North African food


When I first arrived in Morocco in 1984, the Peace Corps nurse spoke to us about health issues. “You won’t need to worry about the food,” she said. “Believe me. You will eat well.”



She wasn’t kidding. In Morocco and Tunisia, we ate spectacularly. Bread and cheese and fish from the corner store were always fresh and delicious. Fruit and vegetables were always local and beautiful. Local places always had roasted kebabs and fresh bread. Tajine, and couscous, and salade mechouia, and brik, and chakchouka. Harira, the magnificently thick aromatic soup with which one breaks one’s Ramadan fast.



There was also the wacky stuff. I have written elsewhere of my adventures with kamounia, a dish which can be made with just about any organ meat (usually liver or kidneys, but which, one memorable day, came with a sheep testicle riding on top). Ojja, the delicious Tunisian dish with tomatoes and hot peppers and eggs and sheep’s brains. Osbene, the North African version of haggis: guts and vegetables, stuffed into guts, then baked.



(There are gray areas, of course. There is a Tunisian dish called meloukhia, prepared with meat and olive oil and dried powdered jute leaves. It ends up looking like chunks of sponge rubber marinated in motor oil. It smells like death. And some people love it.)



One day in 1986, a friend with US Embassy commissary privileges bought us a whole bunch of food – American food! packaged and boxed and canned! – and we had a feast.



And we were all sick for three days. Utterly miserable.



After several years of pure food, we’d eaten (in a single meal) huge doses of preservatives, and additives, and pesticides, and hormones, and chemicals.



Kids: you think foreigners eat strange things? Read the side of your Cap’n Crunch box sometime. The entire periodic table is in there.



And now I’ve gone and made myself hungry for guts and brains.




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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