29 Mar 2015

A tribute to My Father - This month, 10 years without my dad!

When I visited my father in November of 2004 in Casablanca, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He was weak, very jaundice with skin and whites of eyes were yellow as well.  I was so shocked by his appearance that I started crying as I hugged him. I sat down next to him with my face buried in his shoulders as I cried my eyes out.  I could feel his weak hands, touching my hair, and rubbing my back, whispering to me out of the side of his mouth in the way he always did : “Please don't cry, I will be fine”.

At that stage of cancer, my dad was having severe pain and no medicine would work on. He tried hydromorphone which stopped working, then was switched to oxycontin or oxycodone ..... I can't remember all the names of pain killers they put him on.  His doctor told us he had only three months to live, and prepare ourselves for the worst. The world stopped turning!

My dad was the most loving, generous and thoughtful man. I've been proud of him for my whole life, a real gentleman. I never heard him shouting, screaming or losing his temper. He was a man of few words and deep thoughts.  He would never talk about something only for the love of talk, but his words had to hit the point, otherwise he wouldn't say anything. Thank you mum for having great taste and choosing such a wonderful, loving and unique dad for your children and a good hard-working husband who would respect, love and treat you so well.

I love you dad but Allah loves you more, you worked hard for your family and your departure was and still is a great loss. You will always be remembered fondly.  May Allah grant you peaceful and eternal rest. Amine!

28 Mar 2015

Chocolate-Strawberry Cake - Happy Birthday Lovely Sabrina!

Finally, I put that cake in the box, ready to go! It took me two good hours to finish it. Such a torture to bake and smell a chocolate cake but not be allowed to touch it, it was meant for someone else's Birthday. The torture was getting worse when it came to finalise its decoration, and being a mad chocolaty myself, I let my imagination coming up with ways to fill this cake with a layer upon layer of chocolate and strawberry goodness. In total I sliced 4 layers, it was supposed to be a sky-high four-layered chocolate-strawberry cake, problem though, I ran out of chocolate icing, so I decided to stop at the 3rd layer.

The sponge cake is itself the same recipe I usually make known in Morocco as Meskouta or Kika (Liponja version with white eggs).  The only difference, I reduced the oil about 30%; knowing the cake will be massively iced. I love the texture of this cake because of the oil used as fat instead of butter, and for that reason it stays incredibly moist, tasty and soft even if in the fridge.

Happy birthday Sabrina!

16 Mar 2015

Pour avoir de beaux enfants donnez-leur du LAIT GUIGOZ / Halwat L' Ghoraf” or “ Halwat Guigoz / حلوة الغراف

I'm beginning to believe that I was born in the right place and on the right time, because I would have starved if I was born any earlier when sweets and cookies were a luxury! Blogging about food brings a lot of my childhood memories, and this post is one of them. My children always ask me what is in a dessert I am about to serve, but they never ask me how it got its name and frankly they don't care as long as it tastes good.  The origins of cookies/sweets in Kingdom of Morocco are as interesting as the sweets themselves, and this is one special 60s/80s cookies, which deserves food blog attention.

I learned to make these cookies, called in Morocco “Halwat L'Ghoraf” or “ Halwat Guigoz” =حلوة الغراف , from my mum and my older sister.  I remember these cookies made regular appearances on our table throughout the whole year, and from the 60s to 80s, Halwat L'Ghoraf seemed to be the big thing!  What kids and teenagers would like to have, if asked for a snack? Of course Halwat L' Ghoraf, yes, I speak from experience.  When served on a plate with Moroccan tea, these could be decadent and addictive, I mean, I could have inhaled the whole plate by myself. I unabashedly adored Halwat L'Ghoraf, it has a great mild sweet flavour and crunchy texture, the perfect consistency with a little bit caramely outside due to the icing sugar sprinkled on top. Two decades later, sadly, these cookies would disappear from Moroccan tables, and I truly missed them, sigh!

These cookies were actually an invention originating in Casablanca and then spread all over the Kingdom. The cookies got their name from the fact that they were fried in an infant milk tin box, which were very popular in Morocco in 60s, under the name of Guigoz, a brand launched in France after 1st world war about 1921, in order to decrease the malnutrition problems among newborn babies.  I remember these milk tin boxes were in every household, and were reused to make Halwat L'Ghoraf. Why Guigoz tin? simply because the tin was taller and thinner than the other types of infant milk tins available in the market at that time, the tin was the perfect size to make these cookies. Guigoz packaging had changed over the years, and the tall thin boxes were replaced by larger ones, and gradually our old Guigoz tin box will disappear, as well as Halwat L'Ghoraf.

