A post like a traditional Moroccan meal, long and sweet

When we were little, “Don’t talk to strangers” was a pretty good rule. Kids are naïve of the sometimes-cruel world around them, and you never know what ulterior motives a stranger might have.

“Don’t talk to strangers” is still our general rule of thumb, and “Don’t go to strangers’ homes” would be an obvious follow up, yet Sunday we found ourselves on our way to the home of a stranger, a man Colin met while trying to find the meeting of a hiking club. On the spot he invited Colin to lunch on Sunday, no checking with his family, no asking for a background check, just uncut desire to entertain an English speaker for lunch.

Before the bridge was built, ferries would take people across to Salé. The practice continues today. The Kasbah is on the hill in the background, and the sea is just on the other side of that.

Our host was a Moroccan man in his forties, who met us at the bus stop in New Salé with his 12-year-old daughter (the bus ride could have been a story of its own, and probably will be in the future). He let us into his sparsely furnished living room, just the Moroccan-style, bench-like couches and two large round tables. His wife brought out a tray with juice and glasses then bustled back into the kitchen.

We made slightly halted conversation with our host; he had lived in the U.S., including San Diego, for several months, training with the Moroccan navy. His English was better than my French, but not better than Colin’s, but once the daughter learned Colin was here studying Arabic, she demanded he try in Arabic whenever he spoke, as 12-year-olds do.

By the time the first course was served, two college-age sons had made an appearance, though I don’t think they spoke more than ten words between them. The seven of us sat around the round table with a huge leg of lamb in the middle and a small leg of chicken closer to me. The meats were ringed with prunes, apricots, onions and almonds and everything had a cumin color to it. The wife passed out triangle slices of the bread rounds, and our host urged us to take the first bite.

“Oh, do you want forks and knives?” he asked. We didn’t have cutlery or plates.

“Oh, no! We can, uhh, do it like you,” I cheerfully assured him. By then, one of the sons had torn open his bread and had started to dig in, right hand holding the bread and sort of pinching, sometimes with the help of the thumb, at the meat. Colin and I followed suit.

Ohemmgee, it was good. The meat pulled right off the bone, the onions melted on the tongue. I was happy to have my own little plate, reducing some of the distance between the plate and my mouth. We must have still looked pretty sorrowful, because they offered again to get us utensils. We stoutly turned them down.

River kittens. Adorable, and not unusual.

I’m going to point out that I was working with a handicap here. It’s not culturally appropriate to use the left hand for much of anything outside of the bathroom here, so I was using my off hand the whole time. Pinching with bread is manageable, but later, when the spoons came out, I made a bit of a mess.

Every time Colin leaned away from the lamb, a chorus of “Coole, coole,” would rise from our host, “Eat, eat.” I didn’t have to be told, but I paid for that later.

While there was still plenty of food left on the meat dishes, the wife brought out the next course. It was a pile of angel hair pasta (which they sell cut in inch-long pieces) dotted with golden raisins and sprinkled with crushed almonds and powdered sugar. “Dessert?” I ventured. Nope, second course.

Again, our host looked to me to start things off, but with it obvious that I didn’t know even what it was, he helped by scraping the almonds and sugar from the top with his spoon and forming a loose knot of pasta. I went for it, took way too large a spoonful, and ended up with pasta all over my lap, which everyone kindly ignored. It was so sweet. How is this not a dessert?

Starting to fill up and, honestly, a bit overwhelmed by all the sugar, I pushed away. “Coolie, coolie—eat, eat.” I, of course, caved to the pressure. Only after we’d left would Colin warn me, “Every bite you take that your hosts don’t see is a wasted bite.”

Finally the meat dishes and the pasta were whisked back to the kitchen–and out came dessert, a plate of bananas and apples. This was followed by sweetened mint tea and a couple of coffeecakes. At some point the conversation had turned to tongue twisters, with the daughter trying to recite the woodchuck one, and our host teaching Colin one in Arabic. I shared the one about selling seashells, to the daughter’s delight, then she brought out her French textbook and had me read a passage aloud.

Feeling entirely overstuffed, we made for the exit. The daughter grabbed my hand as they walked us out to the main road to catch our bus, and promises were made to come again, next time for couscous.

As our bus crossed the river back into Rabat, the sun was casting a golden glow on the many little colorful boats in the water. Lots of people were out walking along the river, and Colin suggested we join them, which is where the photos are from.


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