Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On The World's Best Harira

I suppose it’s time for that obligatory post about Ramadan in Morocco. This is my second Moroccan Ramadan, but the first time I’ve spent it with a Moroccan family. As a non-fasting non-Muslim, I’d have to say that Ramadan is a terrible time to be in Morocco. And also a wonderful one.

Ramadan is the holy month of fasting in Islam. From crescent moon to crescent moon Muslims fast from daybreak (around 4:30am this year) to sunset (around 6:40pm). Everyone in Morocco fasts. Even people who aren’t particularly religious the rest of the year take the fast pretty seriously. All the cafes and restaurants are closed (except Cafe Clock, HAMDULILAH), and it’s illegal to eat or drink in public. Everyone on the roads drives like a maniac – people generally attribute this to nicotine deprivation. It’s certainly not the most pleasant time to come for a holiday in Fez.

At around 6:40pm a cannon fires to mark sundown and time to break the fast. That’s when the party starts, with a meal called “Iftar”. Traditionally, you break the fast by eating a date. Then a homemade fruit juice. Sometimes it’s water-based (orange juice, tangerine, grape, mango) and sometimes it’s milk-based (banana, apple, avocado) but always it’s delicious. Then comes my favorite – harira!

Harira is a tomato-based soup with meat, chickpeas, cilantro, noodly things, lentils, all sorts of spices and whatever else that particular family decides to put in it. Every Moroccan thinks that his mom makes the best Harira in the world. But seriously...Latifa (my host mom) really does make the best. Really. I’ve had a lot of good Hariras, but not one of them comes even close to Latifa’s. We’ve eaten it every single night that I’ve been here (because that’s what you do in Ramadan) and I look forward to it every single time.

After Iftar we have tea and pastries. Then it’s time to take a nap, to pray, to watch ridiculous Moroccan Ramadan sitcoms, or to go out for a bit. In Fez, the city usually shuts down around 9pm...very few people stay out late. But at night during Ramadan the streets are always bustling. Sometimes I’ve gone with the family to see friends and relatives, and other times I’ve gone out with Hamouda and/or Soukaina (host brother and sister) to a cafe, or just to meet up with some American friends. Tonight I’m staying in to study and blog. You’re welcome.

Then around 12:30 or 1am we eat again. This time it’s a proper dinner. The food is wonderful but my eating capabilities are somewhat diminished by then. I’m not allowed to go to bed until after dinner, though. In a lot of families they wake up around 4am for another meal called Sahour. They eat and eat until they hear the daybreak call to prayer which marks the beginning of the fasting day. My family doesn't do that though, hamdulilah.

I’m not fasting, but by default I don’t eat a whole lot during the day. I get so much food at night that I’m not hungry until about 3pm...and by then I know that I’m going to have Iftar in a couple hours so eating’s not such a good idea. I’ve been getting by on water and coffee until it’s time to break the fast.

Ramadan ends on Sunday or Monday. When it’s over there’s a big eid (a feast). I’m not sure how that’s going to be, but I’m looking forward to spending it with the family. I can’t say that I’m gonna miss Ramadan a whole lot. I’m really looking forward to being able to sit in a cafe for hours every day. As long as Latifa still makes Harira from time to time I think I’ll be ok with saying BISLAMA to Ramadan.

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