Friday, June 9, 2006

You Must Have the Couscous ...

It's Friday, and restaurants and homes countrywide are serving up plates of couscous ... a meal that in the collective unconscious of Moroccans is greater than the sum of its parts. If Morocco were a meal, it would be couscous. Now, I am not a huge couscous fan. Even in my meat-eating days, I found the appeal of couscous mindboggling; it is, after all, just steamed semolina grains topped with shanks of meat, chickpeas and root vegetables. The meat is invariably a cheap gnarled cut while the vegetables are cooked to the consistency of pap. Haute cuisine, it isn't. It is mush served on a bed of mush.

Travel anywhere in Morocco and you will be asked whether or not you have tried couscous. You will then be asked if you were not completely blown away with the overall quality of Moroccan cuisine. Regardless of your answer, you will be admonished to try the couscous, to try the tajine (the Miss Congeniality in this Mahgrebian Pillsbury Bake-off). Only the incredibly insensitive or crass visitor (like myself) will admit a distaste for either dish. Generally my comments are ignored, which confirms in my mind that no one is really interested in what I have to say, and that I am nothing but an opportunity to promote Morocco's touristic & culinary delights. Ooohh look, there's a tourist! Don't forget to mention the couscous! Wherever I go, I am admonished to return quickly because X's mother/wife/sister will make a "traditional" couscous. It matters little that I have said that I don't like it, or that I am a vegetarian - you must have the couscous.

I have only had one plate of couscous since I moved to Rabat last fall - it so happened that couscous à sept legumes (the vegetarian version) was the only item on the menu that I could, in good conscience, eat. Aside from dessert. I normally eschew this dish because it truly is not vegetarian: the couscous is steamed in meat broth. But I was with my mother and wanted to be a good little doobie while I was showing her the delights of Rabat so I essentially paid for the pleasure of pushing turnip and cabbage about my plate for 80 dirhams. It was tasteless. I should have listened to my gut and just ordered dessert.

Now it is easy for me to point a disparaging paw, because I cannot think of The Great Canadian Dish and therefore cannot open myself up to more than my usual amount of criticism. Although a few regional dishes come to mind, I am stymied to come up with one dish that encapsulates the Canadian identity or around which my homeland rallies in times of war, jubilation or Friday lunch. Does beer count?

I wonder if there is a secret underground of Moroccans who dislike couscous - I did manage to ferret out a few who admitted to disliking lamb - this after Morocco sacrificed some 6 million sheep at Eid el Kebir last winter (not that it stopped these few from slicing a fluffy throat or two). I'm sure they're out there but they'll never admit to it. It is a thought crime. Perhaps they don't even know that they don't like it, these closet couscous-haters. For truly, disliking couscous is tantamount to committing treason. Admitting it - out loud - is folly. Posting a blog about it - on Couscous Friday, of all days- will consign one (me) to the fires of hell. My father once said that he wouldn't mind going to hell because the company there would be infinitely preferable to that in heaven. I agree. I suspect that the food there is better too.

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