Hanukkah Face-Off: Sephardic Dish #3


Sephardic Jews are responsible for one of the world’s greatest appetizers: fried baby artichokes.

Hanukkah is a time for enjoying Jewish culinary traditions with family and friends, and to that end we present a daily competition between Ashkenazi and Sephardic food, going up around sunset on the first seven days of Hanukkah – and presenting a wrap-up as the sun goes down on the eighth day. Whose food is the most appealing? Help us decide with your comments and social media shares.

Though Jews were present in ancient Rome under a number of auspices, it wasn’t until the Spanish Inquistion in 1492 that refugees from both the Iberian Peninsula’s Sephardic community, and from territories like Sicily and Calabria dominated by Spain, began flooding into the Eternal City. The Ghetto was officially established by papal decree in 1555, though that part of the capital had been settled by Jews as early as 1200 AD.

The Ghetto was located in the Tiber River flood plain, and hence the area was considered somewhat undesirable. On the other hand, though the Jews were not allowed to own their own property, their Christian landlords were permitted to neither evict their tenants nor raise the rents, something like New York’s own rent stabilization laws.

Fried baby artichokes is the most famous dish associated with this historic neighborhood, one of that city’s great tourist attractions. Anyone who’s tasted the dish on its home turf realizes that there’s something extraordinary about the taste of the Italian baby artichokes used. The leaves cook up as crisp as potato chips, while the heart and stem burst with verdant flavor, yet remain relatively soft. Indeed, the recipe has traveled the world, and it’s not difficult to find in New York restaurants today. The version pictured above comes from Testaccio, a Roman restaurant in Long Island City.