So, I'd heard of Ramadan before moving here. And I knew it involved fasting. But I had no idea of the celebratory eating that goes on between the end of the day's fast, and the start of the next day's fast! For those of you who do not know much of Ramadan, basically it is a month long religious holiday for the muslim faith. According to those of more knowledge than I, it is lunar based as to when it occurs each year. Muslims are to fast (meaning not eat OR drink...even water..) from sunrise to sunset for 30 days (technically it's supposed to be 40..so they are to extend their fasting another 10 days past the actual holiday. not sure about how this works. most say they make up their own little rules with this). The thought behind it is they are to feel some of the pain, suffering, hunger, etc. that many of their people have felt (or are still feeling), in order to understand where they have come from in their lives. Or something like that. They also have to abstain from all 'pleasurable activities' during this time (please don't ask me to explain...) So, let's say their day starts at 9:00 in the morning, which is actually the official government hour of work starting during Ramadan. They probably ate another meal at whatever time is before sunrise....maybe 4 or 5 am here? Then they sleep a little and get up to work from 9:00 to 3 or 4:00. I can't remember. They go home and sleep or do anything they can to forget how hungry and thirsty they are. Then they 'break the fast' in the evening depending on sunset. It apparently gets later by 2 minutes each night. You can hear the call to prayer here from the mosques because the windows are open. It's very cool. So a lot of them will eat a little something, then pray (might be in their homes, or at a mosque....always facing Mecca in the east). Then join the table and eat. And eat. And eat. Seriously...they put it away. Different courses, different types of foods. They actually start with what they think of as breakfast. At 7:20 pm or whatever time it is. They eat things of a salty and sweet nature, and that are high in protein (hard boiled egggs, soups with meat in them, pastries and fried finger food type things). Then they move on to courses that involve more soups and meat and sweets, etc. One very traiditonal dish is called Tagine. It's named after the pot in which it is cooked. Tagine is a stew made of meats and vegetables and traditionally cooked in a conical clay pot to allow the steam to rise, condense and drip back down to the stew. Practically anything can be turned into a tagine: meat, chicken, fish, vegetables and some even make it with meat and fruits. Some typical tagine dishes include lamb with dates, lamb with raisins or prunes and almonds, chicken with olives and preserved lemon, chicken with dried apricots and so on. It's REAL good. Another amazing little delicacy is brik – a triangular envelope of crispy pastry containing a whole egg, minced parsley and onion. Brik always has an egg in it, but other ingredients of the filling vary, it can contain even tuna or ground meat. The pastry is made with sheets of thin dough and then deep fried in olive oil. (and, if you are wondering, i'm copying some of these definitions from the internet because i don't know how to describe them. pictures too. please don't report me) The other main dish they break the fast with is harira, which is a soup composed of many ingredients.
Tagine...it's basically our version of crockpot cooking.
brik...delicious little pastry type thing with meat and yummy stuff inside
We had the opportunity to experience a traditional "f-tour" (as Moroccan's call it) or "iftaar" (for most Muslims) at a family whose daughter goes to our school. These were some wealthy Moroccans! Seriously kick-ass house, pool, yard, everything. The man of the house had a picture of him kissing the King's hand. Apparently not just anyone gets to do that. Whatever. So, this was catered like a fancy wedding...started with all of these sweet treats and hardboiled eggs (after fasting all day, you need fast protein for energy), and the harira soup. Now, I have to tell you it's killing me that I didn't get a picture....but there was also a pigeon soup option at this meal. It had a greenish color and there was seriously pigeon wings/legs, etc. in that kettle of soup.. Others tried it and said it was tasty. I just wasn't quite ready to "Go Big" at that point. I did try most everything else though, and loved it all.
After all of this fun stuff, they brought out the lady who does the "Henna" designs. Henna is basically a dye of sorts that they use to make what is basically a temporary tattoo. Women get these on special occasions, of which Ramadan is one. So, we all got a henna design...some more intricate than others. According to one person, our designs were more middle east in nature because moroccan designs are traditionally more geometric. Whatever. Basically they use a syringy to put this puffy paint type of stuff on you and then it dries and flakes off and you have an orangeish-brown print on your skin. All in all, the evening was a wonderful cultural experience in itself. Maybe next time I'll be ready for the pigeon stew/soup.
Woman who did the henna designs.
My henna design...only did inside of my finger-wrist.
Oh, one more funny thing from the evening. The brother and his wife of the host family were there. They both lived in America for extended periods of time on separate occasions and loved it. We asked them what they missed about America. Fatima said she misses the long walks and movie theaters and shopping. Her husband said he missed movies too, and then chimed in with "Taco Bell". Seriously. Then they went on to talk about how they really need to get mexican food in Morocco because they don't have it. But he seriously said Taco Bell. I wouldn't make that up.