Monday, December 05, 2011

The Taverns

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The tavern culture has been a part of port culture. Seamen were single in the port they landed, and they had the time and money to be spent inside. When Turks conquered Istanbul and Galata, the taverns in this coastal city were world-class. 16. Latifi of Kastamonu, a writer of the century noted in his “Manual of Istanbul” that the taverns of Istanbul were mostly found in Tahtakale while Galata was “full of taverns”. The Muslim population usually obeyed religious restrictions but did not interfere in the customs of Non-Muslims. There were plenty of taverns in non-Muslim districts, particularly in Galata, and some customers were Muslims who escaped for a drink. The taverns, which were the places of drinking and eating for pleasure, were also subject to the guild system. Era of Mehmet the Conqueror (1451 – 1481) That era was one of reconstruction and settlement in Istanbul. His son Beyazit 2nd (1481 – 1512) promoted arts because of his devotion in pleasure and entertainment. Number of taverns rose in that era. During the era of his son Yavuz Selim (1512 – 1520), this number increased further, and drunkenness became more common in Istanbul. 

When Suleiman the Magnificent inherited the throne, he prohibited drinking alcohol. During the era of Selim 2nd (1566 – 1574), however, the taverns were reopened with the support of Damat Ibrahim Pasha and his supporters, restarting the period of pleasure and entertainment. As a matter of fact, a decree was enacted when it was reported on 7 October 1573 that there were taverns even in the Muslim districts. When Selim 2nd died after falling while carousing in the palace bath, his son Murat 3rd (1574 – 1595) came to power, and he enacted a firman on 13 Mart 1576 allowing the taverns for operating freely except in the Muslim districts. But when Murat 3rd witnessed in person that Muslims were frequently going to the taverns in the Christian districts, he introduced a prohibition of alcoholic beverages (14 Mart 1583). 

However, when alcoholic prohibition on soldiers was removed upon soldiers’ pressures, other people continued drinking alcohol, too. The Commander prohibited alcohol and wrote on the wall "Alcohol kills". Next morning, an answer was added under this sentence: “A soldier isn’t scared of death”. 

Eremya Celebi Komurcuyan mentioned about Kasimpasa in his 17th century History of Istanbul as follows: "Ahead, there are Jewish houses and “rooms” on both sides thereof. These houses are on the coast and there are shops under them. They cook fish for the quests and serve pickles, dried sturgeon and codfish. Jewish butchers as well as seats where RAKI is sold are also in that place." We understand that the Bosporus restaurants of today were on the Golden Horn coast in the past. And in the 17th century, drinkers were offered raki made of muscat grape in those houses. Our grand grand father might go upstairs after being steeped enough. 

In the past, taverns of Istanbul were named based on the trademarks such as a wooden or metallic boat, tower or a dagger hung on the shop instead of a signboard. For example: Hancerli (Dagger), Kurkcu Hani (Furrier’s Tavern), Yahudi (Jew’s), Kandilli (Candle Shop), etc. Some of these marks were those of Janissaries. Evening customers of these taverns and Janissary drinkers depending on the district were the most respected with the title of “Dayi” (Uncle). Dockers and artilleries were the customers of taverns from Kasimpasa to Findikli and Salipazari. Boatmen, carriers, bath attendants and rowdy rogues of Istanbul could not enter in these taverns; even if they could, they drink quickly and leave only when the evening drinkers were not present. These taverns were called "Regular Taverns". 

Towards the end of Abdulaziz era, these became the "Taverns of Sultans". After regular taverns were established, the demos could go to illegal places called "Seat Tavern", side street groceries and greengrocers which sold alcohol in private. A portion of seat taverns was "civil seats". These drew civil servants and clerks who did not bring alcohol to their houses. In addition to small "seats", there were "Mobile Taverns". Mobile taverns were alcohol hawkers, most of whom were Armenian. Shop, stall, barrel, master, cupbearer were all in one person. Around their waist, they used to wrap a very long sheep bowel with plug on the end, filled with raki or wine. They wore a gown, where they carry a cup in their pocket. They put a napkin on their shoulders as marking. Mobile taverns were mostly active in Bahcekapi, Yemis Iskelesi, Galata and around. They were going into a grocery or greengrocer to watch around when a customer appears, fill the glass under their belt and serve the beverage heated with their body temperature. Swigging the glass, rowdy alcoholic might use a piece of grapes or another fruit of season as appetizer. Most of them used to wipe their mouth with backhand, which was called "punch appetizer". 

Istanbul’s regular taverns were famous for their clean kitchens and talented chefs particularly on fish and meat meals. It was said that "Chefs of mansions are not able to cook cutlet and summer vegetable stew with meat as delicious as regulars". Wide and high ceilings of regular taverns were usually supported with pillars. Salty fish (sardines) barrel at the bottom of middle pillar was a characteristic of these taverns. Salty fish was brought in barrels from Malta or Aegean islands. Cleanliness was the focus of attention. Glasses and bowls were dried and shined with clean clothes. Floors were swept carefully while tables were cleansed. Event the servants and children serving to the drinkers were in clean clothes. Earth candle holders were put on the tables, candles were added on, and appetizers were laid around. On each table, there was also a salt shaker made of timber as a symbol of abundance. Chairs were usually short with wooden legs, while seating was made of mat. Stall customers of regular taverns were artisan foremen and apprentices called "four-browed", avoided meeting and becoming too familiar with their landlords, masters, etc. On the stall, there were always appetizers and snacks such as haricot bean salad, pickled cabbage and chickpeas. Raki and wine were first served from pumpkin, and then from a metal or glass pitchers “peeing from the stomach”. When the customer arrived at the tavern, the table was furnished with appetizer plates and drinking bowls. Heating up with the invitation of tavern keeper in but starting only after the candle on the table was lit, this drinking session used to last for hours. Appetizers, which were present when the customer sat at the table, were free. Only the beverage and appetizers ordered separately were charged. In Ramadan, taverns were closed. On the eve of holidays, the tavern keepers used to send stuffed mussel or mackerel to the prominent customers. This was called "stuffing for not to be forgotten".

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