I’ve been planning on a post about food for a long time. I’m no foodie and I haven’t used a recipe in years. Because I haven’t really cooked in years. But I’m in Morocco. And food is a hot topic. It’s taken me awhile to decide how I feel about it but I had an experience today that settled things in my mind.
There is the topic of Moroccan food. Tagine and olives and bread and harira soup and pastille and brochettes. Moroccans have a very narrow palette. Very. Narrow.
In North America we have vegans and glutens and gluttons. There is sushi, bbq, Indian, homecooking my way, your way, that way and this. Everybody does it differently and the variety is endless.
Not so here. I haven’t seen a menu in days. You know what you can have. Tagine – lamb, chicken, beef, sometimes fish. Brochette – lamb, chicken, beef. Pastille is a little puff pastry with what? Yup, pigeon. There is sometimes soup, always salad. And by salad I mean sometimes a gorgeous plate of diced tomatoes, green peppers and a bit of onions. Or you get plates filled with beets, carrots, cucumber, artichoke hearts, you name it – you got it. White beans and lentils are always available. And juices – avocado, date and milk, or fruit smoothie type deals. Menus always have pizza and always have pasta. Sometimes sandwiches. The food is spiced but not spicy at all. Just flavorful.
Sometimes in fancy restaurants you see different things. Like my favorite seafood salad in Essaouria with veg and fresh calamari and little shrimps. Oh. My. God. It’s tasty.
That’s it. That’s what’s for dinner. And lunch. I am having a hell of a time feeding myself at home because I have to cook. NO CONVENIENCE FOOD. Vegetables, protein, beans, and eggs. I am expected to make something from this. Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. My kingdom for a can of soup!
And then you have the Moroccans relationship with food. That’s where things get interesting. Bread is served with every single meal. It is not only the life blood of their cuisine but it is also quite often the utensil. In truly local establishments there are no knives and forks. You go to the communal sink provided, wash your hands, and then use them to eat. You rip the bread into medium size pieces, separate it like opening a pita pocket, and use that to scoop up a literal handful of food and transport it to your mouth. I get all cocky in bbq places and don’t use the utensils that are invariably brought only to me. Because the food is on a skewer and I can handle that. Easy peezy. But when it comes to anything else I am hopeless. I have been advised to stop trying lest I starve. I am not able to get past my cultural barrier of getting my hands into my food far enough to scoop it effectively. I SHOULD have two food covered hands by the end of it. Instead I just end up getting a fork.
Now comes Friday and family. Friday is the Holy day in Islamic culture. That means that there is a lot more praying that goes on. Longer times spent in the mosque. And there is always a big meal at lunch. And usually couscous is involved somewhere. My first experience with this was at the Toudra Gorge. We had gone into a little place to look at carpets for someone and on the way back to the car we passed a man sitting on the road between two cars, up against a building with a plate of couscous. On the ground. Did I say that? “Madame, s’il vous plait”. Next thing I know we are sitting on the ground eating couscous from the man’s plate with spoons. Seriously. Everyone we passed was eating couscous and everyone was waving us in. You must share your couscous on Friday. It’s a very important part of the culture. Don’t refuse the couscous.
My next experience was with family. I visited my friends family one night and for dinner his mom made a giant couscous. (This is a woman who raised four boys and two girls so when I say giant….) We all gathered around a small table, me, mom and dad and four boys. And we ate couscous. I got a spoon and thankfully at least two of the boys used a spoon too so I didn’t feel quite so foreign. Dad rolled up balls of couscous in his hands and then ate the ball. Mom took a large portion of beef and broke it up with her hands so it was easier for everyone. And so we ate, shoulder to shoulder. As you do in Morocco.
Today I had a similar experience. I never know what is going to happen from one moment to the next because all the talking is in Berber. No clue. So all I knew was what I was told. “I asked them to make us lunch here at the riad.” That’s it. The sum total.
So I spent some time in my room while the noon prayers took place. I made my way downstairs after a time and did some reading. Then “go wash your hands, time for lunch.” Ok. Then “sit down here”. Ok. Turns out we were having lunch with all the cool kids that were working at the riad. Fatima and Malika made a lovely beef tagine. Bashir and Rachid were there. Together the six of us tucked into the smallest corner of the riad, around a tiny little table. Bread was ripped apart and shared with everyone else. Eating ensued. Next I know there is some laughing and a knife and fork appear on a plate. Then more laughing and later a spoon appeared for me. And so we ate. The six of us. Shoulder to shoulder. As you do in Morocco.