Boyoz pastry, a regional specialty of İzmir, Turkey introduced to Ottoman cuisine by the Sephardim[1]

Sephardic cuisine is the traditional cuisine of Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) until their expulsion in the late 15th century. After their expulsion, many Sephardic Jews settled in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, and the Mediterranean.[2]

Sephardic cuisine was consumed by the Ladino-speaking communities within the Ottoman Empire, including the modern countries of Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Syria, as well as the Sephardic community in the Land of Israel. Additionally, the cuisine of the Sephardi Jews includes that of the Western Sephardim, who settled in Holland, England, and from these places elsewhere.

Sephardic cuisine is characterized by the use of olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and a wide variety of herbs and spices, often blending sweet and savory flavors. Notable dishes include bourekas (savory pastries), eggplant-based dishes, and fish stews.

As with other Jewish ethnic divisions composing the Jewish Diaspora, Sephardim cooked foods that were popular in their countries of residence, adapting them to Jewish religious dietary requirements, kashrut. Their choice of foods was also determined by economic factors, with many of the dishes based on inexpensive and readily available ingredients.


Sephardi Jews are the Jews of Spain, who were expelled or forced to convert to Christianity in 1492. Many of those expelled settled in North-African Berber and Arabic-speaking countries, such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, becoming the North African Sephardim. Those who settled in Greece, Turkey, the Balkans, Syria, the Lebanon and the Holy Land became the Eastern Sephardim. The Western Sephardim, also known more ambiguously as the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, left Spain and Portugal as New Christians in a steady stream over the next few centuries, and converted back to Judaism once in Holland, England, etc.[citation needed]

While the pre-existing Jews of the countries in which they settled (in the Greater Middle East, for example, are called Mizrahim) are distinct, the term Sephardi as used in "Sephardi cuisine" would refer only to the culinary traditions of those Jews with ancestral origins to the Jews of Spain and Portugal.[citation needed] Both the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula and the pre-existing Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Italy, and Greece into whose communities they settled adapted local dishes to the constraints of the kosher kitchen.

Since the establishment of a Jewish state and the convergence of Jews from all the globe in Israel, these local cuisines, with all their differences, have come to represent the collection of culinary traditions broadly known as Sephardi cuisine.[citation needed] Some of the Jews who fled from the Inquisition with other Sephardim in the 15th century settled in Recife, Brazil, where their cuisine was influenced by new local ingredients like molasses, rum, sugar, vanilla, chocolate, bell peppers, corn, tomatoes, kidney beans, string beans and turkey.

In 1654, 23 Sephardic Jews arrived in New Amsterdam (present-day New York) bringing this cuisine with them to the early colonial United States. Early American Jewish cuisine was heavily influenced by this branch of Sephardic cuisine. Many of the recipes were bound up in observance of traditional holidays and remained true to their origins. These included dishes such as stew and fish fried in olive oil, beef and bean stews, almond puddings, and egg custards. The first kosher cookbook in America was the Jewish Cookery Book by Esther Levy which was published in 1871 in Philadelphia and includes many of the traditional recipes.[3]

Cuisine basics

Rice-stuffed peppers

Sephardi cuisine emphasizes salads, stuffed vegetables and vine leaves, olive oil, lentils, fresh and dried fruits, herbs and nuts, and chickpeas. Meat dishes often make use of lamb or ground beef.

Fresh lemon juice is added to many soups and sauces. Many meat and rice dishes incorporate dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and raisins. Pine nuts are used as a garnish.

Herbs and spices

In the early days, Sephardic cuisine was influenced by the local cuisines of Spain and Portugal, both under Catholic and Islamic regimes. A particular affinity to exotic foods from outside of Spain became apparent under Muslim rule, as evidenced even today with ingredients brought in by the Muslims.[4]

Cumin, cilantro, and turmeric are very common in Sephardi cooking. Caraway and capers were brought to Spain by the Muslims and are featured in the cuisine.[4] Cardamom (hel) is used to flavor coffee. Chopped fresh cilantro and parsley are popular garnishes. Chopped mint is added to salads and cooked dishes, and fresh mint leaves (nana) are served in tea. Cinnamon is sometimes used as a meat seasoning, especially in dishes made with ground meat. Saffron, which is grown in Spain, is used in many varieties of Sephardic cooking, as well as spices found in the areas where they have settled.

