Break of dawn in the Sbaa Rouadi Commune—less than fifteen minutes away from the bustling city life of Fes, Morocco. It is cold, dark outside, and
Fatna Aya is in her barren cement-walled kitchen, kneading dough for bread. This is Fatna at dawn every day; it is the rhythm and repetition of her rural life.
Prayer; dough; washing dishes from the previous day. Milking the cow; baking the bread; serving breakfast—mint tea and warm hobz.
Lunch is served with hobz.
Dinner is served with hobz.
Hobz is often used as a utensil when there are none; you can dip it in lubia and scoop the beans with ease.
Fatna can’t imagine her life without hobz. It is her ‘number one recipe.’
At 59, Fatna is as energetic as her teenage children. She has missing teeth and muscular arms and she laughs and burps all day. She is one of two wives in a family with seven kids.
When she was 10, Fatna’s mother taught her how to make bread. The recipe hasn’t changed for generations; it is flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and water.
After working the dough—mixing it, folding it, pounding it—she lets it sit and it rises, rises, and the yeast does its job.
The oven is outside, behind the grey house, hidden amongst bamboo. Fatna picks up bamboo from the ground that her husband cut, and she breaks it into half against her leg. Snap! Snap! She breaks it into small chunks. She feeds it to the oven. She fetches hay from the house; she forks the hay into the oven.
She walks back into the house to check on the dough.
She separates the dough into small pieces and flattens the dough into circular shapes, six in all. She pokes holes in the center. Fatna wraps the dough in several layers of cloth, carefully.
She walks back outside to the oven.
Fatna lights the hay, lets it burn, and feeds more hay into the fire, and it burns. Fatna dampens cloth and covers the fire; the oven steams. Fatna lays the dough on trays and feeds it to the smoky pit. Fatna covers the mouth of the oven with damp clothes.
The hobz bakes for five minutes.
It comes out crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside. It is soft, porous yet thick, bland.
Fatnahas passed down the tradition to her daughter, Sara, 18 years old.
Sara makes it the “exact same way, no changes.”