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The Leaving Journal

Stand No. 1

MOROCCO | Tuesday, 7 January 2014 | Views [246]

At Stand No. 1 in the Jemaa el Fna food market, there is an old chef who is missing most of his front top teeth. I know this because I've been to Stand No. 1 almost every night for the past week, slipping discretely onto one of the black vinyl benches. The old man always flashes me a joyful, welcoming grin as I scoot closer, then slaps a steaming, porcelain bowl of Moroccan harina onto the steel table in front of me. I consider us old friends, though I don't know his name and we've never exchanged more than a few words.
The menu at Stand No. 1 is short and authentic: one can order a bowl of thick, vegetable soup (harina), a glass of "Moroccan whiskey" (mint tea) or a small bowl of flaky, glazed pastries. The soup is served with a ladle-like wooden spoon, a miniature version of the giant one resting in the silver pot where gallons of harina simmer over low coals. Green tea boils in a large, copper tea pot on a nearby flame, flanked by rows and rows of tall glasses brimming with dark green mint leaves, each topped with two rectangular slabs of glittering, white sugar. I catch another smile from my toothless friend and slurp down a bite from my wooden ladle.
I am surrounded on all sides by locals. The stand is mostly populated by well-dressed, middle-aged men eating alone. They down their soup quickly and purposefully before shouting a goodbye to the cooks and leaving a pile of silver coins next to their empty bowl. A five-person family to my left includes grandma, mom and dad, a little boy and an infant, unhappily wriggling in her stroller. The boy has blue glasses strapped to his head like goggles, magnifying his bright eyes. He is crawling on the shoulders of his father, who is singing to him softly in Arabic. The mother, immediately to my left, rolls her eyes and pulls out her iPhone to photograph them together. Directly across from me, a startlingly beautiful woman, not much older than me, is nursing her baby, her pale-pink head scarf flowing down over her shoulder and breast. She silently examines me with kind curiosity over her soup bowl. In return, I admire the dark mole on the left side of her chin and the thick, black lashes framing her brown eyes. She smiles. It is an odd sensation, to feel so at home and at peace surrounded by people so different from myself.
I slurp down the last of my soup and my empty bowl disappears as quickly as it came. I request a tea from my grinning friend through pointing and smiles. Moments later my chilled hands curl around the hot glass, breathing in the sickly sweet steam and watching the earthy green mint leaves wilt in the heat. It is too hot to drink and too tempting to resist, so I burn my tongue with the first, sugary sip. It's a childish thing to do, and it makes me gasp, then laugh.

Tags: food, food markets, hospitality, morocco

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