C E L E B R A T I O N S
In the 17th century 1300 people slaved away in the kitchens of Topkapı Palace, which could cook up a big enough feast for around 15,000 people.
Every special occasion in Turkey has concomitant foods, and mostly these are sweets. Some say Turks adoration of sweets may be attributed to the Koranic verse 'To enjoy sweets is a sign of faith'; a local proverb says ' sweets are equated with a kind heart and sugary tongue'. Despite sweets being such a focus during celebrations and festivities you can enjoy many puddings year-round in a muhallebici (milk pudding shop) and all restaurants.
Baklava is a sticky, ultra sweet, syrupy pastry baked in trays and cut into bite-sized rectangles. It was traditionally reserved for festive occasions such as Şeker Bayramı (Sweet Holiday;), the three-day holiday at the end of Ramadan. Baklava is also popular for engagements and weddings, proving sugary stamina for the rollicking hours of party-making ahead and the couple's wedding night (wink wink). The best two baklavaci in the country are Karaköy Güllüoğlu in Istanbul and Imam Çağdaş in Gaziantep.
Legend has it that in society Ottoman-era houses chefs made baklava with over 100 pastry-sheet layers per tray. The Master of the House would test the thickness with a gold coin: if it fell to the bottom of the tray the chef kept the coin
Other sweets such as helva and lokum (Turkish delight) are commonly part of more reflective occasions such as deaths and kandil days (the five holy evening in the Muslim calendar). A bereaved family will make irmik helvası (semolina helva) for visiting friends and relatives and helva is shared with guests at circumcision feasts.
Aşure (Noah's Art pudding) is sacred pudding traditionally made with 40 different dried fruits, nuts and pulses, supposedly first baked from the leftovers on Noah's Ark when food provisions ran low. These days aşure is traditionally made after the 10th day of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar) and distributed to neighbors and friends.
Savoury dishes are integral to celebrations in Turkey too albeit not nearly as many. Kavurma is a simple lamp dish cooked with the sacrificial lambs or mutton of the Kurban Bayramı (Feast of Sacrifice). The meat is cubed, fried with onions and baked slowly in its juices. During Ramadan a special round flat pide is baked in the afternoon and collected in time for the break of fast feast, iftar.