The Guigoz tin could have been replaced by other types of moulds to make these cookies, but in the 90s, baked sophisticated almond cookies became more fashionable, and sadly Halwat L'Ghoraf was looked as old-fashioned cheap cookie, a simple dough fried in oil and coated with icing sugar, Grrr! Some snobbish cook would call them "diabetes and heart-attack on a plate", and they would demonize them because they were fried.  I didn't care, I never wanted to eat a healthy dessert anyway, I just loved my mum's sweets and wished badly old Guigos' milk tin came back.

Yes, finally Halwat L'Ghoraf is back, at least on my table!  I recently bought on eBay an antique Guigoz milk tin dating back to the 60s, and here I am once again, reconciled with my lovely childhood cookies, and nothing will stop me making them, nor police food, nor snobbish diet cooks, nor even Guigoz's Processing and Packaging Department ...

20 Feb 2015

Fkas Mal7 or 9at3a ( قطعة / فقاس مالح ) Moroccan Colourful Crackers /Moroccan Version of Indian Punjabi Mathri!!

It's time to nominate a better name for these Moroccan savoury cookies, I'm happy to call them “Moroccan colourful crackers" or "Moroccan version of Indian Punjabi Pathri".  The word FKAS pronouced as /FKKAːSS/ and here the letter "K" stands for the Arabic letter "ق" which is non-existent in English alphabet . The word “FKAS“ means, in Moroccan darija, “annoying or irritating", and my mum told me "FKAS" got its name due to the fact that it's notoriously time-consuming, difficult to make, to be baked twice, to be allowed to rest for over 24 hours, then cut thinly into diagonal slices with high precision to get the right thickness of fkas biscuit, and this has always been the old technique used to make either sweet or savoury version of fkas.

There are two sizes of fkas, and the one you can see on the picture is the mini-savoury version, known in Morocco as fkas mal7 فقاس مالح. They are little tiny dry, hard and twice-baked crackers, delicious and truly addictive. Fkas is largely appreciated in Morocco that every city developed its own flavored version, and no need to mention there are hundreds of ways and ingredients used to make these bites. I have already shared the pictures of Fkas Mlawaz, the popular sweet version (almond version), but this one is different, since it's made with spices, herbs and vegetables.  The orange one, you see on the picture, is made of carrots, lemon and tomato juice, garlic, onion, tomato paste, red chilli, dried tomatoes, black olives, curcuma, cumin seeds and other spices.  As for the green one, it is made of mallow, green olives, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, onion, green chilli, parsley, coriander, fresh thyme, cumin seeds and spices.

In general, Moroccans like to have these tiny crackers with tea, coffee or simply as a snack, while non-muslim Moroccans like to have them with wine, calling them "9at3a" = قطعة  (the number 9 stands for letter ق and number 3 stands for letter ع).  Either way you choose, these tiny crackers still taste hearty delicious, having that Moroccan wildly unique flavour, and just to make our diet worse, they are so crispy, and have the perfect size for a quick snack, inviting you to eat the entire batch by yourself.

Once made in bulk, you can store them in an air tight container and enjoy them for the next few weeks, if only they last! You can make your life easier by cutting them after the first baking step, then freeze them.  When needed, just bake them to finish the second baking step, and enjoy.

5 Feb 2015

In memory of my mum! Khbiza O Zbida! Bread and Butter Sandwich!

That was my favourite childhood sandwich, known in Morocco as “Khbiza O Zbida” = {Khbiza means Bread and Zbida means traditional butter}. Nothing fancy, only bread and traditional butter, but I was always delighted when my mum got to make one for me. This sandwich goes only with one type of bread, the yeasty goodness of fresh, hot home-made bread. I liked mine to get nice and dark crust and the butter had to be oozing out.
I made it through geometry thanks to my mum's sandwich.  I have been good at math but I sucked when it came to spacial reasoning. I violently hated calculus and physics and I couldn't visualize any of the shapes because of my bad spacial reasoning. I dreaded angles, slopes, coordinates..... I thought they were aliens. It didn't help that my brother, who was three years older than me, who happened to have the same geometry teacher as me in high school, and he was genius in spacial reasoning, he was at the top of his class in geometry, algebra, physics ... , and his scores were (A*****).  Geometry teacher had always to comment on my poor scores whenever he handed them to me: “Ask your brother to help you, you're lucky to have such a brother". I would look at him, nodding my head and grinning sheepishly.

I remember my geometry class was always before my morning breaks which were at 10h. Since I refused to have my breakfast in the morning, my mum always made my favourite sandwich to eat at break time.  After geometry class, I was always hungry, grumpy and dizzy. Actually, I never knew if it was geometry or rather hypoplycemia that was causing me all the headache and the bad mood. Then at break time, nothing could made me feel better than my mum's sandwich, wrapped in foil aluminium paper. I would quickly pull my sandwich out of its paper, smell Zabda Baldiya, and knew instantly it was my mum's lovely sandwich “Khbiza o Zbida”. Thanks to mum I finally passed geometry, painfully slowly, and most importantly learned how to make the most delicious sandwich of my childhood. Thanks mum! 

