Turkish Recipes in Rumpolt (1581)

We have already seen from the description in Coler’s Oeconomia that Ottoman culinary culture was fascinating to German writers. Marx Rumpolt actually includes recipes he labels as Turkish:

Ottoman light cavalry abducting German women, courtesy of wikimedia commons

Turkish Rice. Take rice and wash it, set it by (the fire) with water and let it swell well. Wash it again and pick it over. Take blanched almonds, cut them small, and fry them in butter, but so that they stay white a crisp (resch). Then throw in the rice and fry it along with them. Sweeten it with sugar and add black raisins. Serve it dry and warm at the table. That is how the Turks like to eat it. you can also serve it in pastries and tarts. (p. CLIII v, chapter on side dishes)

Take mutton that is from the back leg and cut it into pieces the size of an egg. Then cut onions very small and mix them with salt. Rub the meat with clean hands. Stick it on a spit and roast it quickly so that it stays juicy (fein im Safft). Thus the Turks prepare their roasts with onions and garlic, it makes strong and healthy people. It is also a good food for a soldier lying in the field. (p. LIX r, chapter on Turkish, i.e. fat-tailed, sheep)

To marinate a leg in onions. Rub it with onions cut small and salt. Let it lie over night, stick it on (a spit) and roast it so that it stays juicy (fein im Safft). Thus the Turks and Poles like to eat it. (p. XXVII v, chapter in mutton)

A lung roast (ox breast) prepared in a different manner: Salt the roast, spit it and let it roast. Take rice and wash it. Set it on (the fire) and let it swell. Put it on a strainer again and wash it cleanly. Place it in a pot or a tinned fish kettle and pour in chicken or beef broth. If you do not have such broth, take water and fresh butter. Let it boil with that so that the grains stay whole, and when you serve the roast, serve the rice and its broth over it and strew it with sugar confits (Driet). Thus it will be well-tasting. And thus the Turks like to eat it. (p. V r, chapter on oxen)

It tickles my fancy that Germans enjoyed the exoticism of Turkish (i.e. Ottoman) foods long before döner kebab became ubiquitous through the country’s urban areas. Though the number of recipes preserved in our cookbook sources is small compared to the huge number of those labelled Italian or Spanish, it is clear that people took an interest, and likely that it was more substantial than the few mentions suggest. “The Turk”, a catchall term that more or less described all Muslims from the Ottoman Empire, was depicted as a fearsome and cruel enemy in propaganda, but clearly not seen exclusively as a barbaric other. Rumnpolt himself came from Hungary and may be speaking from personal experience when he describes Turkish eating habits, and he certainly does not disapprove of them. We do well to remember that the Ottomans were neighbours to the Holry Roman Empire as much as Italy, France, and Poland were. When Protestant nobles said they would “rather be Turkish than Popish”, they were not engaging in hyperbole, but threatening to use a real political option.

I am not sure it is significant that Rumpolt’s choice of Turkish recipes – rice and spicy, juicy roasted meat – is very close to the döner and köfte that sell so well in Germany today. Ottoman cuisine was far more varied than this, and he very likely was aware of the fact. Interestingly, he notes specifically that the rice should be cooked so that the grains stayed separate, a habit that would have seemed alien to contemporary Germans who used it as a porridge cereal. Once again, as with Coler, we also have Turkish foods associated with war and campaigning. That is not surprising given this was the setting in which many Germans encountered Ottomans at the time.

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