MOROCCAN MEALS AND CUSTOMS
Moroccans commonly awake to the nose-tickling aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Tiny cups of coffee may be served black, heavily sweetened, or delicately spiced depending on the home and the location. Breakfast is not an important meal; the important meal of the day is most often the midday meal. Usually more than one set of talented hands prepare the noon meal from the freshest ingredients available and everything from grinding spices in mortar and pestle (or, if fortunate, in an electric blender) to cutting meats, trimming and chopping vegetables, scaling fish and washing and preparing fruits – everything will be done in the four to five hours preceding that meal.
The main meal of the day may begin with three tiny glasses of sweet green tea; or, in the south, with a plate of fresh dates and a bowl of milk; or, in the countryside, with plain biscuits, honey, and smen. More cosmopolitan areas may begin a meal with rounds of drinks and platters of appetizers such as miniature meatballs or fish balls or tiny stuffed crisp pastries (braiwats). Moroccan salads, usually a mix of spiced and sometimes sweetened vegetables which have been cooked and served at room temperature, may be one of the many dishes or may introduce the meal much as Italian antipasti.
Dining is almost always communal, the meal arranged on platters in the center of the table with diners helping themselves. The food is always eaten with the first three fingers of the right hand. Only soups and sometimes couscous (traditionally served at the end of a banquet and as the main course only in family meals) may be eaten from spoons. Adept fingers form foods into small balls, dip them with a calculated swirl into the savory sauces, and pop them into waiting mouths. More often, bread is used to scoop up food and soak up fragrant juices and sauces.
Festive occasions are not the only time when hospitality and a great show of abundance is important. Heaped platters and full stomachs are always the goal. But even when the platters are whisked away, hungry mouths will take care of the leftovers: nothing is ever wasted. To a Moroccan the great show of abundance is a matter of deep pride and is essential for any feast and for any guests. It is not, however, the dictum of restaurants.
Meals are always preceded and ended with ceremonial hand washing. This may be done humbly and simply or with great elaborate gestures and appropriate gracious words accompanied by elegant towels and perfumed water. Just as commonly, the custom of tea drinking – a minimum of three tiny glasses – often also precedes and concludes important meals.
The importance of the one midday meal can be understood when one realizes the great prevalence of vendors, souks, tiny shops and restaurants offering drinks and snacks at any time of day. Seldom is any work done or business discussed without a customary drinking of tea and often the offering of snacks. Thus the Moroccan is not so concerned with food upon awakening, nor is the evening meal of great importance; there has been a hearty meal at noon and many tidbits and sips throughout the day.