Knowing someone Moroccan in Israel is essential, says chef Rotem Papo of Golda restaurant in Melbourne. It’s the best way to score an open invitation to Mimouna, an end-of-Passover celebration specific to the Moroccan Jewish community.
While most people associate Jewish food with Ashkenazi cuisine (such as matzah ball soup, schmaltz and gefilte fish) Rotem's menu at Golda represents Israel's melting pot.
The chef is a living, breathing example of it himself, thanks to a Moroccan mother, Bulgarian father and Persian and Iraqi uncles.
Papo says, "If you cook modern Australian cuisine and you include Asian and English influences, it doesn't make it less Australian. It's still the culture of that melting pot. So in that way, Australia and Israel are really similar."
Mimouna, however, is idiosyncratic to North African Jews. It takes place after nightfall on the last day of Passover. Friends and family come together to return to chametz (food made with leavening agents that are avoided during Passover). A number of symbolic dishes are eaten during Mimouna, the most common being mofletta, also known as mufleta.
"It's kind of similar to roti in a way, but made sweet. You proof the dough so it's quite soft, and then flatten it on the counter with oil and then it's pan-fried. You do that to order, as people come and go," says Papo. "It's eaten straight away with just butter and honey — it's so good."
Papo vividly remembers accompanying his grandfather to an Arabic shop in Jaffa to buy flour, which couldn’t be found within the Jewish community so soon after Passover. They'd take it back to his grandparents' small home, where some 500 guests would visit over the evening as his grandmother cooked mofletta non-stop.
"The memory for me is my grandparents' small, two-bedroom apartment packed with people, loud music, and a real party atmosphere to celebrate the end of Passover," says Papo. "The table is filled with all kinds of different symbols, and all kinds of sweets: pistachios, almonds, marzipan, dates."
"Jewish food is not just this or that, it's all of the things."
When Papo first came to Australia, he did his best to "not be seen as an Israeli or Jew" — eager to avoid being considered a foreigner. Now Golda is his cultural and creative outlet, which allows Papo to remain connected to his roots and celebrate Mimouna away from home.
"Golda is where I came from," says Rotem. "Jewish food is not just this or that, it's all of the things. Every Jewish person that is living abroad has brought the tradition of where they live and made that their food."
In 2021 Mimouna falls on 4 April, Easter Sunday. Unable to be with his family, Papo is celebrating it at Golda on 8 April with a one-night-only Mimouna menu.
It will feature his interpretation of his grandmother's Mimouna cooking; including Maghrebi tomato and chilli matbucha, harira spiced Moroccan vegetable soup, slow-cooked snapper, lamb neck tagine with pumpkin and dried apricot and more.
Dessert will be mofletta filled with orange honey and butter. For those who can't make it, Papo has been kind enough to share his mofletta recipe below.
Golda is celebrating Mimouna with a one-off event on 8 April 2021 at the Melbourne restaurant, 162 Commercial Road, Prahran.
"This recipe is home for me, it brings me into my grandmother's kitchen. She will be rolling and pan-frying hundreds of them on Mimouna night," Papo says.
- 1 kg plain flour, sifted
- 12 g salt
- 620-750 ml water
- 120 g vegetable oil and extra for stretching and frying
- Soft salted butter
1. Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Add some water and knead for 10 minutes to develop the gluten. Keep adding water as necessary. The dough should be very soft and elastic but not sticky.
2. Pour the oil on top of the dough and rub it around. The oil is not for mixing into the dough. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for an hour.
3. Cut 30 balls from the dough and lay on an oiled surface. Cover and rest for another half an hour.
4. Place a frying pan on the stove over low heat.
5. Oil your hands and the surface well, then take a ball and stretch it out using the palm of your hands, as thin as possible.
6. Lift it up carefully with your fingers and place it in the pan. Flip when lightly golden. Place another stretched dough on top of the one you just flipped. Flip and again place another stretched dough on top of the one just flipped. Repeat until you have a stack of 10 mofletta. Place on a plate and cover to keep hot until all mofletta are pan-fried.
7. While the mofletta is hot, spread with a thin layer of butter and drizzle with honey. Roll up and enjoy with mint tea.
The long slow baking causes the butter between the layers of dough to caramelise, giving the bread an even deep golden colour and distinct, but mellow, flavour right to the core.
Traditionally baked by Ashkenazi Jews for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), honey cake symbolises the hope of a ‘sweet’ and prosperous new year.