As proud as I am to be a US Citizen, I am also proud of my Moroccan origin and my cultural background.
I was born in the city of Casablanca. My father is from central Morocco while my mother is originally from the South. Anyone who is familiar with the Moroccan culture will understand the character and traditions contrast between people from the South of Morocco, and those from central or north of Morocco. They don’t really speak the same language even when they do!
Since a very young age, I was intrigued by the difference in the culture and traditions between my mother’s family and my father’s family.
My memories of my childhood at my grandparents’ house are beyond magical. My grandparents lived in a house that had four entrances, surrounded by acres of fruit trees, vines, and a vegetable garden. All that amplified my freedom to the infinity. There was no possible way of keeping me inside or outside the house, I almost always had my way! Only the darkness of those moonless nights kept me inside, and even on those nights, I went searching for lighting bugs when I was supposed to be in my bed.
The receiving room also called salon, which was the most respected and meticulously decorated room of the house, had wide French doors, that opened on a court. On the left, that’s where I sat in the shade of the grape-vine, ate the sweetest and most flavorful grapes I have ever had in my life. They were so delicious; I often challenged myself to keeping a mouth full of grapes for a few minutes before swallowing them. Many times I choked on them and was yelled at by my aunt Rkia:”stop stuffing your mouth with grapes, they will still be there tomorrow!”.
On the right, there was the jasmine vine. Someone – I have no memory of the person – taught me how to make necklaces from jasmine flowers. I have spent hours under that jasmine vine, making necklaces, rings, belts and everything I could possibly make. At the age of six, I remember introducing other materials and other plants and flowers, to make a live jewelry collection that I treasured, and was heartbroken the next day when the flowers faded. I remember starting over and over every day. I even learned to lay my jewelry in a bowl of water overnight, to extend the life of the flowers.
The smell of that jasmine vine was so invigorating, and enchanting like a spell. No matter how old I grew, or how far I lived, I always went back to that old house, sat under that vine, and made a jasmine necklace.
Another one of my favorite spots was the roof of the house. I remember walking up those steep and narrow white cement stairs, looking at the bright light filtering through the edges of that grayish rusty metal door. The sound of the lock when my aunt pushed it up and down with difficulty, and her words blaming that rusty old lock then telling me: “I don’t know why you love to go on the roof so much, there is nothing there but the burning sun”. My aunt had no idea what going on the roof meant to a child like me. Going up those stairs felt like climbing to a marvelous world. The blinding bright light coming from the roof once the door has opened was just magic; there is no other words of describing it. Do you remember the jasmine and the grape vines I talked about earlier? Well, they both meet on the roof! the grapes fall on the roof and so do the jasmine flowers. There was almost always a handful of raisins and dried jasmine flowers on the floor. I have spent hours on that roof sorting the raisins from the leaves and dried flowers. Those raisins were imbibed with a delicate jasmine smell. I held them in my tiny hands like a treasure, and smelled them over and over, thinking of what I could possibly make of them.
I have tried baking a cake with the raisins I picked from the roof. I also added them to the dough when someone was baking bread. I was allowed to drop a few raisins along with a few flowers in my grandfather’s teapot, and I even add some to the orange marmalade my grandmother used to make. ”it’s all good, God Bless my little girl, who will grow up to be a good woman with a fine taste”, my grandmother repeated every time she saw me absorbed, working on a food experiment in her kitchen.
Across from the house, there were fields of trees, lemon, mandarins, navel oranges, pomegranate, apples and fig trees. I spent countless hours under – sometimes on top of!- those trees, during the weekends or during my school breaks. I have eaten the fruits, fed the bugs, planted the seeds, made cosmetic products with the pulp and the juice, and even put eyes, noses and mouths on the fruits and played with them as if they were dolls! At the age of six, I was perfectly able the pick the sweetest fruits, and even make my own little deserts or salads. I knew pomegranates tasted good with mint and some orange flower water. Oranges tasted good when peeled, sliced round and sprinkled with cinnamon. Small apples tasted so yummy when cooked in a Tagine with beef or lamb.
This is how I grew to love good food, made with fresh ingredients. I created Moroccan Food Lovers, to share with you my upbringing, and my Moroccan traditional family recipes. I hope they bring you healthy eating habits and a lot of fun in your kitchen.