“You want to eat something different?”
This is a thorny question that depends on who’s asking and why. Mustapha, who’d been driving us throughout Morocco, found out early that my wife and I were willing eaters. Maybe not willing so much as open to trying local food. To a point. We’re not Andrew Zimmern. In researching Moroccan food before the trip, I drew the line at sheep’s head in Marrakech.
“Like what?” The question was pregnant with doubt.
“What’s in it?” Again, hesitation. Crap, why can’t I just go with the flow? Carpe diem.
“You’ll find out.” This was not the answer I was hoping for.
We were in the Ziz Valley on the edge of the Erg Chebbi desert. Towns here are spread out among wind-blown sand dunes and palm trees. The entire area is famous for its Paleozoic and Mesozoic fossils. We had just completed an overnighter in the Sahara.
I said to my wife out of earshot, “It’s probably camel.” She nodded hesitantly, no less because even our local tour guide in Fes (Idriss) didn’t like the taste.
We had just finished visiting the mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif and the 17th-century ksar in Rissani. It was time for lunch.
Mustapha led us past restaurants along the main street and into an alley. “Rissani is known for its Berber pizza.”
Upon entering, he seemed to know the proprietor of La Baraka and introduced us. The dining room was hung with Arab carpets, the columns wrapped in Berber fabric. Some of the diners, probably guides, had on Tuareg robes and turbans.
We ordered a Moroccan salad and the ‘pizza’ (called medfouna or madfouna), which is more like a calzone but filled with minced beef, onion and aromatic spices. The yeasty crust was crispy and chewy, like a traditional pizza, a combination of semolina and regular flours. In all, a tasty meal.
“What did you think of the pizza?” asked Mustapha. We told him we enjoyed it. “It doesn’t have cheese and tomato sauce. I like it better,” he said.
Then it struck me that he wasn’t trying to be coy about the meat filling but was concerned we’d be disappointed with the lack of Italian flavors. We breathed a sigh of relief that “something different” wasn’t camel.