You can tell a lot about a country by its cuisine

My time is drawing to an end in Morocco, with my final destination, the bustling town of Morocco. It’s a world away from the tranquil seaside town of Essaouira. Tall buildings, constructed of red brick, the color of the earth, crowd the streets forming a labyrinth of streets. Cars, new and modern, drive down the streets, always in a rush. Motorbikes, carrying two and sometimes three people, buzz along the shoulders of the road, and occasionally the sidewalks. They sputter smoke as they zip past with the hum of a swarm of bees. It is early evening, around 18:00. It’s hot and humid, the weight of a cloudy sky pressing down on me. I make my way to the main square, where the market is coming to life. 

 

I arrive at the square, the immense space stretching out in all directions. To my left, small stalls on wagons with pink awnings sell cakes the shape of an upturned salad bowl and three times the size of my head. The cake is a dark chocolate color and covered with crushed nuts, almonds I think. I order a piece. The vendor slices a square off, handing it to me. I taste chocolate, rich and sweet, but the cake itself is dry, like the sands of the desert I just left. It barely sits on my tongue before dissolving. I need some water to wash it down.

To my right, children play a game fishing poles. They form a circle around a series of bottles on the ground, attempting to loop the lines of their fishing poles around the tops. They laugh, they jump with excitement, and they smile. The crowds urge them on with oohs and aahs as a bottle teeters before falling over closely avoiding the noose. 

Smoke drifts of the square bringing with it the tantalizing smell of barbecue. For many years I was a vegetarian. I never really missed meat, but the smell of a barbecue would always make my mouth water. I immediately give in. My mission now is to find the perfect spot to eat. I try the balconies overlooking the square. It’s a beautiful view. People move like ants, scurrying around below, a mosaic of colors, flitting from stall to stall following the call of the hawkers. The balconies, as beautiful as they are, don’t call me. Here, above the market, I feel like a tourist, watching the locals. It’s not how I like to travel. I want to plunge back into the chaos, back into the market.

I leave the balconies, and eventually find a section of the market that the locals eat at. Stall after stall of bench seats stretch out in front of me. Behind the tables, there are bowls of fragrant olives, and displays of meats and seafood: skewers of beef, lamb, chicken, fish, and vegetables. Calamari rings are piled beside slices of lush purple eggplant and bright red peppers. Finally, rows of prawns, succulent and pink, complete the scene. I take a seat, my mouth watering in anticipation.
 


The food is served tapas style. A constant stream of small dishes is brought to my table. First, it is salad: cucumber, egg, lettuce and chopped onion, tomato and cilantro. Tiny dishes of hot sauce clink down as the waiter leaves a basket of flat round bread, still warm and fresh. Next comes a plate of couscous topped with stewed carrot and turnip covered in a broth and served with fried eggplant and peppers. I dip my bread in the sauce and broth soaking both flavor and atmosphere.

More people sit beside, the table now crowded with both patrons and dishes. A waiter sweeps away some of the earlier portions before returning with barbecue skewers and tiny sausages that taste like smokey Slim Jims. I eat at least four of the sausages before devouring a tender chicken skewer that is cooked to perfection. I learn back, wiping sweat from my forehead as the waiter returns once again with more food. I rise to the challenge, accepting the plates of lightly fried fish and calamari. The fish is delicious. It peels easily from the bone and paired with the calamari and lime juice cleanses my palette from the sausages, which I already know I will regret tomorrow. Mea Culpa, I think to myself. I have done worse, and will surely do it again. 

By the time I finish my meal, the sun has long since set. The lights and colors of the market now cast the scene in a kaleidoscope of colors: reds, greens, and yellows. The waiter clears the table one final time before bringing me a glass of sweet mint tea. I sip it slowly thinking of my time in Morocco. I’ve been here for a few weeks and leave early tomorrow morning. During my time, I’ve grown very fond of this tea, this land, and its people. I often think that a country’s food reflects its culture. Never have I found this truer than Morocco. Just like the tea I now sip on my final night, Morocco is unique, honest, and unfiltered.  I take another sip, burning my tongue and puckering at the copious amount of sugar added. Yes, Morocco is very much like this tea, sometimes it's overly hot, but you have to take the sweet with the sour. Its real trick is to enjoy it in small, slow sips.