written as a journal entry for Global Citizen class on November 18th, 2016
In my host family, our mother does all the cooking. She’s a great cook—today for lunch, we had lentil sweet-potato soup and zaalouk (mashed eggplant and tomato salad, I swear, one of the best things that I’ve tasted here…)
My host mother’s name is Fatiha. She is a small, short, talkative old lady. The consensus around the family around food preparation is that Fatiha does it the best. Every time I’ve gone to our host grandmother’s house, the aunts and uncles would ask me, “Ohhh, Fatiha… her food is delicious, right?” I say yes, and they all tell me that I’m lucky to have her as a host mom, that the nieces and nephews would all go over to Fatiha’s house and eat her pastries when they were younger. And even now, during family gatherings, Fatiha is always in the kitchen. She is behind the scenes, probably whipping up something delicious.
When we asked about when Fatiha started learning how to cook, she said that she started when she was our age. Seventeen, eighteen. It was considered late back then. After going through a childhood of cooking absolutely nothing at all (“when I was little I didn’t do anything”), she learned how to cook by herself as a teenager—by watching her aunt during parties, observing her mother, reading cookbooks. By the time she was 20, she said that she started cooking well.
While interviewing Fatiha, the part that surprised me the most was how much Fatiha seemed to focus on the past. She brought up how all the food was better in the past—fewer preservatives! And she brought up how in the past, meals were more like a family. All the extended family would come over to her house for meals. She loved making food for people because it made others smile. Fatiha mentions frequently that thirty or forty years ago, Agdal was a completely different place. None of the chain retail stores existed back then–instead, the streets were filled with fruit and vegetable shops. And instead of having apartments everywhere, everyone lived in villas.
Surprisingly, too, the food that Fatiha claimed she likes to make the most is also something that I’ve never seen her make. She herself even admits to it: “I like pastries a lot, but now I make less.” When I asked her about why she likes to make pastries, she said that it was a mixture of two things. 1) the process, when you get to roll out the dough and shape it, and 2) the fact that making pastries brings people together.
Our host mother doesn’t make pastries anymore. She’s very health conscious. She makes meat just because we’re there—but when we’re not, she eats meat maybe once per week. She frequently reminisces back to the point when everything was all natural, when everyone bought things directly from farmers instead of large grocery stores like Marjane and Carrefour. Even now, she avoids grocery stores as much as possible, preferring to make everything by herself. Even the spice mixes–she buys whole spices, and then grinds them. It’s the same with some of the breads that we eat, as well as some pastries. She has a few cousins and friends that often buys food from–yesterday, we had raighf with an onion and pepper filling that her cousin had made, and every time she buys brioche, she buys it from one of her friends who works in Centre Ville. One day I came home and told her that I had bought a raighf from the street, and she said, “tsk tsk tsk…. no, that’s not good.” She told me that all the the oil, all the flour that those vendors use isn’t good, that they don’t use expensive olive oil.
When asked about her perception of a healthy meal, she mentioned almost the exact things that she cooks or eats every day. For breakfast, olive oil and bread or chisha (porridge with milk and wheat) with dates. For lunch and dinner, vegetable tagine.
Fatiha still cooks as much as she can, even though her children are older. Her son, who is twenty six, lives at home and comes home to eat Fatiha’s food for every meal. Her daughter, who is getting her master’s degree in Casablanca, comes home to Rabat every weekend and brings bags of pre-cooked meals back to Casablanca on Sunday. Fatiha told me stories about how her daughter doesn’t even get to eat any of her food because it’s so good that her classmates take all of it.
I think I’ll interview Fatiha more about food in the future. She’s definitely an interesting person who’s willing to speak about herself, and she loves answering questions.