A gift-giving tradition that dates back to the glory days of the Ottoman Empire, the ‘tooth rent’ practice has now come to near-extinction in Türkiye.
Come Ramadan, Muslims worldwide engage in different cultural activities, especially during the Iftar time. As culture keeps changing with time, many societies tend to lose touch with certain traditions. Türkiye has gone through a similar transformation with its "tooth rent" tradition, which has faded away from society since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
The remnants of this Ottoman gift-giving tradition can still be found in Türkiye today. In olden times, it meant hosting Iftar dinners in mansions and palaces and handing out expensive gifts: silver plates, amber rosaries, precious stones, silver rings, and gold coins wrapped in velvet bags.
Members of the Ottoman ruling establishment participated in these iftars. The host would bid them farewell by saying: "You have been my guest, you have tired your teeth by eating the food I served, so this is your tooth rent."
The custom of tooth rent trickled down to the mid-rung ranks of the Ottoman military and civilian bureaucracy. Low-ranked officers began to consider it their duty to go to the dinner party of their superiors. At times, such gatherings were free walk-in events where anyone could enter the venue and eat along with other participants.
In the first 10 days of Ramadan, the Ottoman sultan invited viziers and other top-ranking officials to the palace for iftar. While handing over gifts, the sultan's attendant would kiss a tray full of velvet bags and then put them on his head to deliver them to the guests. While receiving them, the guests behaved similarly.
Tooth rents were given not only by sultans but also by viziers. According to historical accounts, the sources state that Mahmud Pasha, one of the powerful viziers of Fatih Sultan Mehmed, had gold coins put in rice at the banquets. The coins were owned by those who found them while eating the meal.
Mahmut Pasha hosted the iftar banquets in his mansion. Those who broke the fast at Pasha's table looked forward to eating rice with chickpeas because everyone wanted to chew onto a hard metal-like chickpea.
Yes, a metal-like chickpea. So the Pasha would throw chickpea-shaped gold pieces into the rice while it was cooked in massive cauldrons. Some historians say that the viziers pulled these stunts to show the extent of wealth and generosity to the people close to them.
The tooth rent tradition was largely seen as belonging to the Ottoman elite, but by the late 18th Century, it had spread across all layers of society. People also gave alms, sadaka, in the name of tooth rent to not hurt the dignity of the poor.