Hünkar Beğendi

     The history of Hunkar Begendi, or "Sultan's Delight," dates back several centuries, though its origins are contested. The blog from which this specific recipe was ascertained offers two possible traditions explaining the recipe’s origins.[1]

     One popular historical tradition of Hunkar Begendi is that the dish was first created at the Topkapı Palace in Instanbul, for the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV (who reigned 1623-1640).[2] The likelihood of this tradition can be analyzed by considering the availability of the ingredients found in the modern iteration of the traditional recipe [found below]. Sheep meat and dairy-propducts, as well as eggplant,  have always been staples of Near Eastern and Islamic diets, and all three were featured considerably often in popular Medieval dishes.[3] Tomatoes, however, did not enter Europe until the end of the sixteenth-century, and many scholars argue that they did not enter the Middle Eastern diet until the mid-nineteenth-century.[4]

     It is reasonable to suggest that, as part of the recipe’s transformation over time, culinary experiments with tomatoes sparked a change in regional tastes, and tomatoes subsequently entered the traditional recipe for Hunkar Begendi. Also possible is that the dish was originally prepared using the kavata, a rare, green variety of tomato that, according to a seventeenth-century account book, was regularly brought into the sultan’s private apartments for consumption.[5] As this delicacy faded from elite Ottoman cuisine, it could have been replaced by the familiarnred tomato (solanum lycopersicum) in the nineteenth-century. A third possibility is that red tomatoes entered Istanbul earlier than many scholars think (as Melanie Sheehan suggests in her accompanying essay on the fruit) and were available to at least the Ottoman elite. Nevertheless, if Hunkar Begendi was indeed first served in the seventeenth-century, its flavors must have changed significantly over the past four centuries, according to the introduction of new ingredients, the vicissitudes of public tastes, and the varying accessibility of certain ingredients to different communities.

     A second tradition of the recipe’s origin is based on a legend that Hunkar Begendi was first served at Beylerbeyi Palace in 1869, when Empress Eugenie of France visited the Ottoman Empire.  She supposedly enjoyed the dish so much that she asked the Ottoman Sultan Abdülaziz if her chef could be given the recipe, a wish the Ottoman chef was reluctant to grant [6].

     The latter legend offers an interesting insight into the diplomatic world of 1869, just over ten years after the Ottoman Empire, allied with France and Britain, defeated Russia in the Crimean War [7].  Now, Empress Eugenie was again concerned with “the Eastern question” [8], which referred to European fears about the dangerous implications of an Ottoman fall [9].  Thus, throughout the nineteenth century, Napoleon III had actively intervened in Eastern affairs to limit the growth of Russian power, as is evident in his support of the unification of Wallachia and Moldavia, to form a buffer between Russia and the Ottoman Empire [10].

     Of great concern  to Eugenie was the rise of Prussia, whose military had expanded from 300,000 to 1,200,000 soldiers in only four years, from 1866 until 1870 [11].  Such a growing power in the East posed a threat to both Ottoman and French authority. As France prepared for impending war, the empress claimed, “I felt it was my duty to maintain in the East, with the aid of two friendly nations” [12].  It seems quite likely, then, that the Empress would have traveled to the Ottoman Empire in 1869 for diplomatic purposes; indeed, France would be at war by July of 1870 [13].  Considering Ottoman military reforms introduced in 1869, which were expected to produce an army of 702,000 men, a renewed alliance with the Ottomans may have been the purpose of Eugenie’s visit [14].




[1]Almost Turkish Recipes, http://almostturkish.blogspot.com/2008/11/sultans-delight-hnkar-beendi.html

[2] Ibid.

[3]Rachel Laudan. California Studies in Food and Culture, Volume 43 : Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 132. Accessed October 26, 2014. ProQuest ebrary. Examples include lamb in

[4]"Tomato". In Cambridge World History of Food. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. http://avoserv.library.fordham.edu/login?url=http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/cupfood/tomato/0 (accessed November 4, 2014.)

[5]Tülay Artan, “Aspects of the Ottoman Elite’s Food Consumption,” in Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire, 1550-1922: An Introduction, ed. Donals Quataert (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999), 112.

[6] Almost Turkish Recipes.

[7] Encyclopedia BritannicaOnline, s.v. “Crimean War.”

[8] Memoirs of the Empress Eugenie, ed. Comte Maurice Fleury (London: D. Appleton and Company, 1920), 141, Google Books.

[9] Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 57.

[10] William Miller, The Ottoman Empire and Its Successors 1801-1927 (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1966), 243.

[11] Virginia H. Aksan, Ottoman Wars 1700-1870: An Empire Besieged (Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Limited, 2007), 478.

[12] Memoirs of the Empress Eugenie, 141.

[13] Encyclopedia BritannicaOnline, s.v. “Franco-German War.”

[14] Aksan, 478.




Sam Davey, Amy Endres (onion), Joseph A. Mogavero (eggplant; par. 2-3), Jennifer Rutishauser (chile), Melanie Sheehan (tomatoes; par. 1, 4-6)