1 Jan 2015

Moroccan Cookies / Cakes! Dwaz Atay / دواز أتاي

Moroccan Cookies / Cakes!
Dwaz Atay  /   دواز أتاي  

In Morocco, there are a variety of special cookies and biscuits, all are a wonderful luxury treat for any time!  Generally, these Moroccan cookies speak of home and are produced from natural ingredients, using no artificial colours or flavours and are served with hot fresh mint tea and this is why we call them in Morocco "Dwaz Atay"  which means = Cookies that are accompanied by tea. Serving Moroccan tea with rich cookies is widely used throughout the whole Kingdom, and it could be after a meal, or after school, or for an afternoon tea, or simply for the fact it is the weekend, or for any occasion, either special or a family reunion.

You've been warned, this is the show-off territory in Moroccan Cuisine! Though most of home-made Dwaz Atay recipes are simple, however they are meant to make friends, guests and family members "Wowed" as soon as they take their first bite! So we absolutely want to impress everyone who tastes them, and this is the reason why an authentic Moroccan recipe will focus on the combination of  "Great flavour Taste" with "Great-Looking"!

In fact there is no limit to the Moroccan pastry, very talented women use their imagination, baking  expertise and effort to come up with new shape, filling, flavour variations and new creations on daily basis to satisfy their family members or their customers.  If you live in Morocco, you'll see how new flavoured and shaped Dwaz Atay could be discovered daily, obviously made by women or Pastry Chefs who take pride in using only the freshest and best quality ingredients.  So many talented Dwaz Atay makers and such wonderful flavour combinations!

Some say that "Cookies or Desserts or Cakes" are not "good", and considered to be "unhealthy", but frankly, I do believe all cookies and cakes have something special about them which cheers us up and put a smile on our children's face, and this is quite enough for me to make these treats for my three lovely boys whenever I can.

Some Moroccan cookies (Especially Ghriba, Fekkas and Kaab el Ghazal (Cornes de gazelle), carry fond memories of a childhood weekends tea-time.  When my mother presented a plate of home-baked Dwaz Atay, we (my brothers and sisters) could stare at these goodies forever!  We would examine attentively those lovely cookies at length and at width to choose the biggest one! It was an agonizing choice, who would get the Big Top Ghriba or Corne de gazelle?  And I still  remember Summer days when Mum and I would amble around all the Souks in our local town Casablanca, and often the sun would force us to retreat and seek shelter in some of our favourite Pastry Shops (called, Mahlaba in Moroccan language or Pâtisserie in French), then, Mum would ask me to choose our snack, and my choice was always the same : Four Kaab Ghzal (Cornes de gazelle), two Ghribas Bahla, and two large glasses of Rayb or Raib, (a very popular yoghurt in Morocco), flavoured with mint.  Then, we would go to the basement where there was a small Café for customers to enjoy our goodies, and the fresh smells of Almond/Orange Dwaz Atay, rising from the kitchen bakery above us, were such a delight to the senses, allowing my mind and body to relax, taking me to my dream world of my favourite childhood characters : "One Thousand and One Nights" and "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves".  Oh my, those smells could bring anyone from the whole Casablanca neighbourhood!

Baking ingredients used in Dwaz Atay:

1-Baking powder = "Khmirat Lhalwa" = خميرة الحلوة
This is a raising agent which is a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar.  If my recipe mention "1 spoon baking powder", please scrape the excess off the top of the spoon with a knife.  You must always respect the quantity used in the recipe, and try to measure accurately the baking powder or you will get disappointing results.

2-Flour = Thin or Farina or "Dgig"= الطحين -  فرينة  - الدقيق
You can use any type of flour you wish: plain flour, white flour, wheat flour, hard unbleached flour all puprose etc...., however, in Moroccan sweets, white flour is widely used, known by the name "Force" which means "strong white flour".

3-Butter = الزبدة
I do not recommend using margarine in my recipes, if you decide to give them a try.  I always use Oudi (Moroccan butter) or REAL butter, and sometimes a mixture of both, since they give better flavour than margarine.  I use unsalted butter which I mostly prefer using when making Dwaz Atay, but it is all down to personal taste and preference.

If my recipe indicates using "soft butter", please make sure that the butter is kept at room temperature before starting making the cookies.  "Soft butter" does not mean "Melted butter", and if you use melted butter in some of my recipes that require soft butter, this might cause Dwaz Atay to spread too much during baking and lose their shape.

22 Nov 2014

Kingdom of Morocco, country of varied culture!

What you need to know before visiting Morocco!

                      Imazighen Flag           National Morocco Flag

1.What is Morocco and who are the Moroccans?

