Morocco World News made a trip to Souissi in Rabat to share a hearty meal of biryani with Pakistan’s Ambassador to Morocco, Hamid Asghar Khan.
Rabat – When you think of a classic Moroccan meal, couscous instantly comes to mind. The protein-packed grain is undeniably the most famous dish in the Maghreb and you can get it pretty much anywhere. Perfect with sweet or savory stews, couscous is a Moroccan staple.
Couscous, while essential throughout North Africa, does not hold this significance in the rest of the world. It is certainly not the most important food crop of the developing world and the staple food of more than half of the world’s population.
Rather, this essential grain is rice.
More than 3.5 billion people depend on rice for nearly a quarter of their daily calories. The average American consumes almost 12 kilograms of rice each year, and rice consumption exceeds 100 kilograms per capita annually in many Asian countries.
Rice, however, is relatively absent from Moroccan dinner tables and marketplaces.
Hamid Asghar Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Morocco, wants to change this.
Food as a vehicle for cross-cultural exchange
In partnership with Pakistan’s Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI), Khan organized the biryani festival on Wednesday, December 4 in order to introduce several variants of the rice-based Pakistani dish to his Moroccan guests.
The event in Souissi, a suburb of Rabat, served to strengthen cultural, social, and economic ties between Morocco and Pakistan.
“Pakistan is one of the major rice-cultivating nations on earth,” Khan stated in his welcoming speech. This is no exaggeration—Pakistan exported $2 billion worth of rice in 2018 alone.
“We thought that it would be interesting to try and further introduce rice to the Moroccan market and to our Moroccan friends and hosts,” Khan continued, noting an increasing demand for rice in Morocco.
In addition to forging ties between Pakistani and Moroccan business owners, the goal of the festival was “to introduce Pakistani rice [to Morocco] and [demonstrate] the various ways we can cook it and eat it,” Khan explained.
“This is an occasion to celebrate the beautiful friendship with Pakistan and Morocco,” he concluded.
Read also: The Diplomacy of Couscous in the Maghreb
So, what’s biryani?
Simply put, biryani is a South Asian dish composed of meat, rice, and spices. Some versions also include egg or are vegetarian.
Biryani is typically prepared using basmati rice, a variety of long-grain aromatic rice grown in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.
The dish has numerous variations, and the ingredients tend to differ by region.
Biryani can be prepared using chicken, goat, beef, lamb, mutton, or seafood. The meat or fish is usually tenderized using a yogurt-based marinade before cooking.
The dish always requires saffron and fragrant herbs. Biryani spices vary but can include nutmeg, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, bay leaves, coriander, mint leaves, ginger, allspices, and star anise. Some versions contain dried fruits or roasted nuts.
There are three main cooking methods.
“Dum” involves placing the parboiled rice and raw marinated meat into a thick-bottomed pot, sealing the pot with dough to trap the steam, and cooking on low heat for hours.
“Kacchi” is similar to the “Dum” method, but the rice is raw rather than parboiled when it is layered and cooked with the raw meat.
With the “Pukka” method, the rice and meat are cooked separately, then combined and steamed.
While the exact origins of the dish are unknown, some historians trace its roots back to the 15th century.
Read also: 10 Most Delicious Moroccan Foods
Love at first bite
This event was not my first time having biryani, but I hadn’t yet experienced any Pakistani variations. I was delighted to try four kinds at the event: Chicken, mutton, vegetable, and seafood.
Naturally, it was all delicious. I must admit I’m a sucker for South Asian cuisine.
What surprised me was my preference for the mutton biryani over the other variations. I usually don’t like sheep meat—regardless of how old the animal was when it was slaughtered—but something about the mutton won me over. I’m sure this had something to do with the tasty white sauce that I doused this quarter of my plate with.
Something I really appreciated about the biryani was its delicate seasonings. Each biryani dish was perfectly appropriate for the occasion—not too heavy on the garlic, onions, or spice. Although I love a good kick to my food, no one wants a runny nose, sweaty upper lip, or watering eyes at a formal event.
After dinner had been served, Ambassador Khan kindly introduced me to Chef Gulzar Hussain, a celebrity chef in Pakistan.
Chef Gulzar had prepared the four types of biryani for the event, along with sweet coconut and pistachio rice pudding for dessert.
During our chat, Chef Gulzar described to me the cultural and social significance of biryani in Pakistan.
“If we have some event or party in our house, biryani must be there,” he explained. His statement reminded me of the significance of specific dishes such as tagines, b’stilla, and couscous at Moroccan social and familial gatherings.
Read also: Morocco’s Couscous and Pastilla Explained
The chef went on to express his wish to introduce biryani to the Moroccan people, especially given that Moroccans are starting to become more interested in rice dishes. While bread is often used to bulk up Moroccan meals, rice could serve a similar purpose if it’s readily available and priced appropriately.
While white rice is already available in most Moroccan hanouts (small grocery stores) and souks (open-air markets), the naturally aromatic long-grain basmati rice is rather uncommon. As someone who eats rice quite often, I would personally love to have more options at the marketplace. Given that South Asian cuisine is still up-and-coming in Morocco’s restaurant scene, it would be great if biryani lovers such as myself could access the necessary ingredients to make this dish at home.
Unfortunately, Ambassador Khan didn’t have any leads for me on a great Pakistani restaurant nearby. Until I can find one, I’ll have to persuade my husband to have a go at cooking this mouthwatering meal at home—here’s hoping he got a little inspiration from the amazing Chef Gulzar.
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