Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chasing the Elusive Moufleta

Now that Pesach is over, the first order of the day (right after sundown last night) was to eat bread with chametz!!
Photo Jewish Agency

The Moroccan community celebrates the occasion with a beautiful festival called Mimouna. In Israel it is a time when Moroccan families open their doors to everyone, inviting others in to join in the celebration. Mimouna not only celebrates the first leavened bread after Pesach with a delicious crepe called a moufleta, but finds this an opportunity to express hope for good fortune and prosperity ahead. Fine linens, dishes, and traditional dress, plus lots of delicious Moroccan delicacies make this a very special and colorful festival.

I have always wanted to participate in the Mimouna, but somehow over the years I have missed it for various reasons. Not being Moroccan, I needed personal invitations to join in. This year I thought it would finally work out, as a Moroccan friend was making arrangements for me. Unfortunately, illness prevented the family from hosting the dinner, and no other arrangements were made.

The main Israeli celebration this year was in Sderot, but other Moroccan communities were of course, hosting their own events. I had hoped to attend the evening activities, when the main events were taking place, but it didn't look too promising. Not to be discouraged, I was assured by others that the public gathering in Jerusalem's Gan Sacher (Park) on Thursday would draw thousands, and though a public event, was still well worth the while..

Especially I was in search of the moufleta....the special crepe drenched in honey and butter.

Unfortunately, my search for the elusive moufleta did not produce results, but my encounters along the way...well, they still make a good story.

Gan Sacher Park is nearly a mile long, extending from the Knesset to the Botanical Gardens near Givat Mordechai and I began my trek at the southern most end, near the Botanical Gardens. Normally the Gan Sacher event is filled with individual families barbequeing, stages set up for entertainment, and tents with food. I said normally...or at least in the past. Did I mention that it was raining today...and cold?

Empty. The Park was empty. The sun had come out and I didn't really expect the families to be there until the rain stopped and it dried off. But the tents? and the stages? Surely they were set up long ago. As I walked northward I expected to round each bend and see the public stagings of the Mimouna. So did the many police, the soldiers, the television camermen. Hmm.

The Park was empty. No one, nada, zip....except of course, for the soldiers, police, cameramen and me. All looking for celebrators of Mimouna ... all looking for moufleta. We talked and laughed amongst ourselves, the police, the soldiers and I. Since they couldn't find any Moroccan families, or expressions of Mimouna, Channel One decided to interview me, a writer with a website, looking for Mimouna and Moufleta. (Thank G-d, I think my stellar performance didn't make it off the cutting room floor and wasn't aired this evening as far as I know.)

Disappointed but not ready to give up, I headed for Ima's Restaurant, a popular Kurdish establishment with a few Moroccan offerings. I hoped they might be open and serving... just for the fun of it..... moufleta. They were open, but to the question of Mimouna food and moufletot, the answer was "no, no, no."

I decided that now I needed to make plan "C" (plans A & B already not working). So I ordered some traditional Kurdish kube Nablusia (meat filled fried crushed wheat pillows served with delicious tehina) and a beer. Well, it wasn't Moroccan, and it wasn't moufleta, but it was fabulous.

Heartened and rested, I decided to head for the Machne Yehuda market, JUST in case some Moroccan restaurant was open. I doubted it, since it was the holiday, can never assume anything in Israel.

The most famous Moroccan restaurant in the shuk is Azura, and walking down the main road of the market I saw the name Azura on a juice stand and I wondered if they were connected. No, no, no... same name but not connected the owner told me, but yes, definitely Azura the restaurant, which was just around the corner, was open.

It was not. They would open, I was told by a pleasant kitchen worker, at shemoneh v'hetze, half past 8:00 o'clock, when Mimouna was over. I smiled, took the restaurant card, and went back to Azura, the juice and coffee stand....which by the way, wasn't really open either.

By this time I had half of Machne Yehuda market looking for moufleta for me. It was really very sweet. But they knew, and I knew, there was none to be found. It was a charming interchange of Middle Eastern manners...they needed to show their desire to go all out to help me and I needed to let them, even though we already understood there was no mimouna or moufleta in the shuk.

We finally formally admitted it was a search in vain, and as I left, we all agreed that next year, I would be more prosperous, and I would be successful in finding the moufleta.

Gan Sacher was still my best route home, and on my way I passed another famous Machne Yehuda restaurant - a middle eastern restaurant called Sima (now also in Tel Aviv). There was a line down the sidewalk, and only a few at a time were being let in. Of course, it only seats a few...and I knew the food would be fabulous, but I had already had my kube. Another time for Simas.

Sauntering through Gan Sacher I came upon a few families now barbequeing various foods. I searched each table or blanket that I passed.. alas, pitot, but no moufletot. I even stopped and talked with a few large gathering I was sure would be Moroccan were instead from the Caucaus. There actually was one Moroccan family, but no they were not celebrating Mimouna today, only last night, and laughed at my search for Moufletot.

So, I arrived home, a bit disappointed, a little tired, but realized that in spite of the fact that I didn't find my Mimouna celebration and most of all my moufleta, I had made a lot of new friends, been treated very specially by a lot of very sweet people, discovered new places in the shuk, even had an interview on national television.

Even without the moufleta, it was a special day...a special way to celebrate Mimouna.

(Besides, I may not have found the moufleta at the Mimouna, but I found the afikomen at the, you can't win them all. I know , I know.....but the youngest...he's in the army, and he hid the afikomen. !!)

Next year at Mimouna!!

1 comment:

  1. Comment by the Author...A few errors because of some at-that-time confusion peculiar to olim..hhh... the most glaring I see now and want to correct is about the awesome restaurant Azura. It is not Moroccan, but an incredibly wonderful middle eastern venue serving up the most delicious Kurdish, Iraqi and Sephardic dishes. I now (3 years later) know some of the family who own it and it is a super place to go...just not for Mimouna. haha