I do love my country for all its faults and virtues!  Lots of my blog readers sent me emails asking if Morocco is a perfect place for tourism?  I don't think there is such a place called "perfect country".  If you decide to travel abroad, the choice of the place will depend on your expectations, planning and goals. Are you an adventure traveller? or comfort-five-stars tourist? or are you looking for long sabbatical travel?  The most common questions I've received by e-mails or via private chat in Google or Facebook are:

1-One of my blog readers from Middle-East sent me an email (quoting him): "I always thought Morocco is an Arab country until I last visited small villages in the South and Atlas mountains and no one could understand my Arabic and nor could I understand their language, which I understood afterwards it was "Imazighen".  My question now to you, can we call Morocco an Arab country?
2-Is it safe to travel to Morocco?
3-Are Americans or non-Muslims a major target there?
4-Is it really safe to bring my "woman" with me for shopping or walking in the streets?
5-Should my "woman" wear a scarf or Hijab or skirt or Burka, or whatever? etc...

To answer the first question: NO, Majority of Moroccans are not Arabs though most of Moroccans are Muslims. It is estimated that more than 80% of Moroccans are ethnically Imazighens (by Imazighens we mean either Swassa (South)Ryaffa (North) and Zayanes (Atlas-Center of the country), Sahrawis - See more details below under Moroccan Population in this article).  However, before answering the other questions, I admit I was really surprised, to say the least, because this reminds me of the hysteria following September 11, 2001.  If you live in Deptford or Catford or Lewisham (England) or New York City or Los Angeles (USA), where the danger, I suppose, of being shot by a gun is much more higher than in any city in Morocco, so I'm sure you can travel to my country without a problem.  However; we all know that there is always a little risk that something by chance or bad luck could happen to us ANYWHERE in the world.  I think the most important thing to bear in mind when you decide to travel somewhere, is to show some respect to the culture, religion and traditions of the place you intend to visit. I myself, have never felt obliged to cover my face or wear a scarf or Hijab or gloves or Burka, when I decide to go outside in Morocco, and of course as in any country in the world, you should dress appropriately before you put your feet outside. And as a visitor, always, be sensitive about whom you photograph, it is considered polite to ask permission of people before you take their picture. Use your common sense, how would you feel if someone in your own country take a picture of you or your children without your permission?  

Most importantly, if you don't speak one of the local languages/dialects or if you are not sure about all the different places you want to visit, stick to your travel agent and ask him/her for advice to arrange special tours for you.  If you want to visit the South, make sure your travel agent speaks fluently Soussiya-Imazighen, if you intend to go to Atlas, your agent should be fluent in Zayanes-Imazighen, whereas; the North, it's of course Rifiya-Imazighen which is more spoken.  As for the main towns as Casablanca, Rabat, Fes etc..., it is more Darija-French Dialect which is predominant. So if you are French speaker, you'll have no problem to be understood; however, you still need an agent who speaks well Darija and classic Arabic since most driving signs and formal news are written or broadcasted in calssic Arabic. With the "Arabisation System" implemented in the 80s in public primary/secondary schools all over the country, majority of Moroccans don't speak fluently French as it was the case in the 60s, 70s and 80s. You will notice that people who are born between 50s and 80s, their French is more perfect and fluent in comparison with those born after the 80s. However, Moroccans who can afford to pay private schools, their children speak fluently several languages: French, English, classic Arabic, Imazighen and Darija.

2.Where is Morocco?

Kingdom of Morocco is located in the Northwest Coast of Africa, bordering both the shores of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. So many cultures live in this small Kingdom, and over 5 dialects/languages are spoken. Morocco is rich in its culture and historical background, and it has so many breathtaking sights and beautiful landscapes!  Hosting a big number of international visitors each year, and according to Morocco Tourism Report of 2010, more than 9 million tourists visited Morocco! Undoubtedly, Morocco is one of the most beautiful and worthwhile places to visit in Africa.  Holidaying in Morocco is not only having a nice and exotic trip, but also discovering a unique place, getting a full experience of its rich history, people, culture, languages, art, music, cuisine etc.., and especially its stunning nature, full of unusual landscapes; allowing you one day to ski on the snow-capped mountains in Ifran in the Middle Atlas region, and the other day to ride a camel in the colourful and unique sand dunes in the Sahara!

3-Official Name of the country : Kingdom of Morocco = المملكة المغربية

4-Capital City : Rabat = الرباط

5-Total Land Area 710,850 sq km

6-Currency : Moroccan Dirham (DH). Currency Converter-Click here to check currency-
1 AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham) = 2.4049 MAD (Moroccan Dirham)
1 SAR (Saudi Riyal) = 2.3537 MAD (Moroccan Dirham)
1 KWD (Kuwaiti Dinar) = 30.3470 MAD (Moroccan Dirham)
1 GBP (British Pound Sterling)  = 13.8197 MAD (Moroccan Dirham)
1 EUR (Euro) = 10.9962 MAD (Moroccan Dirham)
1 USD (US Dollar) = 8.8336 MAD (Moroccan Dirham)
1 CAD (Canadian Dollar) = 7.7347 MAD (Moroccan Dirham)

7-Religions: Sunni Islam = الاسلام السّني
There is a minority of Chiâa as well = الشّيعة, Judaism, Christianity, Hindu and Chinese religious practice. However, Islam is considered as the official religion of the Kingdom, and the King has the responsibility of ensuring "Respect for Islam as well as other Religions".   The constitution provides for the freedom to practice one's religion, although the government places some restrictions on this right in practice. Only Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hindu are tolerated in practice.

