Culture and tradition are passed down from one generation to another in a family through foods. A Sephardic home, as in most homes dominated by Middle East culture, is generally welcoming and hospitable. Almost all food is served family style, whereby everyone helps themselves to an array of foods.
A small family dinner might have 12-15 people, all talking at once. Having the family over for a child’s birthday cake might involve 30 to 40 people. These family gatherings always involve Middle East food, sometimes influenced by American values, with everyone pitching in to cook, serve and clean up.
Make ahead items that needed to be frozen like sachicha (sausage), or kibbe or sambusak were always made in large quantities. The work that went into the food preparation of these difficult foods makes small quantities impractical. At the same time, large quantities often meant that the women came together to prepare the foods together, each having a say in how much of this or that to put in.
Helping out in the kitchen, learning to cook, and setting the table for guests is expected of all daughters. Cooking and the careful preparation of the foods of Sephardic culture are a part of everyday life. In each of their own families, the daughters and granddaughters strive to preserve the customs and traditions of their community, via the foods they cook and pass on to the next generation. This has all stemmed from the skills passed on from mother to daughter.
The preparation of Syrian hor d’oeurves, pastries and other difficult to prepare foods is a measure of how good a cook a woman is. It is said that a Syrian woman, who masters these cooking skills is “chartre.”
Knowing how to prepare large meals, organize the menu, shop so you have all the ingredients on hand and set an attractive table are skills most Sephardic women learn from a young age, as they participate in the preparation alongside their mothers.
There are always salads on the table, prepared with the freshest of vegetables. Food is filled with flavor and aromatic spices of the Middle East, often enhanced by fresh herbs. Hors D’oeuvres are carefully prepared and filled with tasty chesses or meats. Desert always includes nuts, nut-filled pastries covered in sweet syrup, and dried or fresh fruit.
Most importantly there is a relaxed welcoming feeling that conveys warmth and hospitality. The ambiance and sincere interest in each other, results in never-ending conversation such that one never wants to leave the nest.