Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Kosher >
Jan 5, 2011 03:35 AM

Kosher food, Shabbat, in Marrakech, Istanbul

I find it quite difficult to get Jewish information on cities less frequented by shomer Shabbat tourists. And very difficult to get good information on choosing a hotel that is a reasonable walk to the synagogue, or good advice on which synagogue/neighborhood to stay in or near. Kashruth can be difficult, but finding food is generally far easier than the hotel/shul info.

I realize that this board is supposed to be for food questions. Is there a similar board or website for travel questions of this type? My Hebrew is creaky, so it would be convenient to have an English language way to discuss these questions.

My apologies for interrupting this board with a primarily non-food question.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. There are two shuls in Marrakech (stick to the one that is not in the mellah). There is also a kosher butcher there in Marrakech as well. There are no kosher restaurants, but there is obviously a Jewish community. I have no idea how to get in touch with them.

    Casablanca has a much larger Jewish community with kosher restaurants and numerous shuls. Fes also has a very tiny community with one functioning shul.

    I don't know anything about Istanbul.

    1. I'm pretty sure Chabad is in Istanbul; they would definitely be able to help you out with your questions.

      1 Reply
      1. re: maga

        There is a significant Jewish Community in Istanbul. Here is a list of Shuls you could contact:

        There were also Kosher Restaurants in Istanbul.

        I was not there on Shabbat. I stayed at the Hilton which was very nice I took cabs to the restaurants to eat.

      2. The kind responses from Craig and Maga show show useful it would be if there were a Chowhound-like website where we could discuss things like this.

        I chose Marrakech and Istanbul as the kind of cities that are hard to get good information about. But the truth is that I have been to Marrakech on Shappat , and have davened at both shuls. I am posting this as an example of the kind of info that could be shared if there was an appropriate website. One is in the modern city, the other inside the walls. The one inside the walls is a safe walk of only a couple of miles from even the further hotels in the new city. The shul in the modern city has a Chabad rabbi and is in the area where most members of the small community live A few members of the small community still live in the Old City, others walk in on Shabbat morning. They do this to maintain tradition since this has been the site of a shul for many centuries, although the current, handsome shul is an early 20th century renovation. It is entered via an unmarked door on a pedestrian-width side street in the mellah (old Jewish quarter) that leads to a courtyard. The shul is part of an historic Jewish communal complex centered on the courtyard.

        The key thing to know is that, as the Michelin used ot say, Shabbat in Marrakech is "worth the journey" for the privilege of having lunch with M. and M. Isaac and Bloria Ohayon. They are members of a Jewish family that have lived in Morocco for many centuries, part of the Arabic speaking community that was in Morocco for a millenia or so before being joined by the refugees form Spain in 1492. In the archaeological museum in Rabat you can see a ceramic oil lamp with a 7-branched menorah dating from the Roman era. The Jewish communities of the Maghreb are very old. M and Mme. Ohayon invite guests into their home for Shabbat by prearrangement. Lone travelers and whole tour groups (they turn the living room, dining room and foyer into dining space when needed.)

        Mme. Ohayon is an amazing cook. She has served me some of the finest meals I have ever eaten. (She has a kitchen staff) She can also arrange to send meals to your hotel.

        Mr. Ohayon is a charming and memorable host. Ask, and he will share his passion for the heritage of the Moroccan Jewish community.

        19 Replies
        1. re: AdinaA

          Has anyone spent time, or Shabbat, in Istanbul?

          1. re: AdinaA

            I know people who travel there for work. There is a kosher caterer under the OK labs and a meat place under Turkish Rabinate.

          2. re: AdinaA

            Hi AdinaA,
            I saw your posting about shabbat in Marrakesh on Chowhound. We will be in Marrakesh Shabbat of Jan 28-29. I wrote to the Ohayons. I assume they don't do this for nothing but I thought it might be insulting to offer money. Did you pay them, before Shabbat, obviously. Any other tips for Morocco. We will also be in Fez and Casa. Ihaveinfo fromnet but if you have anything else to add, that would be great.

            1. re: buffy1

              Yes, you do pay the Ohayons. They are generous people and offer wonderful hospitality, but they are not wealthy people. You stop by to pay before Shabbat. If that is for some reason impossible, you could pay them on Sunday. they are lovely people, so, go to share Shabbat with them, although the food is so wonderful that you could go just for the flavor.

              Fes has two kosher restaurants. One is a Bar with food and a sidewalk cafe. Don't go there. It exists primarily because it is legal for Jews and Christians to serve drinks in Morocco. The sidewalk cafe part (large) is for men to sit and drink coffee or, primarily, to really drink.

