Moroccans love to eat.
I briefly learned this fact within moments of my arrival to Rabat, and
I truly understood it the day I moved in with the host family I’d be living with for the next three months. As I learned though, the Moroccan love of eating goes much deeper than a mere appreciation for food.
Living with a host family in a country that has such a deeply embedded cultural emphasis on the sharing of food has been an absolute pleasure, but
with cultural emphasis comes tradition and ritual, and the process of learning how to eat like a true Moroccan doesn’t come without a hefty learning curve.
First things first, to eat in Morocco, you’ll need to know a few key phrases in the local tongue. Morocco’s official language is traditional Arabic—also know as Fusha’a. However, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic—or Dirija—is much more widely spoken, and forms much of Morocco’s
linguistic identity. A combination of Arabic,
French, Spanish and its own unique character, Dirija, is unlike any other
language in the world—much like Moroccan food. So here we go.
Every Friday, we have a two-hour-long lunch break to go home and
have a traditional couscous lunch with our families. “Kuli, kuli, kuli,” urged Mama Rabia as she pushed more squash, carrots and potatoes into my section of our couscous platter.
director, Doha, taught us this cultural practice the morning before we met our
families. She had diagrammed a couscous platter on the whiteboard: an
enormous clay plate perched in the middle of a round table, filled with
couscous, covered in delicious sauce and piled with steaming vegetables in
“This,” she pointed as she
drew a triangle in the platter like a slice of pie, “is your zone. Always respect the zone.”
Now, Moroccan mamas have this
persistent tendency to scoop food up from the middle of the platter and place
it into their children’s emptying zones, like instant refills. A guest receives this treatment tenfold. As a student in the house, we are both a
guest and a member of the family—needless to say, there’s a lot of refilling going on. This leads me to key phrases two
Safi: That’s enough!; That’s all.
Shba’at: I’m full!
Sometimes we wonder if we were taught these phrases
incorrectly, or maybe our families just don’t understand because the “Kuli’s” are
insistent despite our pleas.
to stay strong!” Doha had instructed us, “You don’t have to keep eating!”
So it’s an exercise in patience. Of self control. And learning to eat slowly and savor the food—an important reminder that we could probably all use from time to time.
Safi is generally a very useful word in Moroccan
Arabic. “Safi? No more questions?” asks
our Arabic teacher. “Safi!” with force—an excellent and effective tool to ward off insistent shopkeepers. “Safi” to
indicate the exact amount of candied peanuts from the kid behind the counter at
the little sweet shop right by school. And
the ever gratifying, “Safi, c’est fini.” That I announce with relief to my host
sister as I set my pencil down, finishing the last word on my Arabic homework.
In Morocco, there are four meals during the course of a
day: breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Moroccan mint tea is an
obsession—an addiction—an absolute necessity, it seems. Some even call it Moroccan whiskey. For good reason too; it’s sweet, warm and
satisfying, and there’s never a shortage. Around 6:30 or 7:00 every evening, I can hear the teapot whistle from the
kitchen, and shortly after, my name being called to join the family in the salon.
If my host mom has been baking, we’ll have cake with the
tea. If my sister has just come in from
the market, we’ll have a flaky flatbread treat called rghaef. If there’s company over, we’ll have cookies
or doughnuts, maybe both. Sometimes
there are olives, sometimes there is jam, sometimes it’s as simple as bread and
olive oil. There’s always
mint tea. And bread in some form. Yes, bread. Lots and lots of bread. Which brings us to key phrase number five.
Hubbz: (You guessed it) Bread
Aside from being served in some way shape or form at
teatime, bread is also a primary component to the three other daily meals. In fact, Morocco is the number one consumer of bread
per capita in the world. Breakfast is
bread, with maybe some jam, maybe some cheese, maybe some olive oil to
complement. Lunch has bread on the
side. Dinner is served without utensils
but is certainly not finger food.
Just like with the couscous, dinners are eaten out of a shared dish—often
meats and vegetables cooked together in a flavorful sauce in a dish called a
Tajne. The bread is a crucial component
here, as it’s the primary utensil for scooping everything up.
Moroccan food vocabulary wouldn’t be complete without a
final key phrase.
The food here is absolutely delicious—all of it. It’s crazy, it’s different, it’s shared and
loved and full of character. Food here
isn’t an art like it is in France and it’s not a trend like it is in the States; it’s a game. And I’m finally beginning
to learn how to play.
Sarah Robertson SC ’16 is majoring in French studies with a Middle East and North Africa studies minor. She is studying abroad in Rabat, Morocco and spent last semester in Aix en Provence, France.