Read an Excerpt
Traditional Moroccan Cooking
Recipes from Fez
By Z. Guinaudeau, J. E. Harris
Serif BooksCopyright © 1964 Z. Guinaudeau
All rights reserved.
TABLE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS
In the street the burning June sun is at its zenith. There is constant noise and movement on all sides. Cries of 'Balek, balek'; buying, selling, discussing; children pushing and crying; great jars of oil being carried home; donkeys stumbling along; proud, distant students passed by hurrying craftsmen; mingled smells – spices, oil, jasmine and orange blossom, remains of stale vegetables and datura. Thick dust makes a hell of the hot, crowded street.
At last the quiet passage where our host's son awaits us. The open door casts a deep, cool shadow. In one corner a mule; a few spongers up from the country chat hopefully with the door-keeper over a glass of mint tea.
A rapid walk down a narrow corridor then suddenly, after a sharp turn, the oasis, an impression of space, calm, the pure light of the great patio. Mosaics and a marble fountain, whitewashed arches, the white robes of our host. An aristocratic home where the only discreet note of colour is given by the zellijes or coloured tiles.
Led by the master of the house, we advance, relaxed and at ease. Impressions: glances from the windows above, children held back in a corner by the black nurse, young women from the south, a mass of bright colours flying towards the kitchen.
The room where we are installed is long, decorated with mosaics, the ceiling coloured, the mattresses covered with brocade, the cushions embroidered in gold. On shelves facing the high door there are many clocks, all silent; chinaware; vases, Victorian or Louis Philippe, filled with paper flowers. In one corner a brass four-poster bed, throne of cushions and mattresses! In contrast to the patio, a riot of daring colours and riches. Conversation: polite formulas, health and the weather.
Before us, silently on bare feet, a ballet of young women, flowers behind their ears, skirts tucked up, hips tightly swathed in their striped cotton dresses, lays down in the patio, in front of the entrance to the dining-hall, the great dishes kept hot in their copper bowls with pointed covers.
Two servants at each angle of the painted door, caryatids beneath the raised silken curtains, wait for the master to clap his hands discreetly before beginning the ceremony of the feast.
Across the carpet the low inlaid table is wheeled towards us and we take our places on the mattresses round it after a ewer has been taken round and a trickle of perfumed water poured over three fingers of the right hand.
Seated on a cushion in the corner the master looks on. It is one of the sons of the house standing in the doorway who watches over the protocol, the changing of the dishes, water, bread. Everyone spreads a thick towel over his knees.
Yacout with arched back brings in the bistilla, flaky spiced pastry, frosty with sugar, shaded with cinnamon, in a huge china dish. 'Bsmillah.' Refined and delicate, food for the gods, it is very true that the civilisation of a people can be judged by its cooking.
With thumb, forefinger and the middle finger of the right hand take a piece of stuffing or a pigeon wing from under the golden crust. Lay the clean picked bones on the table. Finally, attack the pastry which melts in the mouth with its sugar and cinnamon. Before each guest the space becomes bigger, the gesture from the dish to the lips slower, the appetite calmer, allowing for the dishes which are to follow.
A discreet snap of the fingers, in the twinkling of an eye the bistilla disappears, leaving the debris of bones scattered over the table. Half a ksra is placed before each guest. Then Yacout brings in the choua, that rather insipid steamed mutton happily seasoned with cumin which rests the palate after the extraordinary spices of the previous dish. With three fingers the guest of honour searches under the shoulder blade and offers me the tenderest morsel ...
Then comes the chicken with almonds, three at least so as not to appear mskin or poor. Before tasting the meat, dip your bread in the terribly hot sauce which will bring a rush of blood to the head.
There follows a turkey ma'amrra; after breaking the breast bone we enjoy the stuffing, a qamama tagine with a dazzling purée of onions and honey.
Finally a couscous to subdue our hunger. To avoid the shame of failure I shall not attempt to roll it into small pellets, the correct way to eat couscous. Fortunately a spoon is nearly always provided by our thoughtful hosts.
During this meal, which is typical of a simple reception, there is little conversation; that would spoil the pleasure and appreciation of each dish.
It is not seemly to offer water, which distends the stomach, but if necessary one can ask to quench one's thirst.
The meat dishes finished, the broken bones are rapidly swept away, the table cleared.
A gentle rest, then the sweet steamed semolina with a glass of cold milk, before ending with the fruits of the season.
And the ballet starts again as at the beginning of the meal. Young women juggle away the table, then pass their hands over the carpet like a vacuum cleaner. One of them presents the silver ewer filled with warm water with which we purify our mouths, lips and hands. The cushion and the mattresses are put back in their place. Life is sweet, utterly satisfied. Chban or satiated, we are drunk with strong spices, heavy with sauces.
