Ungola - Moroccan Purim Bread. Illustration: Nadav Yahel.
Ungola - Moroccan Purim Bread. Illustration: Nadav Yahel.

Ungola – Purim Bread

This lovely Purim bread originated within the Jewish community of Spain, and it spread from there. Many iterations but the same basic principle

This delightful bread was born in the Jewish community in Spain, and migrated with the members of that community to other parts of the world. In each community, it received a slightly different version and a different name – “Ungola“, “Negola”, “Boyosa”, “Laiona de Haman” (Haman’s Eye) or “Lekhabez Dipurim” (Purim Bread) in North Africa, “Ojo di Haman” in Turkey or “Folaris” in Greece – but no matter the given moniker, the principle is the same: hard-boiled eggs are nestled inside the sweet bread and are plucked out with great ceremony to ward off Haman’s evil eye.

The bread, whose dough resembles that of challah, is often seasoned with sesame seeds, anise and almonds. The shape of the bread, the number of eggs and their exact location vary from community to community, and sometimes even from family to family: in some communities they bake one large, flat loaf shaped like a mask of sorts, or a human face, and 2 eggs are embedded in it, to represent the eyes; in other communities, the bread is shaped like a flower and the eggs – the number of which is dependent on the number of diners – are placed inside the ‘petals’ or in the center of the flower; in some communities, each family member receives their own individual bun with one egg embedded in it. Whereas Rachel Keenan describes in her book “Mom’s Moroccan Cooking” that the size of the bread and the number of eggs was determined according to the ages of the diners – for children they prepared a small bun with one egg, for women they prepared a small loaf to hold 3 eggs and for men they prepared a large loaf with 5 eggs. Either way, the hard-boiled eggs are fastened with 2 strips of dough crisscrossed in an X shape, symbolizing the prison bars behind which or chains with which Haman is held.

Ungola, by Dina Abitan
Age and hierarchy determine the number of eggs Ungola baked by Dina Abitan for the Purim feast

Although all these breads probably share a common carbohydrate origin, the Greek folares is slightly different from the custom of the Moroccans – the name FOLARES is likely an alteration of the word PILAR – which means pillar, symbolizing the pillar from which the evil Haman was hung. The hard-boiled eggs are covered with 3 strips of dough (not 2) and the shape of the pastry, according to community members, is meant to symbolize Haman’s feet.

Less well-known versions make guest appearances on other holidays as well – we were told by some Tunisians that they used to make a similar bread called Mazmea as part of the break fast meal, and on the Facebook page “LaMizrach” we learned that on Yom Kippur the Jews of Djerba baked a small bun with a hard-boiled egg inside for those children who were too young to fast.

Purim Bread for Easter?

Versions of this bread feature on non-Jewish holidays as well. Catholics in Italy and throughout the Balkans eat a round Easter bread that is reminiscent of ungola – sweet, seasoned with anise with a dyed hard-boiled egg (or several) hidden inside. The shape of the bread and the amount of eggs vary depending on the region: sometimes it is sculpted into a small figure, sometimes it is shaped into a pretzel and sometimes it is braided, just like challah – except that unlike challah (and like many Catholic pastries), Easter bread contains lard. Similar to the ungola or hamantaschen, this Easter bread is also loaded with symbolism and imagery: some say that the bread symbolizes the body of Jesus and the eggs symbolize the circle of life and rebirth; some claim that the braided bread symbolizes the ropes with which Jesus was bound, or his woven crown of thorns (when it is braided into a round shape); in the Greek Orthodox Church, the eggs are dyed red to symbolize the stones stained with the blood of the Crucifixion; and a slightly less gory explanation claims that the three strips with which the bread is tied represent the Holy Trinity.

And there is also a sort of culinary-nutritional logic in baking this bread for Easter – the holiday falls at the end of the Lent fast, during which the eating of sweets and any meat and animal by-products is avoided, so this rich, sweet, spiced bread is a signal of the return to a routine that includes eggs, lard and sugar.

Easter Bread. Photo: Shutterstock
A crown of thorns with the blood of the Crucifixion. Enjoy! Photo: Shutterstock
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