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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Moroccan Fun--with Colors!

That's me on the lead camel!

Moroccan Fun--with Colors!
By Victoria Challancin

I'm home!  After almost a month in Morocco, I am home again.   Dazzled anew by the warm and generous Moroccan people, replete with great food, agog over the richly varied topography, touched by kindnesses too many to mention, in awe over the architectural details and sheer imagination involved in the intertwining of art and design, entranced by the pure beauty of the country and its people, enchanted on so many levels I can barely process them, and awash in extravagant colors...I am home again.  Returned to my family and friends, richer in spirit, humbled by the generosity I encountered, profoundly touched and deeply happy.  Whew!  What a trip!

As many of you know, I lead small groups, cultural rather than culinary, to Morocco each year.  After completing my seventh such journey there as a group leader, I am more dazzled, more respectful, more captivated by the people and the culture of Morocco than ever.  Some of you have been rightly scolding me for not having reported to you sooner, but truly I am home again and ready to share.  Today it is the colors...the food and recipes will follow soon!

The Colors of Morocco:

Some Interesting Facts about Morocco:
When I first meet with my group, I try to sum up a few facts about Morocco that are crucial to any understanding of it as a place or a culture:  it is NOT the Middle East; it is essentially Berber rather than Arab (and I mean this in no was as a criticism of the Middle East, which is dear to my heart and my personal development, as most of you already know); it is vast and varied; couscous and tagines are not the same thing; and finally, couscous is not a grain, but is a pasta instead...with these in mind, here are a few more facts on Morocco.
  • Mint tea, often called "Berber whiskey," is the national drink of Morocco and is made with fresh mint and green tea; making proper mint tea in Morocco is considered an art form of which the people are justifiably proud
  • Moroccan food is spicy, but not particularly hot
  • Morocco uses many imported spices, but also grows its own saffron, oranges, lemons, mint, olives (and thus, olive oil) and dates
  • Moroccan food is a fusion of Arab, European (French and Spanish), and African influences
  • On Friday, most people/families eat couscous, the main Moroccan Berber dish which existed long before the arrival of the Arabs
  • Couscous is a pasta made from semolina--it is not a grain
  • The most common spices used in Moroccan cooking are:  cumin (kamoun), turmeric (kharkoum), ginger (skingbir), paprika (tahmira), anis seed, cinnamon (karfa), sesame seed, coriander (kasbourqesbouror  ),  parsley (maadnous), saffron (zaafrane), mint, and pepper (libzar)
  • The main meal is usually eaten at midday (except during Ramadan and some feast days)
  • Bread is eaten with every meal
  • Salads can be hot or cold, cooked or raw
  • Meals typically start with a series of hot and cold vegetable salads, followed by a tagine of lamb, chicken, or vegetables, followed by couscous topped with meats, vegetables, and a broth/sauce
  • At the end of a meal, mint tea is often served
  • Lamb is the most common meat consumed in Morocco
  • Chicken and turkey are also commonly eaten
  • Although sweets are common in Morocco (often served with tea), they are not necessarily served at the end of a meal;  seasonal fruits, especially orange slices with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sugar, however, are commonly served to finish a meal
  • Morocco's official name is "The Kingdom of Morocco"
  • In Arabic, Morocco's name is "Al-Mamlaka al Maghribiya," which translates as "The Western Kingdom"  ("al Maghreb" means "the West")
  • The term "Berber" can be pejorative, depending on how it is used; most Berbers prefer to be called "Amazigh"
  • Kissing on the cheek is a common way of greeting among Moroccans; the closer your relationship, the more kisses
  • Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as an independent country
  • Morocco has about 32 million people and is around the size of Canada or slightly smaller that the state of California
  • Although Morocco is an Islamic country, it follows the Gregorian calendar where Saturday and Sunday are the weekend, but uses the Muslim calendar for religious purposes
  • 99% of the population of Morocco is Muslim, with Christian and Jews making up the rest
  • Morocco is the second largest producers of roses in the world
  • The oldest continuously functioning university in the world is the University of Al-Karourine in Fès, which was established in 859 A.D by a woman
  • Morocco gained independence from France in 1956
  • The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans all had a presence in Morocco and there are even many stone circles which dot the country and prove there was contact with the megalithic cultures of Europe
  • Rabat is the capital of Morocco, though Casablanca is its largest city
  • Morocco is a monarchy with a parliament and an independent judiciary (i.e. a constitutional monarchy)
  • Morocco, the 12th richest country in Africa, is divided into 16 regions made up of 62 provinces
  • Morocco is the only African country in Africa which does not belong to the African Union
  • Morocco is a member, however, of the Arab League
  • Morocco is also a major non-NATO ally of the United States
  • Morocco has four ancient imperial cities:  Marrakech, Fès, Meknés, and Rabat
  • Although nearly all Moroccans are Arab or Berber, Arabic is the official language (though many speak Berber)
  • The Moroccan Berber language consists of three main Amazigh dialects, Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight
  • Spanish is also spoken widely in the north of the country
  • The Arabs brought Islam, along with the Arabic language and elements of culture to the Maghreb during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century
  • French is also widely spoken
  • The official language may be classical Arabic, but Morocco has a distinctive dialect of its own, called Derija
  • The trade routes that criss-crossed Morocco dealt principally in salt, gold, slaves, ostrich feathers, precious wood, spices and more
  • 99% of the Muslims in Morocco are Sunni
  • Berbers are identified mainly by language, but also by customs and culture
  • In Morocco, about 40% acknowledge a Berber identity, though many more have mixed Arab-Berber ancestry
Parting Shot:
That's still me...on the lead camel, taking the photo

Please do not use photos or text without permission.  Thanks!


Nancy said...

Wow, what gorgeous photographs Victoria. Yours words are so tempting that I might join you some day -- that would be too cool!:) I love the few Moroccan dishes I've eaten and always love learning more about their cuisine. I made my first tagine a few weeks ago and will be making it again soon.

Welcome back! Can't wait to see your recipes. Also thank you so much for all the sweet comments you left on my blog. Hugsxx said...

My eyes are still in awe of the colors and so happy oi have read this post. Welcome back.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What gorgeously colourful shots! And a very helpful list. I have never visited Morocco so it really helped me get an understanding of it and what to expect :)

Eha said...

Oh my, Victoria! Welcome back first of all and thank you SO much for this brilliant summary :) ! So many facts I did not know! And visually all those brilliant colours! I have always wanted to visit the country but so far it has not come to pass: cannot imagine a more wonderful teacher than you!! And a delighted laugh arose within me looking at that photo of you and 'the troops' in the desert. Methinks you'll allow me to share :D !

Victoria Challancin said...

Dear Eha, by all means do share! Many thanks to each of you. I dream that you will all join me one day!

Best, Victoria

Hotly Spiced said...

I love your images. You are right - there is so much colour. I'm glad you had a great time away. Looking forward to your upcoming posts xx

Joan Nova said...

Simply stunning! I know I spoke to you once about these trips. I'm sorry now I didn't follow up.

Victoria Challancin said...

Hopefully, Joan, there will be one next year at about the same time. I've done seven so far! Just let me know if you want me to keep you updated.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Fabulous photos! Welcome back from what must have been a wonderful trip. On a side note...I follow you by email but have not been receiving one when your new posts go out. I thought you were still traveling.