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  • Writer's pictureAnnelise Richardson

An Experience in Morocco during Ramadan

Written by Annelise Richardson

The sun had just touched down below the horizon, and the first shades of purple were beginning to overtake the pale orange light of late afternoon. We sat three in a row in the backseat of the small car, waiting for the driver to return from the shop he had stopped at on our way to his house. We had met him only three hours earlier, and it had only been seven hours since we arrived in the North African country where not one of us spoke a lick of the local language. The streets around us were empty, save for a few children who had been playing on the pavement. It was then that we realized how impulsively we had decided to accept our tour guide Mohammed’s invitation to break fast with him at his family’s apartment.

However, accepting Mohammed’s invitation to join his family for iftar, the meal that breaks fast during the month of Ramadan, was possibly the best choice we made on our visit to Fez. As an American, I am not accustomed to the hospitality that is central to Moroccan culture. Normally, an invitation from a stranger to join them at their home for a meal would set off a series of red flags. Our decision to take Mohammed up on his offer was largely encouraged by the first impressions Morocco had made on us. From the moment we left the airport and were greeted by our driver, who enthusiastically pointed out the major sites as we passed them, to our hostel check-in, where we were immediately served sweet, steaming glasses of traditional mint tea, Morocco had welcomed us with open arms.

When I first learned that I had booked plane tickets to Morocco - a predominantly Islamic country - during the month of Ramadan, I was uncertain of what to expect. For those who are unfamiliar with the Islamic faith, Ramadan is a month of worship and abstinence from food and drink during the daylight hours (“fasting”). The fast is broken after the sunset prayer, and a feast called “iftar” is eaten in the home with friends and family. Traditionally, the fast is broken first with dates and then a myriad of deliciously spiced dishes are shared amongst the table.

Right: Moroccan mint tea, made with green tea, mint leaves, and sugar, is consumed three or more times a day!

After we climbed the three flights of stairs up to Mohammed’s apartment building, we were greeted by a low, round table piled high with all sorts of traditional recipes. Harira (chickpea tomato soup), B’ssara (fava bean soup with cumin), Khobz (round, crusty bread), Hssoua Belboua (barley and milk soup), M’semen (savory pancakes), Beghrir (crepe-like pancakes), and Chebakia (sesame cookies). And of course, the meal is always accompanied by copious amounts of mint tea.

On Fridays, a tagine is traditionally served. We were lucky enough to experience this delicious custom with Mohammed. The dish consists of spiced couscous (Morocco’s national dish!), chickpeas, steamed vegetables, raisins, and meat. It is served in a traditional tagine dish, notable for its concentric shape that releases steam little by little out of a small hole in the lid. During the meal, we also learned that most Moroccan cuisine is eaten with the hands, meaning that bread plays an essential role at the dinner table. We took turns tearing off bits of beghrir and m’semen to scoop up rich mouthfuls of everything on the table.

Above: Annelise, Rowan, Sofia, and Lorenzo share an iftar meal in the family home of Mohammed

One of my travel companions is Italian, and frequently remarked how similar Mohammed’s mother was to his grandmother. Like an Italian nonna, she would signal for us to eat more if we took a break from the ginormous feast. Though she spoke only Moroccan Arabic, I could sense the loving undertones in her insistent commands as she pointed to the table-sized tagine dish that was only halfway finished.

Left: Traditional Moroccan tagine - a vegetarian’s paradise!

For all three nights we spent in Fez, not once did we pay for dinner at a restaurant. Each night, we were invited by locals to share in the custom of iftar. The welcome that our group received from Morocco was beyond remarkable. I went to Morocco expecting culture shock and frustration; I left with a new family on the other side of the Mediterranean. Because, as Mohammed told us after we finished eating that first night, “When we invite you to eat with us, that makes you family.”

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