This formidable meal passes off better than one would think. In spite of the number of dishes the absence of wine allows one to digest the well-cooked meats quite easily, above all if one has the courage not to drink during the meal but to wait for the mint tea which follows.
Now the dishes, which are still far from empty, especially those served last, will be taken first to the women and children of the house, who from the first floor or across the patio behind curtains have been spying and waiting, then they will go to the kitchens, and when the porter, amidst a swarm of flies, throws the bones on the rubbish heap they are white and clean, as though they had lain in the burning desert sun.
The bourgeois families of Fez have at least thirty or forty people to feed every day. For a simple family meal only one or two tagines are served. An artisan is satisfied with a modest stew. Necessity renders the workman frugal: after receiving his wages he is obliged to buy himself vegetables and oil for his meal; at midday he will eat only bread and olives and his family semolina and sour milk. Never forget that the Arab working man has still the stomach of a nomad and can exist for many days on dates and dried figs, but when the occasion arises he can eat a whole sheep.
There are of course definite rules as to the succession of dishes. In giving a recipe I have generally indicated at what moment the tagine should be served. In the preceding pages I have given you a classical type of meal.
Remember that the bistilla must be served first, then the choua, fish, spring or summer tagines according to the season, tfaia tagine, kefta and mrouzia.
The mutton mahammar and mqalli. Chicken with lemons and olives roasted with spices. Stuffed chicken with rice, raisins and olives. Qamama tagine with onions and honey. Finally, a choice of the different couscous, rice with milk, semolina with sour milk. The m'hanncha or haloua served at marriages and circumcisions. Diversity is not lacking and, even if the basic ingredients are few, the dishes – thanks to the different spices and the imagination of the cooks – offer a variety of which the appetite never tires.
Receptions in Fez, with the courtesy of the hosts, the opulence of the surroundings, the elegance of the costumes, the Andalusian music, the dances of the chikhat, the conversation, and the culinary art – all combine to form the summit of a rich culture.CHAPTER 2
On going into the kitchen of a house in Fez you are struck by the austerity of the room, far removed from the brilliant arsenal and laboratory atmosphere of the modern kitchen. In the semi-darkness, so cool in summer, so mortally damp with the rain in the winter, the cooking utensils are of glazed earthenware or copper. The kanoun, a movable brazier of sun-baked clay, and a few holes in a tiled kitchen stove are the only cooking apparatus. The charcoal which perfumes the brochettes and allows the sauces to simmer gently dirties and blackens the whitewashed walls and is the only form of heating.
No chairs, an old carpet folded and placed on the zellijes serves as a seat for the exuberant black woman, come, according to tradition since the Algerian exodus, from Tetuan, from whence emerge the most highly esteemed cooks. The young servants, babbling little parakeets, bare feet in wooden sandals, bright coloured dresses whirling around as they bustle about, ready to obey at the slightest gesture from the dada, queen and priestess of the kitchen. She is dressed in long multi-coloured robes tucked up in front, draped and knotted at the back, with wide sleeves held in place by a twisted silken cord; a heavy flowered bulk with a face of ebony or bronze beneath the fringed turban. Her arms and ankles are encircled by silver bracelets which tinkle at every gesture. She is complete mistress and queen in her own domain.
In the darkness of the room lit only by the red gleam of copper and charcoal, enlivened by the sound of water dripping from the fountain on to the tiles, the hammering of the pestle and mortar and the voice of the dada scolding the servants, one is saturated with the smell of spices, the pungency of olive oil and smen which rasp the throat; at the same time one is enveloped in the sweetness of sandalwood, mint and roses. In this country where time doesn't count, isn't the rusticity of the cooking apparatus the secret of these dishes so patiently prepared? Happy the town where women still have the time and taste to cook well.
In this room where empiric drugs are elaborated and tagines sweetened, where orange blossom is distilled and pepper ground, no gesture is ever made without first saying 'Bsmillah' to ask for Allah's blessing.CHAPTER 3
UTENSILS FOR COOKING AND SERVING
I would like to make you see the glitter of the copper and brass pots, the colour of the baskets made from esparto grass and doum; praise the shape of the coarsely decorated brown and ochre pottery; have you feel the roughness of the wood, the artlessness of the earthenware, the simplicity and primitive austerity of the shapes and raw materials; and at same time show you the rich decoration of the English and Chinese porcelain, the painted and gilded cut glass from central Europe.
Boqrej: a kettle used for boiling water for tea.
Chkoua: a goatskin bottle used for carrying water.
Chtato: a small sieve, the bottom of which is made of linen or silk spun in Fez.
Gdra: the lower part of the pot for couscous in which the meat and vegetables are cooked, made of earthenware or copper.