Desserts and beverages

Date-filled ma'amoul

Tiny cups of Turkish coffee, sometimes spiced with cardamom, are often served at the end of a festive meal, accompanied by small portions of baklava or other pastries dipped in syrup or honey. Hot sahlab, a liquidy cornstarch pudding originally flavored with orchid powder (today invariably replaced by artificial flavorings), is served in cups as a winter drink, garnished with cinnamon, nuts, coconut and raisins. Arak is the preferred alcoholic beverage. Rose water is a common ingredient in cakes and desserts. Malabi, a cold cornstarch pudding, is sprinkled with rose water and red syrup.

Shabbat and holiday dishes


Potato burekas at Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem

As cooking on Shabbat is prohibited, Sephardi Jews, like their Ashkenazi counterparts, developed slow-cooked foods that would simmer on a low flame overnight and be ready for eating the next day.

One slow-cooked food was ropa vieja. The oldest name of the dish is chamin (from the Hebrew word "cham," which means "hot"), but there are several other names.[5] When the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many fled to northwestern Africa across the Straits of Gibraltar. The hamin was changed, adjusting for local ingredients and then called dafina ("covered") in Morocco. Any favorite vegetables can be added, and the eggs can be removed and eaten at any time. Its Ashkenazi counterpart is called shalet or cholent.

Shavfka is another Sephardi dish that has an Ashkenazi counterpart, namely kugel. Bourekas and bulemas are often served on Shabbat morning. Pestelas, sesame-seed topped pastry filled with pine nuts, meat and onion, are also traditional.[6][7]

Sambusak is a semicircular pocket of dough filled with mashed chickpeas, fried onions and spices associated with Sephardic Jewish cuisine.[8] According to Gil Marks, an Israeli food historian, sambusak has been a traditional part of the Sephardic Sabbath meal since the 13th century.[9]



Sephardi and Ashkenazi cooking differs substantially on Passover due to rabbinic rulings that allow the consumption of kitniyot, a category which is forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews. Sephardi Jews prepare charoset, one of the symbolic foods eaten at the Passover seder, from different ingredients. Whereas charoset in Ashkenazi homes is a blend of chopped apples and nuts spiced with wine and cinnamon, Sephardi charoset is based on raisins or dates and is generally much thicker in consistency.

Mina (known as scacchi in Italy) is a Passover meat or vegetable pie made with a matzo crust.

Rosh Hashana

Libyan Jewish fruit preserves for Rosh Hashana

At the beginning of the evening meals of Rosh Hashana, it is traditional to eat foods symbolic of a good year and to recite a short prayer beginning with the Hebrew words yehi ratson ("May it be Your will") over each one, with the name of the food in Hebrew or Aramaic often presenting a play on words. The foods eaten at this time have thus become known as yehi ratsones.

Typical foods, often served on a large platter called a yehi ratson platter, include:

It is also common to symbolize a year filled with blessings by eating foods with stuffing on Rosh Hashana such as a stuffed, roasted bird or a variety of stuffed vegetables called legumbres yaprakes.[10]


Sephardic Hanukkah dishes include cassola (sweet cheese pancakes), bimuelos (puffed fritters with an orange glaze), keftes de espinaka (spinach patties), keftes de prasa (leek patties) and shamlias (fried pastry frills).

Other specialities

Haminados eggs in hamin stew

See also


  1. ^ Zhou, Weibiao (2014-06-04). Bakery Products Science and Technology. Wiley Blackwell. ISBN 9781118792070.
  2. ^ "Ashkenazi Jews Embrace Sephardic Fare - My Jewish Learning". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  3. ^ Smith, Andrew (2013-01-31). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Oxford University Press. p. 375. ISBN 9780199734962.
  4. ^ a b Gitlitz and Davidson, pg. 5
  5. ^ "Dafina - My Jewish Learning". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Encyclopedia Judaica: Jewish Foods". Archived from the original on 2016-10-01. Retrieved 2009-05-18.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  7. ^ Leaman, Oliver (2023). Routledge Handbook on Jewish Ritual and Practice. Routledge Handbooks. Abingdon, New York (N.Y.): Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. p. 477. ISBN 978-0-367-47012-8.
  8. ^ "Gems in Israel: Sabich – The Alternate Israeli Fast Food". Archived from the original on 2013-11-22. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
  9. ^ Marks, Gil (11 March 2008). Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0544187504. Retrieved 23 March 2018 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ Sternberg, pp 320-321
  11. ^ "Börekitas with Charred Eggplant, Spinach and Feta, and Potato and Cheese". 9 November 2018.
  12. ^ "Pastel de Carne con Masa".
  13. ^ Fein, Ronnie (13 November 2019). "The surprising Jewish history behind fish n' chips". Times of Israel.
  14. ^ Marks, Gil (17 November 2010). Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. Wiley. ISBN 9780470943540. Retrieved 23 March 2018 – via Google Books.

Further reading