The Imperial Kitchen

Topkapi Palace Kitchens

Jason Goodwin in Lapham's Quarterly:

Among the kiosks, halls, reception chambers, and harem baths, I suspect that visitors [to Topkapi Palace in Istanbul] today spend the least time of all in the palace kitchens—unless they have an interest in Chinese porcelain, which is displayed in there. Otherwise there’s nothing much to see, just a series of domed rooms. Outside you can count the ten pairs of massive chimneys, but there’s no smoke.

It’s a pity that the building is so quiet, because it was in here, over four centuries, that one aspect of Istanbul’s imperial purpose was most vividly expressed. The imperial kitchen quarters extended well beyond the great domed chambers, each of which was devoted to particular specialties, such as the making of sweets, pickles, and cures. There were pantries and storerooms and offices for the team of clerks who kept meticulous records of what was bought, and how much was spent. Hundreds of men, commanded by sixty specialty chefs, lived and worked here, feeding up to ten thousand people a day. The soup, the pilaf, the helva, the vegetable dishes, meats, breads, pastries were each produced by a master chef, with as many as a hundred apprentices. They had their own dormitories, a fountain, a mosque, and a hammam where they could bathe.