July 31, 2011
July 31, 2011
On Monday, the cannon will fire not once, but three times in Fez as the tiny sliver of moon is sighted to herald the start of Ramadan.The four weeks of Ramadan are observed by fasting during daylight hours and eschewing sexual intercourse and smoking. Exempt are pregnant or breastfeeding women, small children, those travelling and the sick and elderly.
The aim is to remind Muslims of their commitment to God and as a spiritual purification. I don’t hear any moans, and people seem pleased to take part and of course have great support from the entire community. It’s also the time to wear traditional clothes; the djellabas are beautifully embroidered and the pointy-toed babouches new and shiny.
Fez can be an interesting place to spend Ramadan. Throughout the medina, café tables are piled high with deep-fried sweet pretzels, samoosas and sausage-shaped rolls filled with almond-dotted sesame paste dripping with honey. There are large plastic buckets hanging above the displays which you can buy to take home your purchases. And when you’ve spent a day wishing you could eat something, a sugar rush from these sweetmeats is probably not what your body needs, but certainly what it craves.
Fez may be the spiritual capital of Morocco, but it’s also the home of b’stilla, an extremely thin pastry that makes strudel or phyllo pastry look positively leaden. There’s a large plastic bowl of mixture, and men are making the pastry. They take a fistful and roll it onto a griddle with the heel of the hand, as thin as can be. It takes but seconds to cook, and is then whipped off, added to the pile of sheets, and oiled with a pastry brush.
Housewives cram around the pastry cooks and haggle for sheets of the wafer-thin delicacy. They fashion sweetmeats from it, or make the famous b’stilla pies that contain pigeon meat and almonds and are dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon. It’s the taste of Fez — sweet yet savoury — and definitely worth trying. B’stilla is always available; it’s just that at this time of year it’s doubly valued.
Alcohol is forbidden during Ramadan; bottle stores close a few days beforehand, and stay closed for a few days after Eid. If you’re a foreigner and really desperate, you can show your passport to a retailer, or go to an upmarket hotel to drink at the bar. Of course, alcohol is forbidden anyway for Muslims, but somehow Morocco has a thriving wine industry and it’s common for people to drink alcohol — except during Ramadan.
Breaking the fast
The fast is broken each evening in homes and cafés across the country as soon as the sun sets. The iftar, or f’touh food differs little from place to place. There’s always harira soup, a delicious concoction of vegetable or lamb stock with tomato paste, chick peas, small pasta, lentils, rice, red pepper, fresh coriander and perhaps some lamb or chicken. It’s served with dates and some honey-drenched pastries, delicious pancake-type breads, some stuffed with egg and onion, bread, fruit or vegetable juice, hardboiled eggs with salt and cumin and afterwards, mint tea.
Later in the evening, between 10pm and midnight, supper is served. Here’s the meal that the women have spent their day preparing — in between watching Egyptian soaps — from b’stilla to couscous to tagines resplendent with the wide range of fresh vegetables available in the markets.
First published on The view from fez