Friday, June 09, 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.


Blogger knarf said...








And you say there are no Canadian delicacies?

8:36 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

No, I said that there wasn't one quintessential Canadian dish. I think beer is the closest. And besides, I think salt & vinegar chips would be a better choice.

7:31 p.m.  
Anonymous Myrtus said...

oh come on Cat, you must at least try MY couscous. It comes straight out of a box especially designed for lazyass cooks like me, which can be found on a shelf at your local grocery store . It only takes 10 minutes to make and it tates just like homemade. bleh (:

2:15 a.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Myrtus: do you overcoo your vegetables too????
You know, I don't mind couscous as a sidedish - with enough spices it's passable. But give me bamati rice any day of the week ...

1:54 p.m.  
Anonymous Cath said...

Your couscous rant makes me nostaligic for John Belushi's curry diatribe.

10:21 p.m.  
Anonymous Myrtus said...

No I personally like my vegies with a light crunch, I prefer stir-fry above all. Couscous was never my thing. The only kind I liked when I was a kid was plain couscous fluffed up with butter, sugar, cinnamon and crushed almonds. It was more of a snack than a main meal though.

Sometimes I make couscous salad in the summer. I marinade my favorite vegetables in an Italian vinigarette for a couple of hours, then mix it with instant's nice and easy and I like it. (:
I hardly ever eat meat, I grew up mostly on seafood, rice and vegetables.

10:40 p.m.  
Blogger ticklethepear said...

I hate couscous. Mohamed knows this so he only makes it when we have people over, and he makes an additional tajine for me.

He is such a couscous purist that he has to fluff the &%*$ grain exactly three times.

8:51 a.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

C in R:

Well, then, there's no quintessential Canadian dish, I guess. Beer's not a dish, it's a drink (yes, I know, so's Tim's coffee, but it was just humour).

I included ketchup flavoured chips, as I once heard they're only made and sold in Canada. Have you ever seen ketchup chips in the US? France? Spain? Morocco?

I rest my case.

One may obtain salt and vinegar chips in many other countries - well, I don't really know that, but I do know I've seen them in the US - so they aren't uniquely Canadian, nor are they quintessential.

Ketchup chips are Canada's contribution to the culinary world.

Such as it is.

11:59 a.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Knarf: I have never seen (nor looked for) ketchup flavoured chips outside of Canada. I was told by an ex-room mate (who was American) that salt & vinegar chips were a Canadian thang.

It seems very Canadian that there isn't a Canadian dish.

12:09 p.m.  
Blogger ByronB said...

We stayed in CousCous when we holidayed in Portugal.

12:39 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

C in R:

I must agree with you (audible gasp from the audience!).

The fact that we have no national dish (other than Neve Campbell) is so very Canadian...

1:38 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Neve Campbell? Is that the best you can come up with? I mean, she's cute ...

2:28 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Byron: is CousCous a place or the name of a hotel? Was it light & fluffy?

2:32 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

Well, I was thinking Pamela Anderson, but she's too slutty.

I don't know, who would you pick?

3:31 p.m.  
Blogger ByronB said...

Oh, wait - I think it was CaisCais. Easy mistake, all we did was lie in the sun and vegetate. Very smart seaside town, lots of pretty boats, miles of tiled streets and cafes offering vast selections of fishy dishes.

7:31 p.m.  
Blogger ByronB said...

What about soup? Didn't Bernard Braden spend hours and hours advertising soup on the tv?

7:33 p.m.  
Anonymous Liosliath said...

My husband won't eat couscous (seksu, as the Berbers call it). I don't either, and both of us have been known to refuse it vociferously.

2:38 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Liosliath: Have Men in Black been following your husband?

5:28 p.m.  
Anonymous Liosliath said...

I suspect that both of us are being watched, yes...perhaps by more than one agency! Ha ha

He also refuses to sit in any cafe for more than five minutes...isn't that weird?

2:08 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

He must have very good reasons ...

3:01 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

Maybe because the cafes are populated by pigs?

3:18 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

That's enough for me.

6:37 p.m.  
Blogger squindia said...

i love the couscous! homemade couscous is delicious, especially if the semolina is steamed on the pressure cooker in which the vegetables are being cooked. And the sauce is a bit spicy from the smen. Normally I also like my vegetables to be crispy but somehow the root veggies and the cabbage are delicious after being cooked to softness in the sauce. okay...I'll stop now.

11:28 a.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Squindia: you're in the land of real food. Go have a chapatti!

11:48 a.m.  
Anonymous Liosliath said...

Er, he also eats pig. Heathen.

7:59 p.m.  

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