              The restaurant you want is the one attached to the functioning synagogue in the new city, not far outside the city walls. This is a synagogue/c community center combo. The Jewish community of Fezs is very small, so it is supported by and mostly serves Moroccans who live elsewhere. Tney come for hilulahs, to visit graves or just the old country, and, primarily, the Moroccon Jews in France who have business ties in Morocco. Because of this the restaurant will open for just one or two people. It opens for for Shabbat only for tour groups.

              That said, I like the food there very much. It is a grill (at least when the crowd is small.) They have a freezer filled with Moroccan sausages, kebab, lamb chops, steak, chicken, etc. (shechita is limited and the meat comes form Casablanca.) You choose what you like.

              They then bring you a full meal, fresh bread (pain ordinaire, the normal pita sold in every corner store and bakery, is kosher, like in France.) A very good of Moroccan salads, rice with your grilled meat, sometimes soup (I had a wonderful harira there, though Mrs. Ohayon's if better, in my opinion) someties other cooked side dishes. Wine, aperitifs, drinks. The menu varies and you have to take pot luck. But when I have been there the food has been very good - within the limits imposed by the limitation of meat to frozen and a variable number of patrons.

              1. re: AdinaA

                I have been to Morocco and returned already. Unfortunately, the Ohaons never returned my e-mail. In Marrakesh and Essaoira we found a vegan restaurant called the Earth Cafe where we had meals. In Fes, we went to the JCC (no phone # despite listing in Shamash) and ate. When we asked about Shabbat meals we were invited to someones house! Needless to say, it was the best meal we had in Morocco. There are many listings for restaurants in Casa but no one seems to know address and they were just too diffucult to find. One of them luckily,was around the corner from our hotel(Le trufffe Blanch) so that turned out good.

                1. re: buffy1

                  Is there an email address for either the synagogue in Marrakesh or the synagogue in Fes?

                  I'm planning on spending Shabbat in Morocco the first weekend in March and can't decide where I should go.

                  Any advice would be appreciated!

                  1. re: mpg213

                    The communities in both cities are small. If your French is good enough, you might try googling in French, perhaps that will turn up an address. These communities are extremely small and not tourist centric - not really equal to putting up a webpage. Both cities have reliable minyanim.

                    I have found the Ohayons in marrakech easy to contact before Shabbat in two different years.

                    I was only in Fes for Shabbat once. A Moroccan phoned the community center for me to arrange meals, but when we arrived they were not expecting us and were not open for Shabbat. I think it is just that these places are incredibly small and understaffed. And it's pretty rude to tell someone that they can't can't come to your restaurant, so an employee is likely to tell a caller, yes, yes, of course. Even though there is no toru grup booked and they're not planning to open. Morocco is fascinating, but they do things differently there.

                    I advise you to have some food plan other than relying on being fed. The community considers all bread form ordinary bread bakeries to be kosher, so you could just eat bread. or you may be willing to eat vegetarian or fish out. If not, take enough tuna or jerky or whatever to get you through your stay. But by all means go, it's fascinating.

                    Are you choosing between seeing Fes and seeing marrakech? Or are you seeing both and choosing where to stay for Shabbat?

                    I ask because for anyone with a sense of history, old city of Fes is one of the most powerful tourist experiences in the world. You walk into a large medieval city. Public squares let into narrow pedestrian roads, with houses cantilevered over them as the stories rise. Inside tiny shops men sit cross-legged stiching garments, or lean over a fire with bellows as they work metal. Children appear through doorways and dart into bakeries carrying unbaked loaves their mothers have prepared for baking. It is astonishing. It has not burned and has not been remodeled, and it gives you an inkling of what medieval paris or Cologne were like.

                    The old city of Marrakech was remodeled by the French. It was already wealthier than Fes when the French came and has had the toruists since the French era. I find it almost repellantly touristy. But there is also an upscale international scene there, with clubs and restaurants - in which I don't eat, so i dont really like Marrakech. they have preserved the old architecture, much of which is magnificent. And the buildings you can enter are worth the journey, though they won't let you into any of their mosques. There is one mosque in Casablanca that Christians and Jews are allowed to enter. Some countries are nice about this. King Mohammad VI has a delicate political situation to handle and part of his solution is to bar infidels form mosques to avoid offending the sensibilities of his more absurdly sensitive subjects. Imagine going to London and not being allowed to tour Westminster Abbey because you are a Jew.

                    Back to food. If you are very careful about kashrut, you can order bread with olive oil or with honey anywhere, and bananas even where you don't want to drink the water or wash fruit. And olives. It is a very traditional place. They're not putting anything in those olive that Rebecca and Rachel, Sarah and Leah didn't use. If you start asking for the best olive oil in the market you will get to a level that I have never tasted anywhere else on earth. Olive oil better than the Greek gods ate on Olympus.

