eighteenth century onwards, these coffee cups would get smaller and would be used first with metal cup holders and then would be turned into cups with holders. In short, the change in both its preparation and the service items in which it was served is important as it reveals how the habit of coffee drinking was also adopted in private life, as an individual act, in addition to being a social event. People in Istanbul would buy coffee from herbalists, who had the right to sell coffee, rather than from coffee shops.

In addition to the beverages mentioned above, the Istanbulite would also consume alcoholic drinks. Despite the fact that Islam forbids drinking alcohol, the consumption of it was seen even among Muslims. Nevertheless, the rate of alcohol consumption was quite low among Muslims compared to the non-Muslim population. The most common drink was wine, which was referred to as hamr in official documents and as şarab in literary texts. The Ottomans were also familiar with rakı, yet this drink became popular only after the nineteenth century. This period witnessed the introduction of drinks of foreign origin, such as champagne and beer, and their growing popularity among the Istanbulites. Apart from the beverages mentioned above, a drink called tatar bozası, which was a kind of fermented drink, was consumed by people in Istanbul . Due to its intoxicant nature, the state tried to limit production of this drink as much as possible. These drinks were consumed in pubs run by non-Muslims, and boza and şerbet shops, run by Muslims. The şerbet shops were added to this list based on the fact that the state frequently tried to close them because of the sale of alcoholic drinks.

22- Head cook (Gouffier)

23- Cook (Gouffier)

The Istanbulite satisfied daily food needs by frequenting particular shops. The people of this city would buy meat from the butcher, liver from liver shops, vegetables from the green grocers, and some other products, such as rice, salt, sugar, pulses, honey, and cheese, from grocery shops (bakkal). The grocery shops also had the right to sell items sold by different craft shops. For instance, they could sell bread that they bought from bakers, or cabbage pickles that were provided from pickle shops, in their own groceries, and thus function as a kind of retail shop. In 1726, the recorded number of grocers in the walled city part of Istanbul was fifty-six.


Istanbul’s culinary culture in the Ottoman classical period was the most comprehensive representative of Turkish cuisine, encompassing a wide area from Central Asia to Anatolia. The fact that Istanbul was home to the most eminent people of the empire gave it a high position among other cuisines. Another factor was that Istanbul attracted products from all across the empire. The superiority of Istanbul over other cities in relation to food and beverages resulted from the variety and high quality of the range of products in Istanbul. Istanbul was a city that included various ethnic and religious elements that underwent changes in different periods. Accordingly, the city hosted a combination of different culinary cultures. That the Jew would use şirugan (sesame oil), the Muslim would use clarified butter, whereas the Rum would prefer olive oil in their cooking not only demonstrates the variety in the culinary habits in Istanbul, but also indicates a fundamental difference in the kitchens within the same city. In short, it was possible to see the reflections of the imperial characteristics in the kitchens in the city of Istanbul.

24- Halva seller (Gouffier)

25- Liver seller (Gouffier)

26- Simit (bagel) seller (Gouffier)

27- Salep seller

Furthermore, Istanbul cuisine preserved the fundamentals of the culinary traditions of Central Asian origin until the late periods of the empire, but it also presented a dynamic nature which was quite open to change and was able to renew itself. That is why when traces of Ottoman culinary traditions from the classical period were for the most part lost in western Anatolia and especially in Istanbul, the names and the ingredients of many dishes were preserved in southern and eastern Anatolia. Thus, it is possible to put Istanbul cuisine of the classical Ottoman period at the center of the changing Turkish cuisine.


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1 Evliya Çelebi calls hummas grown in Egypt “hummas lemon,” and this shows that the fruits of hummas looked like lemon. (Seyahatname, Istanbul: Kültür Bakanlığı, 1938, vol. 10, p. 504). The description of it by Steingass as “orange juice” also supports this idea. (F. Steingass, A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary, Beyrut: Library du Liban Publishers, 1998, p. 430). The sorbet was made by boiling the mixture of hummas fruit, musk, amber and sugar.

2 Ribas sorbet was a drink made by cooking the mixture of the juice of ripe date fruits (ribas), sugar, musk and amber.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.

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