Eat Like I Eat!
“Hey, Maggie! You eat lunch yet?”
“It’s only noon – wow you eat early. So what did you cook, dwez?”
“Oh, so couscous then.”
“No, not today.”
“…Then what on earth did you eat?”
If you come to Morocco, you will eat dwez. It’s tagine, but in a regular old soup pot rather than the iconic clay bowl. Think of it as a super thick stew of vegetables with a large chunk or two of meat in the middle. It’s served onto a large communal dish, from which everyone scoops up their portion with bread (bread as utensil also means that you are required to keep a very large supply in your home).
Couscous is eaten every Friday for lunch (and occasionally when the mood strikes), and is served, again, in a huge communal dish with veggies and meat poured overtop. This one gets eaten with your hands, balled into your palm before being popped into your mouth. I can eat tagine/dwez with the best of them, but to my eternal shame I still have to ask for a spoon with couscous.
These two dishes make up 90% of meals (not counting breakfast, usually just bread and jam), with the occasional lentil or rice dish mixed in. People simply don’t have other recipes in their vocabulary. It’s what you do. So when I say that I made a sandwich, or burrito, or Chinese noodles, or spaghetti, or fruit salad for lunch, you can see the moment when their brains default on the standard if/then algorithm and spit out ‘script error’. Confusion then turns to pity, as they think I simply don’t know how to cook, and offer to help.
But, all this has begun to change. Once I bought an oven (why did I ever wait so long?), I started baking cookies. And since even I can only eat so many snickerdoodles, I thought I’d start bringing my bounty around town. I’ve brought cookies to the cooperative and my host family, scones to the ladies at the neddi, and popcorn and pizza to one of my English classes. The result? People now think I’m one of the greatest cooks ever.
It still does not deter the die hards, though. After sharing my scone recipe with a group of ladies I was walking home, brainstorming curried chickpeas, when an old neighbor stopped me.
“Maggie! It’s almost dinnertime. Do you have bread in your house?”
“Um…nope, not right now. But I usually don’t eat it anyway.”
“But you need bread! Why don’t you have it?”
“I just didn’t want any today.”
“Oh my goodness, she has no bread – wait here. I just baked some, I’ll give you a loaf.”
“Oh, thank you! But it’s really all right. I honestly don’t eat bread much.”
“I won’t have you starve on my watch.”
“I – “
“Here you go.”
“Thank you. This smells great.”
“If you ever need bread, you just come here, understand?”
“Yes, thank you.”
(overheard as I walked away)
“…tsk tsk. Poor thing. Didn’t even have any bread.”