By OLIVIA ALLEN
OCTOBER 6, 2014
RABAT, Morocco – It was the eve of Eid al-Adha, the annual Feast of Sacrifice celebrated by Muslims world-wide, and Hafeda Esselami was preparing to host family from around Rabat for the ritual sheep slaughter and subsequent feast. As part of the preparatory process, Esselami’s daughter had retrieved six loaves of khobz (traditional Moroccan bread) and placed them on the table in front of Esselami, who had pinched, sniffed, and tasted, realized these loaves were not hers, and panicked.
“For Moroccans, it is obligatory to eat khobz [for] breakfast, lunch, dinner. Moroccans always eat khobz,” said Souad Hajj, 17, a local student and native of Rabat. Hajj represents what Moroccans learn from childhood, when they are often scolded for not properly using the bread to load lamb or vegetable tajine into their mouths, and they watch their mothers sniff disdainfully at khobz not made in their own kitchens.
Khobz comes in a sturdy, round loaf, and is a staple created from simple ingredients. Its thick crust supports dripping pieces of meat or heaps of lentils, and Hajj demonstrates how a piece will be torn from the loaf and dipped in tajine (traditional Moroccan dishware). “The bourgeois eat with a fork,” Hajj said, “But Moroccans do not use the fork or knife.” Khobz is their cutlery.
A high proportion of the families that live in the old section of Rabat are like those of Hajj and Esselami and prefer the use of khobz over that of a fork or spoon. The medina, a traditional Moroccan maze of narrow, cobble-stone streets lined by stands selling fresh fruits and fish, is separated by a thick concrete wall from the rest of Rabat, and is home to approximately 35 community ovens in which families bake their khobz in traditional woodfired ovens known as “frrans.”
A “frran” is a dark, sooty room lit only by sunlight coming from the doorway; a cavernous cobblestone oven whose warmth causes sweat to spring forth on the forehead of the baker spooning goods in and out with a long paddle. Some of those who visit the frran every day, baking khobz for a couple of dirhams each, don’t have a modern oven at home. Others like Hafeda Laroussi do own a modern oven but visit the frran anyways. Laroussi says that despite the convenience of her home oven, there is nothing like the distinctive taste of khobz cooked in a frran.
Esselami, like Laroussi, chose to use a community frran rather than her home’s oven for the special occasion of Eid, though this is not her typical practice. Esselami’s daughter, Souad, explained that her mother’s disappointment over receiving the wrong khobz comes from the care taken in mixing the dough, pounding it into flat circles, letting it rise, and carrying it to the frran. The khobz returned to her was not what she had prepared, and the recipe of some unknown family could not be trusted.
For a Moroccan mother like Esselami, who yells “Eat, eat!” at her children during meals, the quality of what she feeds her children on Eid is a priority. Such a priority, in fact, that Esselami sent her daughter back out into the medina at 10 p.m., carting six loaves of the “wrong khobz” back to the frran in a quest for the “right” loaves.