Food is important. Around the globe people take great pains to prepare it, serve it and gather around it. Traditional cultures everywhere often share food as a gesture of hospitality, relationship and invitation into their homes and hearts. Sometimes meals are simple, a bowl of white rice or a dish of cooked maize meal dipped into salted field greens. Here in North Africa, we are still officially in the ‘Developing World’ but thankfully, less and less of the population is having to live on the brink of starvation or survival. Many people I know still live on about two dollars a day, which is enough for some street food in Morocco. I am always amazed to watch these thrifty women whip up healthy, flavour-filled meals for their families.
Moroccan cuisine is internationally renowned for its variety, its delicate seasonings and the care taken in presentation. We have the regular privilege of enjoying some of the country’s best cooking in the homes of local friends, at weddings and circumcision parties, or occasionally in some of the nation’s fabulous restaurants. But what has been almost most thrilling to us as both culinary adventurers and busy parents of small children is the joy of street food!
The Street Food Culture in the Ancient Fes Medina
Within a ten minute walk of our home in the ancient Fes Medina we have a plethora of inexpensive and tasty options to fill hungry stomachs! The market place is always filled with smoke as kabobs and homemade sausages sizzle, every variety of legume boils in its own savoury sauce, snails slow-cook in industrial-sized pots, spicy treats fry in vats of hot oil and men dish up Fes’s famous bisara… a pureed blend of beans and spices topped with olive oil and hot pepper flakes. Also available to eat on location or take with you are little tajines, vegetable and meat stews that simmer on beds of coals in traditional clay dishes, or khubz, the culinary cornerstone of North Africa. These hearty round flat breads are made fresh daily in most homes and are available in several sumptuous varieties on the street. I am convinced that Moroccans are the world’s sandwich-making experts as they can turn almost anything into a sandwich… chunks of spicy meat, cream cheese, chickpeas, fried sardines, potatoes, eggs, even this yellow cake-like substance. Whatever you can imagine stuffing into a pocket of bread, these folks have probably done it for centuries!
My five year old daughter loves to eat a warm bowl of harira soup at least once a week. Sometimes one of us runs out to fetch it in a plastic bag and other times we get to have a special outing to her favourite hole-in-the-wall harira place where we share long benches with slightly more adventurous tourists and homeless people alike. My son who is nearly three loves to gobble up the spicy saffron-coated mashed potatoes fried fresh while his sister digs into her tomatoey, chickpea filled bowl with a bent up spoon that usually looks ten times too big for her little mouth.
Sometimes living with our senses wide open to learning and understanding in a new culture can be uncomfortable, even difficult. We see and hear things that make us sad or even fearful, we realize that justice and equality are still not values accepted worldwide, we ache with and for people whose upbringing has not been as loving or privileged as our own. And other times, we get to just have fun and enjoy the diversity of sights, sounds, smells and tastes that this planet has to offer… so grab some khubz, dip in and enjoy!
A chicken tajine served with mounds of caramelized onions, french fries, a tomato and cucumber salad and little dishes of spicy olives. Spoons are sometimes available for the salads but usually you just tear off a chunk of khubz bread and use that as your silverware… a fork never tasted so good! Our family loves the street food in Morocco!