                    1. re: AdinaA

                      I went to Fes two years ago with my wife. We got in touch with one of the community members through an American contact. We met him in the shul Shabbat morning. He then took us to the community center for post-shul kiddush (basically a dozen old men sitting around drinking Moroccan shnapps). We then went back to his home for lunch. This was obviously informal. The community is very small. There are perhaps 60 Jews in Fes. I would have no idea how to contact any member out of the blue.

                      There is a larger community in Marrakech, and the shul is open during the week.

                      Of course, Casablanca has a much larger Jewish community where a tourist can more easily be welcomed. It just isn't that great of a tourist destination compared to Marrakech and Fes. We also spent a Shabbat there with a family that we met through an American contact.

                      1. re: craigcep

                        I spent shabbos in Casablanca as well as Marakech about two years ago (maybe 3). I found Casa less touristy and more commercial - not the greatest shabbos destination especially if you'll be walking. Marakech on the other hand was amazing. There was a Kosher hotel which I am not sure is still around but if it is this would make things MUCH easier as they serve all the meals there. You can also stay elsewhere and choose to eat there. The name of the hotel was Hotel Riad Primavera. Their email is and website is - I just checked the website and it is still up however I don't see any mention of Kosher food so you may want to ask. There is tons to walk and see in Marakech and the perfect place to spend shabbes.

                      2. re: AdinaA

                        Do you have a phone number or email contact for the Ohayans?

                        1. re: krose100

                          this is from upwards of 3 years ago

                          fax 05-24-43-76-17


                          1. re: AdinaA

                            Thanks I will try it anyway. Do you know if they keep kosher?

                            1. re: krose100

                              The Ohayons are the pilars of the Orthodox community. Everyone trusts them, including large non-Sephardi orthodox toru groups from Israel They are deeply hospitable people, but they are not moguls. This is a model you fond in a number of countries, they offer home hospitality to paying guests on Shabbat, and can send dinner to your hotel on a weekday.

                              At least until recently - and you should check - the pan ordinare of Morocco (pita) has been considered to be kosher by the rabbinut. It is a traditonal flour-and-water recipe and yo can buy it everywhere, both in big commercial bakeries and in small village and neighborhood bakeries wieh wood-fired ovens. Also, of course, in wayside restaurants and big-city hotel dining rooms. Honey and olive oil are ubiquitous. You can live on that and bananas if you want to really see the country.

                              Also, Mrs. Ohayon is a fabulous cook. She adds kitchen staff when guests are coming. But whether the number of guests is small or large, the meal and hte hospitality and the hosts will be a high point of any visit ot Marrakech

                              1. re: AdinaA

                                Thanks so much, this was very helpful, now the question is how to contact her.

                                1. re: krose100

                                  I found them the first time via tour agencies that specialize in Jewish Morocco.

                                  I suspect that googling b'ivrit or en Francais would probably also do it

                                  1. re: AdinaA

                                    The blog called regardshome is now at Eliana Ramage's blog, but the link posted below will still get you there. I want to encourage you to check it out. The young woman who writes it is now in Israel and hasn't updated it in a few months, but if you search it you'll find information about Jewish communities in Morocco, Turkey, the Balkans, and more. When she was living in Fez she made a point of connecting with the Jewish community and lots of Jewish communities (or former communities) in Morocco. I think you'll like it. But remember, you won't see all that when you open it. You have to scroll down and look.

                                    Try this story for starters on her blog: Sefrou and Bhalil: mellah, dusty chumashim, the old woman who lives in a cave, and Muslim male bonding time
                                    Or look up the photos of the shul in Fez. Prince Charles is in the photos.


                                  2. re: krose100

                                    any chance you found her?? we are heading to marrakech at the end of the week, and would love to join a seder.

                                    1. re: irisr

                                      Yes, the email did not work but calling this number will.
                                      0613 625 217. Her husband Isaac Tel : 0668 954 413

                                      Bloria Ohayan speaks French, some Hebrew, a little English. They live an hour's walk out of the mellah (medina)
                                      I hope it works out!

                            2. re: krose100

                              My wife and I spent Shabbat with the chabad rabbi in Casablanca. Was a great experience. They also keep a high Standered of kosher

                2. It can be hard to find the smaller shuls in Morocco, but there are some wonderful opportunities. A young woman in our community has a blog that discusses the communities in Fez, Meknes, Casablanca, and Marrakesh. If you're going to Morocco, read up:

                  1. I tried emailing the ohayons the email bounced back. Anyone know how to get in touch with them ?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: zaplamm

                      Were you able to find the correct email as I will be going in March and want to arrange to eat with them?