Moroccan Jewish Cuisine. Illustration: shutterstock
Moroccan Jewish Cuisine. Illustration: shutterstock
Magazine

Moroccan Cuisine

Moroccan Jews- a 2000-year-old community- lay claim to a sophisticated and diverse cuisine shaped by regional influences and old traditions

Moroccan Jewish cuisine fuses together the traditions from the days of the First Temple with the techniques, dishes and flavor combinations that Jews brought with them from Spain and the influences of North African cuisines and the French occupation.

The Moroccan Jewish community dates back to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Jews who escaped from Israel to North Africa were welcomed with open arms by the Moroccan authorities and thus began a two-thousand-year relationship. For the most part, the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Morocco lived side by side in a fruitful economic, social and cultural coexistence, but there were also dark episodes in which Jews were harassed by both the authorities and their fellow residents.

In the year 1438, the first “mellah” was established in the city of Fes- a walled space inside the city (somewhat akin to the European Jewish ghetto) intended for the residence of the Jews. The mellah gave Jews a safe space, but could also contribute to their isolation and distanced them from ordinary life. Following the establishment of the mellah in Fes, other mellahs were established in cities throughout Morocco. Over the years, with the renewal of coexistence, these became centers of commerce and recreation for the entire population – both Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

The mellahs also became a sort of isolated island that allowed Jewish-Moroccan cuisine to retain its distinct character, even as it absorbed the environmental influences, raw materials and local techniques which existed around it. As a result, despite its resemblance to non-Jewish Moroccan cuisine, Moroccan Jewish cuisine has its own unique character.

A Table Filled with Color

Many dishes typical of Moroccan cuisine, are incarnations of dishes from the Spanish Jews (for instance

Many of the typical dishes of Moroccan cuisine are actually versions of dishes taken from Spanish Jewish cooking (for example Dafina – Moroccan chamin, which is also called “skinha” in parts of Morocco; or pastilla – a very thin pastry dough filled with meat and dried fruit- whose name comes from the word pastel (dough in Spanish) and indicates its Spanish origin.
Of course, culinary variations developed between the cuisine of Jews in the various regions and cities of Morocco. Thus, for example, you can find sweeter dishes in “Spanish Morocco”, or more slow-cooked stews prepared in a frana (a taboon that includes the use of pebbles) and extensive use of intestines in the cooking of the mountain villages – but in general, a typical meal opens with a mosaic of fresh and cooked salads: zaalouk (slow-cooked vegetables, cooked until almost pureed – zaaluk means mashed or soft in Arabic – such as eggplants and peppers), chizo (carrot), barba (beets) and bisbash (fennel) and accompanied by mahia, a homemade alcoholic drink prepared from the fruits of the season. Couscous was part of almost every meal – on weekdays as part of a stew of vegetables and meat or fish, and on holidays cooked in milk and butter. On Shabbat dafina- a Moroccan stew with chickpeas, wheat, vegetables and meat (which are usually cooked in the same pot but separately from each other) was prepared. On Hanukkah, sfenj was a tribute to the great miracle of the oil and on the holiday of Mimouna, immediately after Passover, the door of the house was opened to any person, Jewish or Muslim, and they were greeted by a table laden with good things to eat: mofletta, cake, fruit and vegetable jams, butter, honey, and in the center a plate of flour, fava beans, dates, silver coins, and a fish which is a symbol of abundance and fertility.

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