8-Independence : After 44 years of occupation, Morocco regained independence in 1956 from France, and then in 1975, Moroccan Sahara regained independence from Spain.  However, there are still two main towns under Spanish colonisation: Sebta and Mlilya in the North.

9-Languages spoken There are official, regional and local  languages:

9.1.-Imazighen Language : Since summer of 2011, and after several years of repeated acts of governmental suppression, Imazighen language has finally became official alongside Classical Arabic.  Imazighen is the predominant spoken language in Morocco, which exists in three (3) different  dialects:
a-Tachalhit or Chalha ( Soussiya) in the South
b-Tarifit or Rifiya in the North
c-Zayanes or Zayaniya in the Central Middle Atlas (Khenifra ).

9.2.-Moroccan Language or DarijaThis is the colloquial dialect, and most widely spoken by Moroccans  in general in everyday conversations, songs, movies, on informal occasions, etc....  Some people prefer to call this dialect "Moroccan-Arabic", which is confusing, because Darija is far from being Arabic, in fact our Darija is not understandable to Arab speakers, and this is simply due to the fact that it has had its large share of borrowing words and expressions from different communities represented by three different dialects of Imazighens (North, South and Atlas), Jews, Andaloussi, Sahrawis, Arabs, Spanish and French, thereby making Darija so difficult and even impossible to understand by Arabs.  Mauritania and Algeria are probably the only countries where our Darija can be understood.  If Arab countries have their own regional dialect though each country has developed its own idiosyncrasies, but generally speaking, Arabs from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, Quatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, etc..... can easily understand each other, because first they are all Arabs, thus their dialects are close to classical Arabic, which make their dialects share the same linguistic characteristics, though there are slight differences in the accents, expressions and words.

In spite of the different dialects in Morocco, you will be able to understand and make yourself understood if you speak standard Darija, except in some villages where Imazighen is the only language used to communicate. Due to differences in accents, words and pronunciation, Moroccan speakers can easily spot someone from another town, region or village, so the way people talk is based on what part of the Kingdom they live in.  There are marked dialectal differences according to the parts of the Kingdom, people do live.  These social and regional differences in accents, pronunciation and expressions can be summarized as follows:

 9.2.1-Bilingual/Urban Moroccan DialectIt is a mixture of French and Moroccan Dialect, widely used in big cities such as Casablanca and Rabat, especially in international companies, certain administrations, businesses, technical fields, Banks, some universities and schools, etc.....  This dialect is strictly used by bilingual speakers, so it is very common that Moroccans "code-switchingeasily and randomly from Moroccan-dialect to French language and vice versa, which could be very confusing for non-French speakers.  However; if you are francophone, you will at least understand half of the conversation, which is not bad! If you pay close attention to the conversations around you, you will notice how much certain french expressions are repeated frequently, example: "Voiture", "Bus", "ça va 3lik?", "D'accord", "Pas de problème", "Tout vas bien?", "Un de ces quatre", etc....." Sometimes, it could be the whole conversation in French, mixed with very few Moroccan dialect expressions! Strangely and sadly enough, speaking fluent French in Morocco has been associated to highly educated and privileged socially rank elite, so more fluent is your French, more respect you will get from people around you, assuming that you're a VIP!

9.2.2.- Rural Moroccan Dialect : A person, who speaks Urban Moroccan Dialect, and visits the Moroccan-Arab Regions as Abda (عَبْدَة), Dokkala (دُكّالَة ), Mzab (مْزابْ ), Ben Hmad (بْنْ حْمْدْ ), may have difficulty understanding the strong and local accent. It sound like Darija but with some differences in accent and expressions.

9.2.3.-Majority of Imazighens living in big cities are bilingualWhen they speak urban dialect, they do with such a beautiful special accent, which is more or less the same as the Marrakchis (people from Marrakesh).

9.2.4.-Moroccans living in the East, speak Moroccan-Dialect, which is slightly different from the West speakers, with strong influences from eastern expressions and accent, same as our neighbours in the East.

9.2.5.-The Fassis (Natives of Fes =الفاسييّن ) and the Northern Moroccan Arabic Dialect = الّلهجة الشّماليّة, which is quite distinguishable, with all its linguistic characteristics and a very special lovely accent.

9.3-Classical ArabicIt is the official as well as the religious language.  The Classical Arabic is taught in Mosque, Primary and Secondary Schools, Universities.  It is Morocco's official government language, used in media news, political shows, parliamentary services and government institutions.  

