Tying Morocco and Israel through Food

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Heba (left) in a Moroccan Caftan for a wedding

This week’s blog is written by International Fellow Heba El-Hendi. Last year Heba spent a year living in different parts of Morocco on a Fulbright Fellowship. This past week Heba attended a traditional Moroccan Jewish Holiday, a Maimouna, with Program Manager Heni. 

After spending 10 rewarding months in Morocco last year, I welcome any way to integrate aspects of Moroccan culture back into my life. Whether it’s eating a Moroccan dish or getting the chance to speak Darija (Moroccan Arabic dialect), I love keeping close to my Moroccan experiences.

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Sweets covering the table at the Maimouna

At the end of Passover, Moroccan Jews in Israel have become known for a holiday celebration called Maimouna. And this year I was lucky enough to not only experience a Seder dinner, but also a Maimouna celebration. After Heni, my co-worker, invited me to attend her family’s Maimouna, I kicked myself for not packing my Djellba or Caftan, both Moroccan traditional wear for special occasions. I’ve heard stories about the celebrations here, and the main focus was centered around sweets, food, music, and dancing. In my eyes it’s the combination for a successful party.

Even with this in mind, I could not have expected what I experienced that night. Last year, I attended a small calm Maimouna party in Rabat, Morocco. The Jewish population there currently is very small and that meant the Maimouna party was more on the low-key side. I came into Heni’s family party with last year’s Maimouna in mind, which skewed my expectations.

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The platter of moflettas being passed over the crowd

At Heni’s family party there were well over 70 people there! Immediately once we entered we were directed to the food, nothing I can complain about. The house had been cleared of the living room furniture and was turned into a dance floor, while the outside patio was filled with tables full of food. And on the side, Heni was working with her mother on one of the most important aspects of the Maimouna….making the moflettas! Moflettas are similar to crepe-like pancakes and are often spread with honey, butter, jams, cheese, and my all time favorite-Nuttela. I integrated moflettas into my eating habits on a daily basis and the first time I ate them again since my time in Morocco was at the Maimouna. For Jews observing Passover moflettas are off the table until the end of Passover, because of the flour base.

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Heni, the expert mofletta maker!

During the Maimouna, moflettas are served with honey or butter and are rolled up. Heni looked like she was making 100 moflettas an hour. And 100 wouldn’t surprise me because halfway through the party, Heni’s mother, Sippa, informed us that they had already made 7 kilos of moflettas dough. And the end of the night, 15 kilos of moflettas were made!

Over the speakers Moroccan songs filled the room as people danced and celebrated. A remix of Lalla Fatima, a classic, played and I couldn’t stop smiling or dancing. It was an experience that combined my love for Moroccan and Israeli/Jewish culture. For me the beauty of this fellowship is the cultural exchange component and the ability to learn more about the different subcultures found here.

Listen to Lalla Fatima here:

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