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Moroccan Hanukkah Traditions

hanukkah

I took this image last October when we were in Marrakech because it was just a great combination of items.  I’m sharing it now as I introduce a post series that I’ll be doing over the next week.  Today Hanukkah begins.  I’m not Jewish, we don’t celebrate this holiday, but Morocco has a long history with Judaism.  The history of Judaism in Morocco dates back over 2,000 years to Berber Jews in the Atlas mountains.  It’s interesting to note that these early Moroccan Jews are not genetically Jews, rather they likely became Jewish as they had contact with others.  Alternately there were two waves of who emigrated to Morocco.  The first group migrated after the destruction of the Second Temple and the final wave from Spain in 1492 after the Alhambra Decree. Until the late 1940′s, at least 10% of Morocco’s population was Jewish – over 250,000 people.  Today there are fewer than 5,000 Jews living in Morocco.  The majority of the population left for Israel in the late 1940′s.  Today small pockets can be found in Casablanca and Fes.

I decided to do this Hanukkah series after learning that Daniel Saraga of Haggis and Herring had passed away in September. Daniel was a frequent reader and often emailed me with comments, family anecdotes and thoughts on recipes. He was a Canadian/Moroccan Jew and shared so much with me about his family and their experiences in Morocco and Israel. I always looked forward to his comments and learning more. After I learned of his death I wanted to do something to honor him.  But, at the time there wasn’t anything. Instead I decided to wait until Hanukkah, the festival of the lights, and dedicate all of these posts to his life and memory.  (By the way, this image was a favorite of Daniel’s.  He had requested it to frame, not sure if he ever did but it seemed fitting).

Moroccan Jewish Hanukkah food is nearly identical to traditional Moroccan food, though must also be kosher.  Interestingly enough the majority of Moroccan recipes are kosher without needing any alternations.  Meat and dairy are rarely, if ever mixed and while shrimp is eaten, there isn’t much shellfish eaten. It’s interesting to note that the foods and traditions of Ashkenazi (European) Jews and Sephardic (Middle Eastern) Jews are different. I’m not a Jewish scholar or expert on the subject but found this resource interesting and useful to understand the differences.

You likely won’t find a latke on a Moroccan Jewish Hanukkah table (but you may find ma’akouda). Mofleta’s are common and in many ways resemble msemmen. Sfinge are also an important part of the holiday. Couscous, dafina, tagines, and briouats (or pastellitos) are all potential meals for the week.  It’s extremely difficult to find recipes that are Moroccan Jewish.  When MarocBaba and I called my mother in law to get ideas from her she drew a blank. We asked another, older, friend of the family if she had any idea, specifically about dafina.  She started but couldn’t remember.  I was afraid the project was going to be lost.  Just recently I received the cookbook Grandma Elmaleh’s Moroccan Cookbook.  It’s all Moroccan Jewish recipes!  I’ve used it as a guide to write these posts.

My hope over the next week is to do justice to some of these foods, of which I’ve had limited exposure too.  This blog celebrates multiple cultures and I think it’s important to recognize everyone.  Here’s what you’ll see in the coming week {links updated};

If you’ve got a story to share about your Moroccan Hanukkah celebrations I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment or drop me an email!

Comments

  1. Oh, the other thing..We had a book called ” La cuisine Juive-Marocaine” Writers: Viviane Moryoussef/Nina Moryoussef which had authentic recipes. I was a teenager then (hmm, minimum 15 years back) . I know this book is still around in Morocco under different form (even better). I just can’t tell if there is any English version of it..

  2. Not sure if I can of any help. I’m Moroccan and I have a blog all about food..

    My family is originally from Fes (where many Jews ended up after the Spanish decree of Isabel and Ferdinand) . . I did a bit of research in this subject and apparently mixing sweet and savoury in a dish would be a jewish thing…Hence the prunes and lamb tajine as well as other recipes..So while there are dishes which are definitely Moroccan, their origin might have been Jewish Moroccan..To confirm..

  3. This is such an interesting post and I just love that you are sharing these traditions even though you are not Jewish. I guess the more typical North African Jewish cuisine is Alegerian? I lived with a Sephardic Jewish family that had left Algeria after independence when I was a student in Paris and they cooked wonderful food. It was my first exposure to Sephardic cuisine, being Ashkenazi myself.

    • I think there are variations all across North Africa. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya all had relatively sizable Jewish populations at one time. I believe Tunisia has the largest remaining Jewish population in North Africa. I’d love to spend time analyzing the subtle differences between the cuisine as many ingredients are the same but have just slight difference. It makes me wonder why!

  4. What a wonderful way to honor your friend Daniel. I look forward to the recipes.

  5. I’m really looking forward to these posts! What a beautiful way to honor the memory of your friend. And thank you for the history you shared, it is fascinating.

  6. Very cool. I’ve been looking for some nice new Jewish recipes to try out for Hannukah and I love to cook. I especially look forward to your sfinge recipe!

  7. I have a Sephardic Jewish cookbook… Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean, by Joyce Goldstein. ANything Sephardic is going to include a lot of Moroccan recipes I think. I think anything Joyce Goldstein writes is worth checking out. This is a great post and a great way to honor your friend.

  8. This was really interesting! Thanks for sharing the background of Moroccan Jews. I will definitely want to check out the fish croquettes with harissa since I’m making a batch of harissa today for holiday gifts! Perfect timing :-)

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