Monday, July 25, 2022

Something About the Ottoman Partes

Turkish delights.

It may have been a thrownaway line of Brewster's in The Trolley to Yesterday (1989) when he said "When Justinian was emperor—boy, did they have the parties then!", but he may have been on to something.  History of Yesterday's Serthan Doğru discusses some of author and historian Reşad Ekrem Koçu's (1905–1975) eleven-volume Istanbul Encylopedia. True, what follows came several centuries after Justinian but it's an interesting read all the same.

It is a centuries-old tradition in Istanbul to go to a Turkish tavern or meyhane (drink-house) to have a drink and chat with your close friends while listening to the hypnotic melodies of Classical Turkish Music that alternate between a terrible sorrow and a childlike joy. You order fish, rakı, (an alcoholic drink made of twice-distilled grapes and anise) and meze (appetizers).

When Mehmed II conquered Constantinople in 1453, the city was world-famous for its taverns. In the 16th century, there were numerous bars and restaurants in the Galata District, where mostly non-Muslims lived. People would drink and dance until morning and pass out on the roadsides. Nightlife in Galata was quite active. Poets would sing epics accompanied by musicians playing saz, strings, and drums. There also were fights every night. Here is a little poem about Galata written in the 19th century by a roughneck called Zil İzzet (Deaddrunk İzzet).


There were no tables in the Ottoman tavern until 1880. European-influenced establishments introduced the table. Before this, establishments used copper or wooden trays on folding stools instead of tables. And around the tray would be short wicker chairs. Not everyone could have a table set, those who were wealthy and knew how to use a knife when necessary would come with their 2 or 3 men to have the table set.

Except for the taverns in the Armenian and Jewish quarters, most employees were Greek. Turkish customers addressed all of them with titles derived from Greek. Patron (boss), Barba (Turks called the tavern owners Barba, meaning old bearded man in Greek), mastori (bartender), palikar (lad), and so on.

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