A rabbi, a clown and a sushi chef walk into a restaurant. They’re here to celebrate Purim

At Scottsdale’s newest kosher restaurant, a sushi chef quietly worked behind a counter stacked with a pile of triangular cookies. The chef had been at Fata Morgana since it opened in the back corner of a long strip mall off Scottsdale Road in January. But the cookies were a new offering.

Co-owner Bar Timi began ordering them a few weeks ago in preparation for the Jewish holiday Purim, which begins the evening of March 16 this year.

Stuffed with apricot jelly or sweet fillings like chocolate, the triangle-shaped hamantashen are given as gifts during the holiday, which while not as big of a holiday as Yom Kippur or Passover, is still widely celebrated by the Jewish community around the world and across Israel, where Timi grew up.

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In his home city of Petah Tikva, a suburb that’s about 15 minutes outside of Tel Aviv, the stores remain open during Purim, a contrast to bigger holidays like Passover, when most close. People can go shopping and go about their day, he said. There are lots of parties where revelers dress up in costumes and clowns entertain the children.

In keeping with Talmudic tradition, Orthodox and Hassidic Jews will drink sizable amounts of alcohol, until they can’t tell the villain in the Purim story apart from the hero.

“It’s a very happy holiday,” Timi said. “There’s no rules with Purim.”

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What is Purim?

Hamantashen cookies from Fata Morgana Mediterranean Cuisine in Scottsdale.

Hamantashen cookies from Fata Morgana Mediterranean Cuisine in Scottsdale.

Purim is all about embracing the hidden, explained Jeffrey Lipschultz, a local rabbi at Beth Emeth Congregation who just happened to be eating lunch at Fata Morgana that day. He frequents the restaurant for their falafel sandwiches, which are done in an Israeli style and served inside pita bread.

“The purpose of Purim is to bring the real personality out,” he said. “In the Book of Esther, God is not mentioned once in the entire book. So you have to find the hidden aspect of God in Esther. So we find the hidden aspects of ourselves by putting on costumes.”

During the holiday, Lipschultz himself will dress up like a clown to entertain the kids. But in keeping with his Conservative Jewish faith, he does not drink to celebrate the holiday. “I went to college for that,” he joked. But for some Jewish sects, drinking is actually a mitzvah, or a good deed, he said.

The Purim story written in The Book of Esther, also known as The Megillah, details how the Jewish leader Mordechai and his cousin Esther saved the Jews from a murderous plot by a Persian noble named Haman.

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One tradition suggests that revelers should drink until they “no longer distinguish between arur Haman, ‘cursed is Haman,’ and baruch Mordechai, ‘blessed is Mordecai.'”

In Israel, many Jewish people will head to synagogue to hear the Megillah, and kids will shake noisemakers every time the villain Haman’s name is mentioned. They will also eat hamantashen cookies, which are triangle shaped to symbolize Haman’s hat, or in some interpretations, his ears.

“Usually in Jewish holidays, it’s very serious,” said the other co-owner David Babaganov. “Purim is very fun, it’s just fun.”

This year, on Wednesday, March 16, Fata Morgana is staying open late to host an after-hours Purim service where a rabbi will read from the Megillah. On March 15th at 4 p.m., a clown named Shani will be at the restaurant face-painting and entertaining the kids.

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Friends David Babaganov (left) and Bar Timi recently opened Fata Morgana Mediterranean Cuisine in Scottsdale.

Friends David Babaganov (left) and Bar Timi recently opened Fata Morgana Mediterranean Cuisine in Scottsdale.

Friends Timi and Babaganov decided to open Fata Morgana to showcase Timi’s homecooked Israeli food. Babaganov, who grew up in Alberta, Canada, is of Bukharian Jewish heritage and Timi’s family have roots in Morocco. So at the restaurant, they highlight a range of flavors on the all-kosher menu and many of the dishes feature the vibrant spice palette of North Africa and the Middle East.

The sushi chef works under the guidance of a rabbi, who comes to the restaurant every day to bless the food. Fata Morgana is one of only a handful of kosher restaurants in Arizona, in addition to the Bukharian Uzbek restaurant Cafe Chenar as well as Kitchen 18 in Scottsdale, which serves Chinese and Middle Eastern foods.

Timi, who keeps kosher, said it was very important for him to bring in a sushi chef, because he and his wife had nowhere to go for kosher sushi in Arizona. He explained that the difference was in the seaweed, which needs to be organic to be classified as kosher. Also in keeping with kosher traditions, the chef does not use shrimp, crab or any dairy like cream cheese. They use imitation crab and vegan cream cheese in some rolls.

Exterior of Fata Morgana Mediterranean Cuisine in Scottsdale.

Exterior of Fata Morgana Mediterranean Cuisine in Scottsdale.

“What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?” Rabbi Lipschultz joked. “Make me one with everything. That’s Israeli or Jewish food. We take all the cultures that we’ve been influenced by, and we make it our own.”

Much of Fata Morgan’s menu is North African and Middle Eastern dishes, like sabich, an egg and fried eggplant sandwich topped with amba, a savory mango chutney, which was popularized in Israel by Iraqi Jews. A lunch platter of chicken shawarma is served with a delectable assortment of flavorful sauces, like a tomato-based condiment called matboucha, which is a specialty of Moroccan Jews. They also serve chicken schnitzel, an Ashkenazi dish.

Available for a limited time, the hamantashen cookies come from a commercial kosher bakery called Reisman’s in Brooklyn. Rabbi Lipschultz’s favorite is poppy seed, but the apricot version was a stunner, with a crumbly cookie crust that encased a lightly sweet filling.

Whether or not you visit Fata Morgana during the holidays, you’ll enjoy a menu filled with diverse traditions in a welcoming dining room meant to feel like home to the many who frequent it.

“Jewish food is very unique,” Lipschultz said. “Because we take a little bit of (all our) cultures with us.”

Details: Fata Morgana, 7116 E. Mercer Lane, Suite 103, Scottsdale. 480-687-2243, fatamorganaaz.com.

Reach reporter Andi Berlin at [email protected] Follow her on Facebook @andiberlin, Instagram @andiberlin or Twitter @andiberlin.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Find Purim hamantashen at this new Kosher restaurant in metro Phoenix