Gdra del trid: a pot with a curved bottom, and a large paunch-like opening, which, when placed on the brazier, sends the heat to the inner sides and bottom of the pot, where the sheets of dough for trid are cooked.
Genbura: a glazed earthenware pot, very broad relative to its height, used for keeping water.
Ghorbal: a sieve, its bottom made of perforated leather, used for gauging the semolina.
Gsaa: a large, round unglazed baked clay dish made in Fez. The gsaa is made of oak, olive or walnut wood in certain districts, or from palms in the oases. Used for making bread and couscous and kneading pastry, the gsaa is also employed for washing.
Ied ettas: an often charmingly shaped ewer with a long slender spout in brass or embossed silver plate, used for pouring water over the fingers before and after a meal. When not in use it is placed on a pan called a tass.
Kanoun: a charcoal pan made of iron or copper, but more often of sun-baked clay.
Khabia: an earthenware jar, glazed inside, high and not very wide, found in different sizes and used for preserving meat and storing dried vegetables, flour and corn.
Kskas: that part of the pot, perforated at the bottom and inserted in the gdra, used for cooking the couscous grains.
Mghorfa: a large spoon carved out of a block of wood.
Mida: in Fez they call a round dish with an odd pointed hat in which cakes are served a mida, a wooden tray with a high rim and a conical lid is also called a mida, and finally the round table on which meals are served is the mida.
Midouna: A flat and flexible plaited basket woven from the fibres of esparto grass or doum.
Mqla: flat-bottomed copper pan with a straight edge and two handles.
Nafekh: an earthenware brazier.
Qa tagine: the deep copper dish in which the tagine slaoui is inserted and which serves to protect the table.
Qettara: an alembic used for distilling roses and orange-blossom.
Siniya: a tray made of embossed or plain copper, brass or silver plate. Those on which the utensils for making tea are placed have legs a few inches high.
Tagine slaoui: a round dish of glazed earthenware covered with a pointed lid which fits the dish exactly and can be used for cooking, keeping the dish hot or serving the tagine. Slaoui is used as a diminutive.
Tanjir: a large cooking pot.
Taoua: a basin designed to receive dirty water. These are made of copper or embossed silver plate and covered with a slab of the same metal in the middle of which the ewer is placed. It is over this basin that hands are washed before and after meals.
Tbiqa: a stiff round basket with a pointed lid made of esparto grass or doum decorated with coloured leather. Manufactured in or round about Marrakesh. Bread is placed in the tbiqa to protect it from the dust.
Tbla or mida: a round cedarwood dining-table, just over a foot high; the diameter varies according to the number of guests. Those made in Fez are plain or painted; those from Mogador are of inlaid woods encrusted with mother-of-pearl and much sought after.
Tboq: a sort of midouna made of finer basket-work.
Tila: a sieve made of rush or wire used for separating the bran from the crushed corn.
Tobsil dettiab: a large copper-plated tray with a small straight edge, used for glazing the bistilla.
Tobsil dial Iouarqa: a tray of the same sort, but it is the outside, which is copper-plated, on which sheets of pastry for bistilla are cooked.
With these utensils washing up is quickly done; the guests gone, the serving women will wash the earthenware dishes in the small pond in the middle of the patio, rubbing them with fine sand brought by some poor woman in a sack on her back from the local quarries and sold at the door for a few pence.
It is polishing them with that same sand, a lemon and a half-ripe tomato that will make the copper and brass in the kitchen glow with such power and brilliance.CHAPTER 4
From the hill of Dar-Mahres to the south of Fez comes the clay which makes the potters' fortune.
Near Sidi-Frej, the city's old lunatic asylum, there used to be a little place of which nothing now remains. Smelling of bitumen, it was filled with small shops, all displaying their stocks of unglazed pottery. Disdainful of the tourists' curiosity, the mallem or craftsman decorated the pottery with tar with the tip of his agile forefinger. For a few francs one could carry away bowls, jars, water-pots and large deep dishes. You can find these shops again today, scattered through the town. The potters are survivors of that corner of Fez which no longer exists.
Between Attarine, Fez's spice market, and the Moulay Idriss sanctuary there is an entire street, long and narrow, on each side of which the shops display Fez pottery from floor to ceiling: bowls, vases, water-pots, dishes hung on string. Facing us, deep round dishes, deep conical-shaped dishes for couscous, soup tureens with high lids, decorated with geometric or floral designs both naïve and skillful, plain, coloured or with polychrome designs with blue the dominating colour. That blue of Fez, sometimes a deep sea blue, sometimes shining and light, and the plain deep green of the bottles of oil: colours obtained from minerals found around Fez.
Excerpted from Traditional Moroccan Cooking by Z. Guinaudeau, J. E. Harris. Copyright © 1964 Z. Guinaudeau. Excerpted by permission of Serif Books.
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