Monday, February 10, 2014
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day in Morocco. You hear loud praises for Moroccan main courses but not enough about the Moroccan breakfast. At home in Tangiers, we wake up gradually to the sound of the call to prayer, the barking dogs, the crowing roosters and the construction workers next door. Then, my husband makes a daily pilgrimage up the hill to a bakery that offers both traditional Moroccan and French baked goods and pastries.
This bakery is in Tanja El Balia along the main road known as “Route de Tanja el Balia.”” As you go up the hill from the new train station, you pass the taxi stands and look for the Branch office of Wafa Bank. The bakery is to the right of the Wafa Bank and set back from the street. It may be a little hard to find the first time but do persevere because it is worth the effort.
You have to get to the bakery early to buy the Moroccan specialties: Beghrir, melloui, rghaif, semolina harcha, barley harcha and many types of round white and dark breads. (These same specialties are served at teatime or as part of a light supper.) If you tip the ladies who work behind the counter, you’ll spare yourself the inevitable wait. The place is always packed. Judging from the license plates on the bakers’ cars, they were trained in Europe.
Every day, we have something different. We may eat French-style with croissants, petits pains au chocolat or a baguette with café au lait. The breads and the pastries are as good as, if not better than, the puff pastry creations I ate growing up in Paris. To make sure the coffee and milk are hot, Moroccans put the breakfast liquids in thermos bottles. Finding a thermos bottle locally that actually keeps liquids warm has been a challenge.
Some mornings, we may just have a traditional Moroccan breakfast of sweet mint tea, bread, olive oil and olives. Moroccan breakfasts vary by region and by socioeconomic level. For breakfast, my husband’s father used to have barley soup. Others may serve you Harira. This is the national soup consumed every evening during Ramadan to break the fast. Eggs are sometimes served for breakfast. If you need a jolt of calories, try eggs and Khlea (meat preserved in fat.) For me, khlea is an expensive acquired taste but my husband loves it. He told me that his mother used to make huge amounts of khlea and store it for the winter in big ceramic jugs.
A variety of spreads and cold drinks appear with a Moroccan breakfast: Honey, fresh cheese, butter, jams, amlou and the inevitable Laughing Cow processed cheese. In Tangiers, I serve fresh orange juice as well as olives and olive oil from a relative’s farm in Ouezzane. When I can find it, I serve fresh goat cheese or the local white cheese wrapped in palm fronds (fromage beldi). The fromage beldi is also available at the Tanjia el Balia bakery.
As a guest in a Moroccan home, you will get the works. Under the laws of Moroccan hospitality, the breakfast table has to be full of appetizing treats. For me, homemade harcha is one of the big treats of staying in a Moroccan home. The top is crisp from cooking in an iron skillet.
The best breakfast I have eaten outside a private home was at Dar Ziryab, a beautiful bed and breakfast at 2, rue Lalla Nezha in the new part of Fes (www.darziryab.com.) In addition to French and Moroccan breads and pastries, they made a delicious Moroccan version of French toast dusted with confectioners’ sugar. The copious breakfast was served on tablecloths with traditional embroidery and with plates featuring Moroccan tiles (zellige). There were at least three kinds of jam, including a terrific marmalade.
With a Moroccan breakfast, you will not suffer hunger pangs for many hours. This is just as well because lunch in Tangiers is served Spanish-style in mid-afternoon.