Many Americans are surprised to learn that Moroccan cuisine has influenced Israeli cuisine in various ways. One of the most popular dishes that has made its way into Israeli kitchens is Moroccan Fish. This delicious dish has become a staple on Friday nights in Israel, with families gathering around the dinner table to enjoy the flavors of their past.
When Israel was founded, the new nation drew thousands of people from all around the world, including a lot of Arab countries. As a result, Israeli cuisine is diverse, unique and delicious (in my humble opinion).
My grandparents came from Yemen, and, like many immigrants, their food and customs mixed with many others in Israel. One example is jachnun, a traditional Yemenite pastry that is now served at most Israeli tables on Saturday mornings.
Moroccan Fish in Israel can be traced back to the large influx of Jewish immigrants from Morocco when Israel was first established. These immigrants brought their culinary traditions, including an array of seafood dishes.
Moroccan Fish is typically made with tilapia, which is cooked with a variety of spices and herbs, including paprika, cumin, turmeric, garlic and cilantro. The fish is then served with a flavorful tomato sauce and accompanied by challah and hummus – or at least this is my favorite way to eat it.
The popularity of Moroccan Fish on Friday nights in Israel can be attributed to several factors. First, the dish can easily be prepared ahead of time and reheated, making it a convenient option for the Sabbath meal.
Second, fish is considered a symbol of fertility and abundance in Jewish tradition, and is therefore often eaten on Shabbat. Also, the spices and herbs used in Moroccan Fish are said to symbolize different aspects of life, such as good health, happiness and prosperity, making it a meaningful dish for the Sabbath.
In my family, we believe it is a mitzvah to eat fish on a Friday night, as our sages said, Ha’ochel dag beyom dag, nitzal midag, which basically means, “If you eat fish on Saturday, you will be saved from hell.” That always sounded to me like a convenient way to earn a place in heaven, and it’s another reason my family traditionally eats fish.
Finally, the combination of aromatic spices and fresh fish culminates in a unique and flavorful dish that has become a favorite for many Israelis.
Moroccan Fish is now so popular in Israel that it’s on the menus at many restaurants and is often served at weddings and other celebrations. The dish has evolved over time, with different variations and interpretations of the classic recipe emerging in different regions of the country. The following recipe stays true to the original.
ELIHAY SKITAL is the Israeli shaliach (emissary) to the Rhode Island Jewish community.