It’s been a busy festive season, per usual. Lots of meeting and greeting, to be followed real close by tons of eating, of course.
And the atmosphere and camaraderie of any festive season brings home one basic fact.
Nothing brings together people like food.
Its one of the great shared experiences we have, of bonding with one another, of creating that community feeling, of holding our own in a social context. Sitting down for a meal together is a uniquely human activity, one that defines our very humanness.
And while eating together is a wonderful expression of our humanity, preparing a meal together is an even more community fostering activity. Think of all the times you cooked together as a family. Think of the barbecues, the picnic cook outs, the campfire tales.
To our modern sensibilities, this defines a great Saturday evening. But for a large part of the world, this is part of daily custom and culture – getting together to make a meal and then consuming it, often sitting around and eating from the same plate.
Which reminds me of the communal bakeries in Morocco.
We were walking around the Quartier Habbous in Casablanca, when our guide Meryem suddenly stopped. “Would you like to taste some Moroccan cookies?’
Of course there can be just one answer to such a question. Meryem shepherded us down a quiet side street that was suddenly redolent with the tantalizing smell of freshly baked bread.
We entered a doorway and were confronted by a darkish room, which had a huge oven at one end and stacks of wood lined up neatly against the wall. Of the two young men working there, one was handling a large stick and prodding something around in the oven, while the other was examining some trays on the tables in front of the oven.
“So, this is the communal bakery for this area of the medina” said Meryem. “This is a age old custom that is still followed today. Not everyone has the means to bake bread, but every family makes their own dough and brings it here to the communal bakery every morning for baking. The early morning bread run is a common sight here,. You will see lots of children and women coming in the morning to drop off their dough and then coming to collect the baked bread. And in the afternoon, they send cookies, peanuts, even vegetables to be grilled”.
“OK, so since everyone in the neighborhood is sending their bread, how do the bakers know which dough belongs to which family?’’
“Well, they have a system of identification that is unique to each communal bakery. They make signs in the soft dough by pinching it or making indentations in it and each sign signifies a family. That’s how they know which loaf belongs to which family”.
In a small room next door, decorated with beautiful blue and green patterned tiles, the freshly baked cookies and biscuits of the afternoon batch are sending warm tendrils of sweet deliciousness our way. The bakers fill up a mixed bag of goodies and reluctantly accept a small payment in return.
As I walk out holding a warm bag of bliss, I reach in and grab a gazelle horn, so named due to the triangular shape of the pastry. I bite into its lusciousness and fall in love.
Because food, ultimately, is love.
Patisserie Bennis Habbous
2 Rue Fkih El Gabbas
Tel : 022 303025