9.4-Hassaniya or Hassania = الحسنيّة  It is the language predominant in Western Sahara..  This is the dialect native to Mauritania, which has the characteristics of two (2) languages: Classical Arabic and Imazighen language, especially Soussiya.

9.5- French: Most Moroccans, living in big cities as Casablanca and Rabat, speak French fluently (but only those have been in private schools).  Since the 80s and due to the "Arabisation System", public schools have focused on classic Arabic than any foreign language. French is also the language that is taught from very early age on private primary schools and even at the nursery centers. French, both spoken and written, is also the language of businesses, administrations, international companies, banks and certain commerce /education institutions.  The higher your level of French is when you begin your job search, the higher your chances are of finding work quickly in big cities, and this is the reason why some parents decide to send their children to private schools though they are not affordable to everyone.  In Morocco, when the ad states a "Pefect Bilingual" applicant" has the "priority" or "preferred", this means the two languages : "Classical-Arabic and French Speakers", it's important to mention here that Darija and Imazighen are not included as languages when it comes to job search, which is sad because both Imazighen and Darija are the first languages of Moroccans yet they are not used at professional level, putting more pressure on Moroccans to learn foreign languages such as classic Arabic, French and English to find a suitable job.  Some employers would wait until the interview to ask their candidates if they speak Imazighen language, especially when it comes to hire sales representative for big companies or tourists agents for certain regions.

9.6-Spanish: It is largely a spoken language for many people, living in the North and Western Sahara.

9.7-English: It is still far behind in comparison with other spoken languages.  There are still very few people who can speak English.

20 Nov 2014

Ramadan in Kingdom of Morocco ! What is Ramadan and when is Ramadan?

I often receive emails from my blog readers asking if it is ok to visit Morocco during Ramadan and what this celebration exactly means, and how long it lasts etc..., so I have decided to write this article to talk about Ramadan in Morocco, hoping it will be helpful and answer all your questions..

Ramadan {R A M A T H A N} in classic Arabic and Ramdan {R A M D A N} in Moroccan Darija is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and the most sacred of the twelve months of the year. The month of Ramadan marks the anniversary of the revelation of the Quoran (also spelled as Coran or Koran) to the Prophet Mohammed in the Cave of Hira.  During Ramadan, all Muslims around the world abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours. It is One (1) Month Celebratory Holiday, but there are also deeper spiritual meanings tied to this month.  Ramadan is not all about "Food" and "Drink", but it is an occasion that marks the beginning of the Month, during which all Muslims reflect upon their actions over the past year, seek forgiveness for their transgressions, purify their soul, refocus on spiritual practice and help the poor and needy.

The Fast starts the 1st day of the month of Ramadan according to the Islamic calendar, and since the Gregorian date changes every year, so whatever date Ramadan starts, it is assumed that it will start about 10-12 days earlier the following year, and so on.  Three years ago, Ramadan started on August 2nd, 2011 (I remember well the date, since it was my son Nassim's Birthday), and in 2012, the First Day of Ramadan was around July 20th or 21st, then in 2013, it was around July 11th or 12th.  So, this year 2014, Ramadan is likely to start around the end of June or beginning of July. Unfortunately, Muslims have never agreed on one day to start the Fasting of Ramadan because of the differences between Chiâa and Sunniyine (الشيعيون-السنيون ), so don't be surprised if some countries start their fasting with Arabia Saudia and others with Iran and Syria, no doubt, there are some political issues behind all these.  Generally, in Morocco, the 1st day of fasting is based on the moon sighting as it is the case for many other Muslim countries; however, two different opinions are implied here: some believe Ramadan should start at one (1) single moon sight regardless of the place, whereas others insist that the moon should be sighted in each locality of the country. Sadly in Morocco, Muslims would split on this issue, and there is always a group of people called "Ikhwan Muslimine =إخوان مسلمون " who fast one day before the rest of Moroccan Muslims, and even celebrate Eid adha one day before.  Ironically, the religion that is supposed to strengthen the ties of families, relatives and friends has been reduced to a spiritual tool by a minority religious group, leading us to separated paths and formation of distinctive groups.

Who should fast and who shouldn't?

All  Muslims should fast one month per year except:

1-Children under 16: are definitively not obliged to fast but this is again very controversial between Chiâa and Suniyine, and between the Islamists and social-modern Muslims.  Quoran doesn't specify exactly the age when to start fasting, but as parents, we are responsible for our children's well-being and it goes without saying, a little of common sense should be used here, and NEVER force a child to fast. Forcing children to do Ramadan is an inhuman, irresponsible parenting act and just wrong.  During Ramadan, some Islamists-Extremists force their children to fast at the age of seven (7) years old, and they will proudly repeat in front of friends and family how "good Muslim" is their child, who already fasts the whole month at this very early age. I think we need to create sort of new jobs with the title "Ramadan Social Workers"!

