The Jewish Chronicle
Moroccan Jews celebrate the end of Pesach with beautiful banquets
HOW MUCH are you looking forward to a slice of buttery toast or that first bite of a chewy bagel? Amazing, how much we miss carbs, even after such a short fast. Ordinarily, the post-Pesach ritual for Askhenazim involves rushing to eat pizza or queueing at the nearest bagel bakery. For some Sephardim, there’s a huge and colourful celebration of the return of floury foods. Or at least there was pre-Covid.
That party, known as Mimouna, started as a Moroccan tradition. but is also celebrated by some Jews of North African and Turkish descent, and has, in recent years, been adopted by many Israelis. It comes in as the last day of Pesach ends , and involves a banquet of sweet Moroccan pastries and cakes.
Colourfully decorated tables are laden with goodies, including gold-wrapped chocolate coins symbolising prosperity and riches; dates and sweets as well as yeasted cakes and nuts.
Cookery book writer, Limi Robinson’s grandparents, Zoharah and Shimon, came from Morocco. She writes in her book The Girl from Tel Aviv that for them, Mimouna involved both Jewish and Arabic families:
“During Passover, our non-Jewish neighbours weren’t allowed
Left: Sacher Park in Jerusalem has been the site of huge Mimouna parties in the house, but they would keep our chometz for us, then return it at the end of the festival. We would cook (and share with them) traditional Mimouna dishes like mofleta (yeasted pancakes), zaben (white almond nougat) as well as nutbased cookies and marzipan, and chabbakaia, which is dough which we’d make into all sorts of shapes and textures, deep-fried then coated in syrup. My grandmother would make five different kinds.”
She explains in her book that the celebrations also were good for social relations: “It played a valuable role in bringing peace between Muslims and Jews. Each year at the end of Passover, Mimouna was celebrated to renew the relationship between both religions who felt isolated during Passover.”
Robinson, who married into an Ashkenazi family and now lives in Stamford Hill, no longer celebrates — “By the time Pesach is over I’m so tired I just want to be left alone with my coffee” she laughs.
She recalls when growing up in Israel, her grandmother setting out red and gold tablecloths and serving the food on gold and silver platters. “She would make brightly coloured marzipan with nuts inside; coconut macaroons and peanut cookies as well as sweet couscous that she cooked in butter with cinnamon. And we’d eat sfinj, which are Moroccan doughnuts served coated with sugar.”
JC recipe contributor, Fabienne
Viner-Luzzato’s late parents were Tunisian and celebrated the end of Pesach with a huge spread. “I grew up celebrating it” she recalls. “We would invite anyone and everyone — it’s all about hospitality. The very religious don’t celebrate, because you need to buy and prepare chametz before Pesach goes out.”
In Israel — where only seven days of Pesach are marked — the partying starts on the seventh night and continues into the eighth day. Elsewhere, Mimouna festivities starts at the close of the eighth day.
Viner-Luzzato explains that in Paris (where her family lived by the time she was born) the festivities would start at 11.30pm or midnight by the time families had cooked post-Pesach. She says celebrants enjoyed a Jewish style pub-crawl – from one buffet to the next in different households.
“We called it Mimouna, but it was just an end of Pesach party” says Viner-Luzzato. “The bakeries in the 19th arondissment, where many of the Sephardi community lived, stayed open late so those celebrating could buy what they needed for their Mimouna feast.”
Viner-Luzzato’s family also ate mofleta, and she says they would also fill breads — baguettes or home-made mini fried rolls, called fricassés — with harissa, tuna, olives and preserved lemons. “Anything goes — one year I included a selection of fresh pastas and sauces. It was what everyone craved at the end of Passover”.
Like many of our festivals, which reflect the seasons, it’s tied to the time of year, celebrating the renewal of spring, fertility and a new beginning after freedom from slavery. Much of the food has symbolic reference —milk or buttermilk and the white zaben represent purity; eggs and bean pods symbolise fertility. Dates, preserves, platters of fruits, sweets and the yeasted cakes are for a sweet year; with chocolate coins — for prosperity.
Israelis have eagerly embraced the festival, which has grown over the years, beyond private parties to large communal gatherings. Pre-Covid, a huge one in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, would have attracted around 100,000 revellers, including the Prime Minister and President. Tel Aviv’s clubs and bars also hold special events and the day afterwards, the parks are filled with families busy barbecuing and picnicking.
It remains to be seen how recently unlocked Israel will celebrate this year, but, as we’ll be celebrating our smaller Seders, there won’t be much Mimouna mass-partying here. Perhaps it’s one to bank for next year.