Thursday, June 14, 2007


When I was setting out for Morocco, my dear old New York Times didn't offer a lot by way of travel advice. Now, it feels as though they've stalked me here. A profile on Fes, a close-up on my rug guys, and now an article on food and cooking! Though Joan Nathan writes today about ferrane, communal ovens in Assilah, I get the feeling she found a slightly different Morocco than the one I call home. For example:

"People eat seasonally, shop at the outdoor markets, buy live chickens to have slaughtered on the spot, feathers flying helter-skelter. (In the big cities, where health inspectors and supermarkets are taking over, this is a dying custom.)"
Dying? I'm in the third-largest city in Morocco and I watched a chicken die on Saturday because I happened to be walking by a butcher's stall in the medina just as a customer made her purchase - he picked up a bird, held it around the neck, and slit its throat with an already-bloody knife. I go to school three blocks from a storefront in the ville nouvelle nicknamed "chicken death row" for the cages of birds squawking and stinking just off a main street. I don't buy my poultry that fresh because I'm too lazy to deal with feathers, but to call it a dying tradition? Not yet it isn't.

"Today many people have gas stoves or propane cooktops at home, and the communal ovens are disappearing...In Assilah, as in other Moroccan towns, the ovens are in transition, still in use even though many people have their own stoves."
I lived with a solidly middle-class host family and they did have their own oven and baked bread at home, but even they considered this a luxury, even in the new city where families are more isolated and independent. In the medina, houses are compact and crowded and the ovens are still very much alive and necessary. In Marrakech, I watched a little boy carrying his family's bread home get in a fight with another boy. He set his tray down ever-so-carefully in the road before proceeding to kick his opponent in the groin. This was a kid who knew that coming home with dusty bread or no bread at all would be a big problem, and who took his job as oven-runner seriously. If a six-year-old takes it that seriously, you know it's important to Mom, too.

"Ms. Sella insisted that the couscous be steamed three times, something that cooks rarely do in the United States."
It's also something many Moroccans cheat on, apparently, considering that my own teacher only insisted on twice :) Still, her couscous recipe looks like a traditional royale (rather than the standard vegetable mix - a classic couscous nonetheless). Note that even the NYTimes foodies don't try bastilla, which I'll admit I'm both eager and terrified to attempt...but it tastes so good there's no way I can't at least make an effort to bring it home with me.


Sarah said...

haha, a 'dying' tradition...;)

taamarbuuta said...

I mostly liked that article, although as far as that being a "dying tradition," it feels like it here. I don't know if you live in the medina or the VN, but having lived in the VN of Meknes for two years, I have actually NEVER seen a chicken being slaughtered (although nearly every time I go to the Fes medina, I do).

I think the author must have spent too much time in my neighborhood!

KEP said...

it's true that in some places it probably is becoming less common, but the Fes medina is definitely not one of them...and while in most of the Ville Nouvelle the butcher shops don't make their business so public, there are still ones near my home who keep their live chickens on display.

By the way, welcome!

xoussef said...

butchers might keep it less public, but an average Moroccan would never buy chicken not freshly slaughtered. most people will go and pick live chicken them selfs.