However, I do believe it's good to allow the children to find out what Ramdan feels like, by letting them fast a few hours or even half day if they can and as long as fasting does not physically harm their health.  Ramadan should be a good childhood souvenir instead of a horrifying physical experience, and of course as the children mature, they will eventually embrace their parents' religious beliefs and understand the meaning of Ramadan, just like we all did!

2- Travellers: if you are travelling, it is permitted to break the fast, provided that you make up the missed day when you can.

3-Pregnant and breastfeeding women : should not fast, since this will definitively harm their babies.  Drinking and eating on different hours during the day is quite important and vital if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. What you eat and drink will help your baby to develop and grow healthy!  Of course, these women can make up the missed days when they can.

4-Menstruating women, women with postpartum bleeding, women going through menopause and suffer from SEVERE migraine : should not fast since blood loss frequently results in fatigue, severe headache, stomach ache, dizziness, vomiting, physical weakness and bad mood. Of course, you can make up the missed days when you feel better after.

5- Old people, mentally sick people and people with diabetes should not fast. In general, if you are suffering from any sickness and you have to take medicine several times during the day, and you know that fasting is making your sickness worse and no better, you shouldn't fast. Listen to your doctor and use your common sense.  Ramadan should be a happy and healthy celebration and not a torture.

Zakat الزكاة:

Ramadan is viewed as the Month of giving and generosity and all Muslims have the obligation to assess and pay their "Zakat" during Ramadan. Zakat is the arabic word for the acts that we call "Charity" as known in English language, and it refers to the obligation that all Muslims have to donate a certain proportion of their wealth each year.  However the act of  "Charity" is quite different from the obligation of Zakat in Islam.  If Charity suggests a magnanimous act by a small group of people who are very wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor or a certain institution, Zakat is rather a mandatory process, and not considered as a magnanimous act. It is obligatory upon all Muslims to give a certain percentage of their wealth and assets each year to the poor and needy.  Zakat is viewed as an act of justice, fairness in taxation, and a duty, so it's every Muslim's responsibility to find out exactly the amount of money he/she should donate at the end of Ramadan. Some Muslims use Zakat calculator or ask help from specialists to define the right amount for Zakat.

Food and preparation for Ramadan:

Even if Ramadan means fasting all day from dawn to sunset, this does not mean "Light Food or Less Cooking". Actually, in Morocco, there are so many traditional, rich and versatile dishes made specially for Ramadan and which differ widely from one region to another.  The main meal in Ramadan is called "FTOOR" in Darija  (known in Arabic as "IFTAR"), which means the end of fasting at sunset.  Ftoor is a happy, special occasion for all families to get-together around the table, listening to Quoran, or to Tarab Andaloussi (Moroccan Classic Music), or simply watching TV, chatting, sharing recipes, etc.....  Ftoor, an important meal which lasts for a good couple of hours, happens just after the sunset after Maghreb prayer, and this meal is served surrounded by all family members, and sometimes Ftoor is served on 3 or 4 tables especially during the four (4) weekends of this month, it is pretty much akin to Christmas Night!

During the few days before Ramadan arrives, everyone becomes excited especially children and mums: children because they know Ramadan means less hours at school, less exams, less homework and most importantly a lot of special and traditional treats on the table every single day for 30 days. It is almost like a party atmosphere every night for the happy children.  As for mums, they are responsible for a well stocked pantry and an essential list of ingredients to have on hand before the start of Ramadan, and the dads have to pay the bills, of course. If you go to the Souk or market few days before Ramadan, you can see mums shopping, hustling and bustling about preparing the most popular Ramadan treats in Morocco i.e. Chabakiya, the famous tressed cookies soaked in honey, Krachel, Hrira, Briwat, Mini-Bastilla, Salloo, Rziza, Mssamen, Malwi, Baghrir, Harsha etc... That's why, exactly one week before Ramadan, Morocco streets are transformed into Food Workshops and Iron Food Competition!

19 Nov 2014

Top Two (2) Feel-Home Food for Ramadan in Morocco: Sellou or Slilo, a Unique Unbaked Moroccan Sweet for Ramadan!

I always spend my two weeks before Ramadan baking up a storm, but this year is exceptional! I've received a few orders from my blog readers and friends, willing to buy my chabakia and sellou, and this has been the longest uninterrupted two weeks pre-Ramadan ever.  I spent most of my time between work and baking, a lot of baking, but guess what? I loved it, it was a pure delight to me!
This is Tquawt (also known as Sellou or Slilo or Sfouf or Zmitta), this is definitively top feel-home food for Ramadan in Morocco.  It has so many different names but each name refers to the same nut-based paste, known as energy paste or brown mixture.  This is a unique Moroccan speciality which is made of amazing mixture of almonds, sesame seeds and other spices and flavourings. Sellou is not only impressive to look at, it is a taste buds pleaser too!

