Crashing a Moroccan Passover ritual in Mile End. After eight days of not eating chametz (the verboten food of the Passover holiday) all that really matters to people at the end of Pesach is stuffing as much pizza/pasta/bread into their mouths as they can and then probably collapsing in a carb-induced food coma.
The big holiday finale is a lot more exciting for Moroccan Jews. They end Passover with the Mimouna where they open up their homes to each other and spend the night going from house to house, also known as “Mimouna hopping”, celebrating and feasting. The central element of this night is the elaborate Mimouna table loaded with a plethora of sweet dishes.
As you can imagine, the big draw is the delicious food being served at each home. In Montreal the thin yeast crepe called mufleta has become the quintessential Mimouna dish. Spread with butter and honey, it is what people most look forward to on this night and is like an oasis in your mouth after a week of matzah. I’ve even been told that if there was no mufleta at a Mimouna, people would move on to others until they found some because it was simply not a Mimouna celebration without it. Other traditional dishes include sweet couscous and a soft meringue called zaban.
But what does Mimouna actually mean? That’s a great question, and honestly, I don’t friggin’ know! But there are a few theories floating around. Some people think the word Mimouna is related to the Hebrew word for faith, emuna. That it is a celebration through which people show they still have faith that the redemption of the Jewish people, which is supposed to happen in the month that Passover takes place, will happen one day. Although my favourite explanation is that the word Mimouna comes from the name of a North African female she-devil or goddess (depending on who you ask) who was considered to be Lady Luck and married to the demon Maimon. This celebration is a way to both honor and appease her.
In Morocco this was a night of celebration during which people filled the streets of the Jewish quarter, known as the mellah. Interestingly, some men would dress up as women on this night (maybe a nod to the she-devil/goddess Mimouna) while others would wear traditional Muslim clothing. In doing so, Moroccan Jews subverted the behaviour that was expected of them in a non-threatening celebratory way. These carnivalesque elements of the ritual were not continued outside of Morocco, so don’t expect to see this in Montreal!
Wish you could have taken part in this celebration? This year, on Sunday, April 7th you can go Mimouna-hopping too in the Mile End, and get a taste of what 20,000 members of the Moroccan Jewish community of Montreal celebrate each year. Join Roots and Recipes for the first of many events that will allow people to share stories and learn about each other’s cultures through food. More info and RSVP https://www.facebook.com/events/354099428041399/
 Rabbi Herbert C. Dobrinsky, A Treasure of Sephardic Laws and Customs: The Ritual Practices of Syrian, Moroccan, Judeo-Spanish and Spanish and Portuguese Jews of North America, (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1986), pp.268-269.
 Marks, p.407.
Katherine Romanow is a Jewish food scholar/nerd, a baker and a writer living in Montreal. And, she is part of the Roots and Recipes team putting on the Mimouna hop in Mile End.