June 18, 2019

Sephardic Food Is Having a Moment

“I’m convinced that the pillars of my grandmother’s home are seasoned with allspice—the indispensable condiment that flavors many of the Egyptian and Syrian dishes she cooked for us growing up. It’s clichéd to say that food is the lifeblood of Sephardic Jews, yet anytime an outsider asks what differentiates my Middle Eastern community from others of, say Eastern European origin, I’m compelled to address our diet.

Food is not just an opiate—overindulge and you’ll feel sick (until the next craving)—but a direct line to our ancestors. Recipes are shared and “willed” to family members like edible talismans. Local bake sales continue to be held almost weekly in people’s homes, where women (and men) peddle their specialties for charity, supporting one another in the process. This one is known for her molachiya, a plant-based soup eaten over rice, that one for her kibbe sineyeh, minced meat topped with bulgur, a cracked wheat. A family gathers around a dinner table, saying, “Fadal—join us,” and soon thereafter six mouths become 12, with leftovers to be had. When a community member passes away, tins of food come to pay their respects: kibbe hamid, a lemon- and mint-infused soup typically eaten with rice, colored with celery, carrots, and ground meat and then fashioned into miniature globes; or whole Pyrexes of frozen chicken and eggplant, to be thawed whenever the hunger for comfort strikes.

In the past five years or so, however, there’s been an added dimension to the way food is experienced in our community. We are undergoing a culinary small-business boom, and women are leading it.”

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