Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fes: A Medieval View

Guidebooks will tell you that Fes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it is the world's largest intact medieval city. Founded in 808, Fes has survived sieges and seen migrations and growth. Now, it exists as a winding medina of 9,500 narrow streets where people live and work as they have for hundreds of years. Some say it's the food capital of Morocco, others praise the unique Fes carpets (similar to what Americans would expect from a Moroccan carpet), many claim it is the center of the best crafts (leather, zellij tilework, metalwork, textiles). Walking through, people call out to us, inviting us to visit their shops and peruse their wares. Bargaining is a must, though it's a bit hard, uncomfortable, for me to bargain someone down to 100 MAD (that's about $12) for a hand-woven scarf that took about 3 hours to make, or a carpet for $100 that took someone 3 months to make.

What does "medieval" mean, anyway? It's hard to imagine, so I would like to share with you some photos of Fes (through the eyes of me, the tourist), taken Nov. 2009.


Taxi ride

I had the chance to slow down and think on Friday. Tom usually brings my change of clothes to school so I can walk to work, but on Friday, he forgot. Grumbling about having to go home during work hours to change, I hopped a taxi and took the 20-minute drive home.

Not surprisingly, the taxi driver was listening to the radio. The taxis are our opportunity to hear traditional Moroccan music: Andalousian, Gnawan, etc. As I listened this day, I noticed the solo singer weaving around Arabic words, sustaining on a specific pitch after melismatic melodies. The taxi driver informed me that we were listening to the words of the Koran.

The Koran, a religious text, sung without extensive editing, part of this drivers' preferred listening. I meditated on this thought as I listened, wondering what was being said. Wondering how this fits into prayer or worship. And marveling that I am in a place with people so devout as to listen to the word of Allah on the radio.

I'm thankful to be here, where I can experience the positive and beautiful sides of Islam. (Not the biased, anti-terrorist perspective that surrounds me in the U.S.)


Monday, January 18, 2010

Life so Far

Hi! My colleague and friend compiled photos and videos of our first few months at Casablanca American School, and in Morocco. Thought you would enjoy.

Ever hear what a camel sounds like?

Check out that cud-chewing!

Calls to Prayer

Five times a day, we hear the call to prayer (including every morning at sunrise). Depending on the person, it can sound beautiful. One of our favorite times was standing on a rooftop, hearing the prayers echoing between 8 different minarets in the medina.

Enjoy the video. The first calls are at the biggest mosque in Morocco. The second are as we walked through the medina in Marrakech.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What, you no like drive inside?

Had to share some friends' experience. The same weekend we were in Marrakech, Jim and LuAnn (who teach with us at the school) were also there. To get to their riad (accommodations) in the medina (old city), they had to drive their rental car through!

In the words of Jim:
"You No Like Drive Inside? These were the loaded words posed by a scooter driver that was apparently challenging Jim's driving prowess and American know-how.For reasons of personal and national pride, Jim responded by a hell yes, "I drive inside". We actually made it to our destination without any real crisis, just some anxiety and a lot of nervous laughter. Moroccan life is quite an experience - uplifting and sometimes over the top, but we are loving it."

Enjoy a sample of Morocco. :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Chicken Bastela

I spent New Year's day with Fatima, preparing the traditional Moroccan Chicken Bastela. (MORE traditional would be Pigeon Bastela, which I have eaten.) This dish is sweet and savory, and gave me newfound appreciation for the work Moroccan women put into their cuisine! (In America, it would be much easier to prepare because of the ingredients we have in the grocery stores). I couldn't resist writing this recipe in the "Moroccan" style to paint a picture of the amount of work it takes, and to share a little of Moroccan life with you. Fatima and I started by going to the market at about 9:00 am. We finished the Bastela four hours later...

Two things surprised me the most. First, we purchased our filo dough (feuille pour pastilla) from a man making each layer by hand in the market. We stood and waited while he made each fine layer, and payed a tiny amount of money for the whole thing. I was also amazed by how we made the almonds. I'm used to purchasing the almonds as I like and dumping them in the recipe. Not so... as you'll read.

I hope you enjoy reading the recipe as I do, and I do hope you try to prepare this dish. It's delightful, and shouldn't take you as long as it took us.

Chicken or Pigeon Bastela (or Pastilla)
As taught by Fatima, January 1, 2010

4 onions, minced or grated
1 small chicken (2 kilos) or a pigeon
1 bunch parsley, minced
2 or more cups of almonds (blanched, if possible)
2 cups yellow raisins
3 eggs
1/3 kilo feuille or filo dough
2 generous pinches of saffron
3 T cinnamon (or to taste)
2/3 cup sugar (or to taste)
½ cup butter
Powdered sugar and cinnamon for garnish

Moroccan Process
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (392 degrees F)

Visit the market, purchasing a live chicken to be killed and plucked. While the chicken is getting plucked, visit the feuille (filo) man and wait while he makes 11 thin layers of the stuff by hand. Pay only 10 dirhams for the feuille.

Cut the chicken into six pieces, soak in salt to clean. Rinse, soak again.
Add chicken, ½ onion (not sliced), and water in a saucepan. Boil until chicken is fully cooked.

In the meantime, wash and boil the almonds for a few minutes. Rinse, drain, and remove the brown skins from each almond.

Mince the rest of the onions.

Drain chicken, reserving the broth. Simmer the broth, some water, ½ tsp salt, and all of the minced onions. Keep covered.

Pull the meat of the chicken bones. Throw away the ½ onion it was boiled with.

Sort through the raisins, removing hard bits. Drain and scrub the raisins with water.

Fry the almonds in hot oil, stirring frequently until browned. Move the almonds to a plate to cool and drip (save the oil in the pan for later).

Put the almonds between two flexible cutting boards (or two towels) and pound with a hammer until crushed.

When the onions are very tender, add chicken and turn the heat up to medium. Keep uncovered from now on so the excess water evaporates. This mixture should be dry by the end.

Soak saffron in a little hot water. Once the water is saturated with color, add the water to chicken. Soak same saffron in more hot water, and repeat.

Add raisins, leftover frying oil (from almonds), cinnamon, sugar, crushed almonds, and minced parsley to chicken. Keep the chicken mixture at low to medium heat. By this time the mixture should be dry.

Wash the eggs. Scramble the eggs in a bowl and stir into the chicken mixture. Cover for 1 minute and stir some more. Bring to medium heat.

Melt butter (in Arabic: zubdah) and pour onto cookie sheet, spreading all over.

Put a layer of feuille overlapping each edge of the cookie sheet (the layers should overlap in the center). Layer three pieces of feuille in the center, with butter in between.

Add the chicken mixture to the top of the feuille and spread in a large circle almost to the edge of the cookie sheets (there should be plenty of feuille over the sides).
Fold each side over the chicken, adding butter to each fold. Add one more feuille over the top, tucking underneath the roll. Spread remaining butter on the top.

Cook for about 30 minutes, or until browned and fragrant.

Garnish with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

American Version
Buy deboned chicken breasts and drumsticks
Buy pre-made filo dough
Buy blanched and diced almonds (might still need to fry for flavor)
Buy clean raisins, eggs, and almonds that don’t need washing