My own personal chef
Being invited to dinner at a renowned chef’s home in Marrakech is not something many tourists can say they’ve experienced, so when an invitation came my way, I jumped at the opportunity. I had been in Morocco for over a month and was starting to feel like a local. Along with a lovely couple I had met during my previous visit to Marrakech, we would be treated to authentic home-cooked Moroccan faire. You’d be crazy to decline such an invitation, especially in Morocco.
Deciding that I would take with me a gift of wine along with a selection of Moroccan sweets, I made my way to the local patisserie which was situated around the corner from home in the Ville Nouvelle.
I think we’re playing charades …
Upon entering the store I did a quick lap around the floor to check out the display. I was surrounded by 4 walls – floor-to-ceiling – of ‘sugar heaven’.
‘Je ne parle pas français’ was the first thing to fall out of my mouth. I had perfected it in France months earlier. I can say ‘I do not speak French’ in perfect French. Such talent!
‘Je suis australien, parlez vous anglais?’ I continued.
The store keeper responded with ‘non, je parle français’
For the next 20 minutes, there was a lot of pointing at sweets, hand gestures, the occasional ‘oui’ or ‘non’, smiling (me), possible internal laughter (her) and writing numbers on scraps of paper when it was time to pay.
The apartment I was staying in did not have a refrigerator, so I didn’t want to take the sweets with me. I pointed to my watch and asked ‘ferme’?, to which she used her 6 fingers to indicate 6pm. I motioned that I would come back then. I think we were playing charades. In any case, we seemed to understand each other.
I paid for my order, planning to return with my wine purchase and made my way to a liquor shop I had noticed hiding between the local supermarket entrance and a residential building several blocks away.
I need a drink …
When I walked into what I perceived to be paradise, I immediately spotted the vin rouge tucked away along the back wall. I hadn’t been inside a liquor store in Morocco before so this was a unique experience for me, yet the surrounds looked familiar as I was a frequent visitor in Australia.
I became very conscious of a guy who had walked in immediately after me. He didn’t look like he was there to buy. Rather, he just stood leaning against the counter, motionless, watching me.
Perhaps I was a novelty? A woman in a liquor store would be unheard of in Morocco, I would imagine. He might’ve even experienced heart palpitations when he saw me approaching
him the counter with 2 bottles of Domaine de Sahari. I’m not a wine connoisseur but I had enjoyed this particular wine on previous occasions so had decided I’d get one for my host and one for me (for later).
I placed both bottles on the counter. He was not budging. He stood there boring holes into me, while I was trying extremely hard not to make eye contact. I felt nervous but not threatened.
‘What is the protocol here’, I was wondering.
‘Was I in trouble or was he just trying to engage with me’?
My thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the attendant behind the counter – he said something in French, to which I replied ‘je ne parle pas Francais, je suis Australien’ – I was in automatic mode now.
He then pulled out a corkscrew and picked up one of the bottles as if to open it. I quickly exclaimed ‘No No No … it’s for a friend – pour ami!’
Merci et Shukran et Bon journee
I don’t think he believed me. The expression on his face definitely didn’t believe me. The sneer that was fixed on his upper lip could not be buried under his thin moustache. I just wanted to pay him and leave. I repeated ‘pour ami’ and this time he responded with something in Darija (another language I don’t speak) and then proceeded to wrap both bottles in newspaper – separately – and place them in a plastic carry bag.
I paid the good man, gave him a ‘merci’ and a ‘Shukran’ then turned towards the exit. It felt like the walk of shame. I was well aware of the stares and judgements coming at me. I quickened my step and as I neared the door and was just about to cross the threshold, I turned to both of them, smiling, and said “Bon journee” and off I went. I imagine this little scene would’ve provided hours of entertainment for them after my departure, possibly even into the following week.
A single, white, western, female (I won’t say young as I’ve recently clocked 50) walking the streets of Marrakech with bottles of alcohol … clearly, “I’m asking for it”.
“Where is your husband?”
“Why you are not married?”
“It is not safe here for women like you, by yourself”
Amazingly (and unfortunately) I had heard it all.
It was nearing 6pm as I entered the patisserie. The shop keeper was waiting for me with my purchase already on the counter. I thanked her in Darija – Shukran – and wished her a ‘Bon journee’. I felt mentally and emotionally exhausted after the wine purchase and could’ve easily had a nap, but unfortunately didn’t have time as I needed to prepare myself for our soiree.
Back at the apartment, my plan for a pre-dinner drink is thwarted when I realised I didn’t have a corkscrew. Do I go back to the liquor store? How thirsty am I? How crazy am I? I’ll visit the supermarket tomorrow. Travelling can be hell sometimes.
A gift of wine – unwrapped
Walking out of the flat right on time with the sweets in one hand and a bottle of the vin rouge – unwrapped – in the other, I greeted Katherine and Dean at the building entrance on street level. Katherine looked mortified when she saw me coming out of the lift while Dean laughed – albeit a nervous laugh – and just said, ‘you cannot go outside with alcohol’. So we wrapped it in the shawl I had draped over my shoulders and put it in Katherine’s bag. Apparently there are people in Marrakech who would mug me for a bottle of wine. Or see me with it and assume I was a ‘lady of the night’. Apparently that’s all it takes. A bottle of wine. Who knew? My earlier experience in the liquor store was now making sense.
Pièce de résistance
The dinner itself was a magnificent treat – we started with a delectable prawn consommé. I would’ve been happy to have the entrée all night, but there was more to come. While we were all cooing over the delicate flavors in our bowls, our host began preparing the main course on the kitchen island before us – the seafood couscous. We all sat, perched high in our seats, watching as he effortlessly threw all the ingredients into the heated pan while the couscous was cooking in a Couscoussiere. In no time at all he was building, constructing, designing our individual plates. I was so transfixed by his show of ease in pulling it all together, that I wasn’t paying attention to what he was actually putting into the pan. Other than the obvious sea creatures and couscous in the photo I managed to take, I have no idea which herbs and/or spices were added. All I can say is that is was an incredible fusion of flavours. I won’t be waiting for an invitation next time … I know where he lives!
Our dessert was provided by Katherine – a homemade spiced apple teacake. A perfect finish to a perfect night.
© madame fishflower™ 2016