This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
"There are over six thousand persons, says the New York Herald, fed three times a day at Dolma Bagtche Palace while the Sultan is there. To keep all this great machinery of supply in perfect order, so that no matter how many mouths there are to fill, nor what sudden caprice may seize the Sultan, or any of his numerous women, it may be instantly satisfied, is a tax upon the best capacity, backed by unlimited money or credit. If the caprice is not gratified as rapidly as it is formulated, the officer whose duty it is to provide for it is almost certain to loose his position, if not his liberty and belongings, for there is a fashion of long usage in Turkey which confiscates any disgraced official's possessions. The Chamberlain (manager) is mostly occupied in ministering to the wants and caprices of the Sultan, and is in almost constant attendance upon him, so the Treasurer of the Household (steward) has the burden of the housekeeping on his burly shoulders. He has an organized force of buyers, who are each charged with the purchase of certain supplies for their individual departments, each having his helpers, servants, and slaves.
One man is charged with the duty of supplying all the fish, and as to furnish fish for certainly six thousand persons is no light undertaking in a place where there are no great markets as there are in all other large cities, he has to have about twenty men to scour the various small markets and buy of the fishermen, and each of these men has two others to carry the fish they buy. It requires about ten tons of fish a week. There are nearly eighteen thousand pounds of bread eaten daily; for the Turks are large bread-eaters, and this is all baked in the enormous ovens situated at some distance from the palace. The kitchens are detached from all the palaces and kiosks. It requires a large force of bakers to make the bread and another to bring it to the palace and another force of buyers who purchase the flour and fuel. The bringing of most of the wood and charcoal is done by the unhappy camels, who carry it on their backs. The rest comes in large caiquer. The Turkish bread is baked in large loaves, and is light, moist, and sweet, delicious bread in every way, particularly that which is made of rye.
"The food for the Sultan is cooked by one man and his aids, and none others touch it. It is cooked in silver vessels, and when done each kettle is sealed by a slip of paper and a stamp, and this is broken in the presence by the High Chamberlain, who takes one spoonful of each separate kettle before the Sultan tastes it. This is to prevent the Sultan's being poisoned. The food is almost always served up to the Sultan in the same vessels in which it was cooked, and these are often of gold, but when of baser metal the kettle is set into a rich golden bell-shaped holder, the handle of which is held by a slave while the Sultan eats. Each kettle is a course, and is served with bread and a kind of pancake, which is held on a golden tray by another slave. It requires just twice as many slaves as there are courses to serve a dinner to him. He usually sits on a divan near a window, which looks out over the Bosphorous, and takes his ease and comfort in a loose pembazar and gegelik with his sleeves turned up. After he has eaten all he wants, the Sultan takes his coffee and his chibouk and lies back in an ecstasy of enjoyment and quiet reverie, which he calls taking his keif. Woe be to the one who comes to disturb it I The Sultan never uses a plate.
He takes all his food direct from the little kettles, and never uses a table and rarely a knife or fork. A spoon, his bread or pancake or fingers are far handier. The whole household is at liberty to take meals where it suits him or her best, and thus everyone is served with a small tray, with a spoon, with a great chunk of bread, and the higher ones only get the pancakes.
"The Sultan has a number of very large farms, some of them covering miles in extent, both in European Turkey and Asiatic Turkey, and they are intended to supply all those things which farms can produce to the palace. They do not grow rice, and, in consequence, buy nearly one ton of rice per day for the inevitable pilaff, six hundred pounds of sugar, as much coffee, to say nothing of the other groceries, fruit, vegetables, and meat. Rice and mutton and bread form the greater part of the food for the majority of Turks; yet, aside from these, they get away with one ton of beef and half a ton of veal per day, to say nothing of the other viands and fish, sweetmeats, confectionery, nuts, and dried and fresh fruits. The waste and extravagance in the kitchen are enormous, and enough is thrown away every day to maintain a hundred families. Much of this is gathered up by beggars, and the dogs eat the rest.
It is estimated that the anual cost of the food received for the Sultan's household, horses and animals, aside from the value of the product of the vast farms, is very nearly if not quite....
Cost of furniture, neriding and carpets...
Drugs, women' s clothes, jewels, cosmetics
Caprices of all kinds....
Sultan's clothes and bedding...
Sundries, presents, and servants wages...
Plate,gold and silver dishes...
Carriages,474 of them...
"That is a snug little sum, but it is an under rather than an overestimate".