by Jennifer Kwon
RABAT, Morocco — Pastilla is one of the most beloved dishes in Morocco’s already renowned cuisine, but many Moroccans cannot afford to regularly eat the 16 inch diameter layered phyllo dough stuffed with meat, which can cost 450 dirhams (about 45 US dollars) in a country where minimum wage is $250 dollars a month.. That’s where Imane Allawi, 20, comes in — offering 3 inch diameter mini pastillas that she sells for just 8 dirhams each, less than one US dollar.
“Pastillas are very expensive because there is meat and so many spices. So not all Moroccans can afford them,” said Adnane Kiras, a regular customer of Allawi’s pastillas.
Situated in the alleyway off the bustling streets of the old Medina, or souk of Rabat, the capital, Allawi’s ten year old shop is crowded with children in the afternoon as they skip home from school, and adults in the evening as they finish up a long day at work. Every thirty minutes, Allawi fries a fresh batch of pre-made pastillas, which she carries to her storefront from her home kitchen every morning.
The small pastillas are the size of a child’s palm. A dish of pastilla usually takes at least three hours to make and requires more than 10 different spices, according to Brahim El Ataoui, a chef and waiter at the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat.
“People used to kill 24, 25 to 30 small pigeons to make one dish of pastilla,” explained El Ataoui. “It is more common to make it with chicken now, but even then you need one and a half chickens.”
The sweet taste of toasted almonds, cinnamon, sugar and honey starkly contrast the salty flavor of shredded chicken pieces soaked in local spices, including turmeric, cumin, and saffron, and herbs, including coriander, wrapped in many layers of crisp, fried dough, known as phyllo.
Even in the eyes of a professional chef like El Ataoui, pastillas correlate with wealth and “spending money.” The street pastillas of Allawi attempt to break this barrier and bring this luxury dish to the tables of Moroccans from all walks of life.