Moroccan Jews are an ancient community, and although 99% of the Moroccan population now adhere to Islamic traditions and acts of worship, the Jewish community has still contributed to Morocco's diverse food industry.
I have many fond memories of my Great-Grandmother cooking Jewish dishes that my mother recreated at home in London. She was a professional Jewish cook and so of course everything she put on our plates was magic.
Moroccan food is influenced by many cuisines across the world, including Arabic and Mediterranean, but the Jewish influence is actually one of the most impactful. Moroccan Jewish dishes are mostly centred around Fruits and Vegetables, Mutton and Lamb, Almonds and Walnuts, and even Couscous.
Moroccan Jewish food is strictly kosher. This means milk and meat products are never mixed, and instead of butter, olive oil. No shellfish, such as crabs or shrimp, and pork are ever served.
History of the Jewish Community in Morocco
The Jewish Community have been settled in Morocco for over 2000 years. Traces have been found from as early as the 1st century, and it is clear Jewish settlers helped in the development of Roman cities like Volubilis and Carthage, the largest Jewish society in Tunisia. The population of Jews in Morocco and North Africa in general has fluctuated throughout history. In the past, they were persecuted, left unrecognised as citizens, barred from Marrakech, and even made to convert to other religions to survive, so in these times the numbers dwindled. Perhaps surprisingly, Morocco was also once home to the largest Jewish community in the Arab world. It was only when Israel was founded in 1948 that many were persuaded to leave. Now, only approximately 2,000-2,500 Moroccan Jews remain.
Best of Moroccan Jewish dishes
Due to the long history of Jews in Morocco and the rest of North Africa, recipes from each country have crossed-over into another and Jewish dishes are loved like any other. For example, Molokhiya which started out as a Jewish dish is now a national mainstream dish in Tunisia which I enjoy eating with my dad.
A slow-cooked stew made to be served on Shabbat. It’s usually served on Saturdays as a hearty delicious meal to share with family. It’s made differently from a region to another, but the main ingredients are eggs, onions, potatoes, chickpeas and meat. This dish has been passed on from generation to generation for centuries and it is one that I remember in particular. The best part were the eggs because they were infused with so much flavour much like tea stained eggs we enjoy in some Asian cuisines. I remember my mother cooking this many times when when she felt nostalgic and wanted to recreate a little bit of home. The smell travelled throughout the house for hours.
Chraime, sometimes called Hraime, is an oven baked tagine with spicy tomato sauce made from cumin and paprika, and white fish. It has the perfect balance of freshness and flavour. It's popular to have on the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashanah) and Passover.
Matbucha is a tomato-based sauce made up of cooked tomatoes, roasted bell peppers and seasoned with garlic and chili pepper. The name of the dish originates from Arabic and means "cooked" in Arabic. It is served as an appetizer, often as part of a meze table, or even as a dip.
Moulfleta is a type of flat bread or crepe often served for the Jewish holiday, Mimouna, celebrated just after Passover. Moulfleta can be served in layers, sometimes up to 15 Moulfleta are set on a pile, then drizzled with melted butter and honey.
Bastilla or Pastilla, is a small Moroccan chicken or pigeon pie perfect as an appetizer, a starter or as a part of a buffet spread. These little triangle pies should be cooked until golden and crisp, and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon. The Jewish version of Bastilla is not made with butter, and aligns with Kosher standards.
Mahia is a Jewish brandy which distillates most typically from dates, but sometimes figs, jujubes, or grapes. It is also traditionally flavoured with aniseed. The brandy can be enjoyed as a digestif or used as a base for cocktails. It's the perfect liquor for pomegranate juice, rose water, ginger syrup or mango juice. Infuse it with fennel leaves to enhance the aniseed tones and scent.
Lamb is one of the most popular meats in Morocco. Lamb shank is famously made up of lamb and prunes, but the Jewish Moroccan version has a different take on this dish, by adding pomegranate juice to the sauce. This adds a sour flavour to the sauce, a punchy yet delicious taste.
The Moroccan fried donut eaten by Moroccan and North African Jews to celebrate Hanukkah, Sfenj are delicious sweets enjoyed by many. The light spongy ring of dough is fried in oil, and can be eaten plain, sprinkled with sugar or drizzled with honey. This is a treat that I actively seek out when I'm in Morocco, I simply cannot resist these hot, fresh and fluffy treasures.
All of these dishes make up Moroccan cuisine, and are enjoyed by all Muslims, Christians and Jews alike in Morocco. Different regions of Morocco enjoy different foods but ultimately people want one thing: flavour. That's exactly what Morocco offers.