Although Sellou might seem complicated to make, it is actually a very easy recipe if you have the right tools and ingredients required.  Most Sellou recipes contain two basic nuts (Almonds and Sesame Seeds), which are blended along with regional and traditional spices into a thick rich paste. Though Sellou is one of several traditional dessert treats, served at Weddings, Newborn Ceremonies and other special occasions, it is particularly consumed in Ramadan during Ftour or Iftar (the evening meal that breaks the day-long fast), as it is very nutritious and gives instant energy. Actually, this has made Sellou synonymous with Ramadan.

Traditionally, Sellou is considered as a natural dietary remedy, and is recommended for nursing mothers as it has been known to increase the milk supply. Moroccan nursing mothers consume this nutritious and fortifying paste for at least 30 days after childbirth, and it really helps to increase milk secretion.

11 Nov 2014

Top One (1) Feel-Home Food for Ramadan in Morocco! Chabakia B'Kawkaw, this year! Also called Mkharqua in Fes Region and Griwich in Agadir Region and others!

This year I've chosen peanuts over almonds to make Chabakiya, and I was not disappointed, it turned out delicious! I am sure all Moroccans will agree with me if I put Chabakia on top of all the food prepared during Ramadan in Morocco. 

Traditionally, Chabakia is prepared one week ahead before the start of Ramadan, stored preciously to last, hopefully, for the whole month. No doubt, pictures of these sweet cookies will be downloaded all over social networks by Moroccans who celebrate Ramadan, shaped in different forms, but "roses" remain the most popular and the most famous.

As we know, Chabakia is made to be served along with Hrira (Harira), its sweetness works perfectly well with the sour taste of this delicious soup.

Related Posts:

25 Sep 2014

عَقْدَةْ اللّوز/Homemade Almond Paste/Pâte d'Amandes!

Almonds are the most commonly used nuts in Morocco and where would Moroccan pastry be without them? The almonds, either whole or sliced or toasted or fried or ground with skin on, or blanched, are a staple in Moroccan dishes, as well as dessert pastes.

11 Sep 2014

European Macarons /Macarons Européens

The first time I tasted macaroons, I was in USA.  They are very delicious cookies, known as American coconut macaroon.  Then a few years ago, I went to France, it was my first trip to Paris.  Wowww, I still remember all those oh-la-la-so-French, exceptionally delicate almond meringue sandwich cookies in many Patisseries windows. I literally gasped when I saw those incredible macarons and I couldn't resist them! So creative, stunning and fashionable. Everything about them sounded perfect : the colour, taste, flavour, filling, etc ........

My attempt to make different flavours of French Macarons!

Last week, I prepared these macarons for my friend daughter first birthday . As you know, I made my first macarons two weeks ago, Orange Flavour Macarons RECIPE HERE; and looking at these pictures I am posting now, I am afraid to admit I might be hooked!

For recipe, I always use my usual recipe adapted from La cuisine de Mercotte, the Queen of French Macarons!..

Violet Macarons  / Macarons violets

Raspberry Macarons / Macarons à a framboise

Sesame Seeds Macarons /Macarons aux grains de sésame
Oh my! These macarons were sooooooooooo delicious!

French Heart-Shaped and Dark Macarons/Macarons Français Coeurs et Noirs For Mactweets Challenge!

I was planning to make these macarons for Mac Attack 3 last week, but I was hesitant for one reason: THE WEATHER.  Last week the weather was horrible; it was pouring and snowing outside, then I decided to start making my first batch of heart-shaped macarons.  I chose pink powder colour.  I never tried this shape before, it was a big challenge for me!  However, I was disappointed with the filling, because the butter cream I bought, as you may see in the picture, breaks.  It must be made with margarine instead of real butter.  This will teach me to make my own butter cream next time.

French, Saffron, Curcuma Macarons For Mac Attack 5!

First I would like to wish you all a very happy Mother's Day!  Many countries of the world celebrate their own Mother's Day at different times throughout the year.  In UK, it is today, March 14, 2010 : the Mothering Sunday Date.  UK holds the prestige of being the first country in the world to celebrate that very special day.

French Macarons Rings / Bagues Macarons Français for MacAttack!

I had specially made these Macarons for Mactweets February Challenge that Deeba of Passionate about baking and Jamie of Life's a feast are hosting. This month theme is "Valentine Special"  Macarons. 

Macarons are difficult by themselves, and if you are trying to make them into different shapes, this means one thing : your obsession with baking macarons is getting out of hand.  SEEK HELP!  These macarons were not easy to shape into rings, it was harder than shaping Heart Macarons.  For the filling I chose something very simple: our farourite fruits and white chocolate butter cream Here is the recipe .

As for macaron recipe, I always use my usual recipe adapted from La cuisine de Mercotte, the Queen of French Macarons!.
If you love macarons, please check it out!

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