Food

Large Portions in Morocco by Brea Persing

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I have always found it fascinating that Moroccan men would look at me and not think I could eat what I had asked for. Mind you, I was about 125 lbs at the time and I couldn’t consume any carbs and hadn’t been able to for a few years at that point. But, to be fair, they’re coming from a cultural background where one would eat a lot of bread with every meal, of which I could not partake in.

I found, through conversations with friends, that in Morocco they have a woman’s portion and a men’s portion in restaurants. When I found this out, I immediately would ask for the men’s portion. They would look at me like I was crazy.

There was one time in Chefchaouen where they didn’t give me a lot to eat, so I ordered two tajines because I was still very hungry after the first one. And it was really good and still my favorite tajine to date. It was a delicious, fall off the bone chicken tajine with a hint of tomato, cumin, saffron, cinnamon and black pepper. Normally it would come with potato and carrots in it, but I asked them for green beans instead of potatoes. I can still taste it as I write about it. So yummy!

Then, on the road to Merzouga from Tangier by car, my friends and I stopped in a small town to get something to eat and I ordered a half a chicken. The Moroccan guys who were with us thought I was crazy and said that was no way I would finish it. Mind you, it’s all I could eat. Not only did I finish it, but also another piece from a friend who wasn’t going to finish his. Keep in mind, I hadn’t eaten much in the last 24 hours and I wasn’t sure when we would stop at a place that I could eat again, so I really made sure I was good to go.

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In Meknes I ordered a meat dish with some carrots and asked for a double portion of meat. The man said no to me! He said there was no way I could finish it. With some persuading, he gave me a double portion. I ate the whole thing and his eyes were wide when he realized it.

You see, when you can’t eat carbs, you are “forced” to eat more protein and vegetables to fill you up and give you energy.

Even outside of Morocco, I would get stares from people. It was very uncomfortable, but very necessary. I even remember times where I would eat a full dinner and be hungry 30 minutes later and eat another whole meal. This was due to not being able to eat carbs and my body was malnourished because I couldn’t process the nutrients that were coming in. My body was so sick! I didn’t go carbless out of choice, it was out of necessity because I couldn’t eat anything, with the exception of carrots, that had carbs in it. It took a toll on my body. My food was so limited. It was like a super strict Keto diet. Haha…that was way before Keto was even around. I used to tell people I ate high fat Paleo with modifications because that is the closest I had to describe it. I have come a long way since then! People used to ask me if I was sad about the things I couldn’t eat. I struggled with it, but after a while, I had finished the grieving and moved on. I started to focus on what I could eat and celebrate those things! 

Before I used to make a list of the things I could eat, now I’ve been able to add so many foods back into my diet that I have a list of the things I can’t eat now. It’s still daunting for someone to look at who’s never dealt with food allergies, but for me, It’s a major celebration. It’s so much easier for me to find food when I’m out! I no longer need to order double portions, or even be afraid to eat out. I’m still nervous at times, but it’s still so much easier than it used to be, and I am very grateful!

The Spice Shop by Brea Persing

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Moroccan Spices. There isn’t much better in the spice world than Moroccan Spices. At last from what I have tasted so far. They make everything taste better. I bought some cinnamon and brought it home as gifts for some friends and they LOVED it, and then kept asking when I was going to get more. I’ve even done a comparison between regular cinnamon and Moroccan cinnamon and I could definitely taste the difference, and so could others! 

My favorite place to buy spices is in Chefchaouen, Morocco. There is a two story shop called Aladdin (on TripAdvisor it is called La Botica de la Abuela Aladdin) that has the highest quality and taste I have found yet. I discovered the store through some friends who had visited multiple times before. And I’m so glad they shared it with me! I was enamored with it. You walk in and it’s wall to wall with soaps, lotions, bath salts, oils, spices and more! It’s such a beautiful sight, though very overwhelming to the eyes and nose.

It’s where I would buy all my spices like turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, pepper, ginger, and so much more. They even had one shelf dedicated to saffron from different countries to choose from. I wouldn’t just buy spices there though, but Argan oil, soap and bath salts. Those were my favorites. They were great! A tip about their bath salts, only use a little bit, NOT a lot. They are potent.

Even better, it’s set in the beautiful “blue city”. If you’ve never been to Chefchaouen, I highly recommend it. Each time I was there for more than just a quick day trip, I stayed at Hostal Gernika. I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s clean, there are multiple rooms, and has a great view.

Chefchaouen is one of my favorite cities in Morocco. It is beautiful, there is so much to see from the old city to hiking in the mountains. There is so much to see and experience. I’ve been there with a tour, with American friends and with some Moroccans in tow. Each time was different and fun.

Playing Charades with the Butcher by Brea Persing

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When you live overseas, your pride falls away when you’re learning a new language. All of the sudden you go from a competent person (in your native language) to a toddler (in your new language) in a matter of seconds. It’s VERY humbling.

Well, it was my first Thanksgiving overseas where I was going to be cooking and inviting over a host of my new friends. Plus, my Italian friends were very interested in American holidays. I was still in my first year of Italian language learning and decided I would go to the butcher down the road to get some turkey. I was advised by some friends that if I wanted a whole turkey, which I didn’t, that I would have to go about a week in advance to order it. Well, I just wanted to get the breast and thigh/leg to cook for people. To be honest, I had never cooked the whole bird before, and didn’t want to start for this event, especially if something happened and it was inedible.

I knew the word for turkey in Italian, but when I arrived at the butcher shop, I realized that I had failed to look up the words for breast and thigh. Haha, you know where this is going. There wasn’t a line, so I didn’t have time to look it up on my phone either. So I was talking to him in Italian and said I wanted turkey for Thanksgiving. He understood since he knew it was an American holiday, and apparently had had other Americans in the past order turkey from him. Well, as I said before, I didn’t know the names of the cuts. So when he asked me what cuts I wanted, I threw my pride aside pointed at my breast to indicate I wanted a turkey breast. He chucked. As did I. He then asked me if I wanted any other cuts, and again, not knowing how to say them in Italian, I grabbed my thigh and rubbed by hand down my leg to indicate I wanted the whole thigh and leg. It was HILARIOUS. 

I’m sure the other Italians in the shop were getting some serious entertainment from me. The butcher told me to come back in a few days, as he was going to order those cuts specifically for me. When I walked in a few days later, he greeted me with a smile and then chuckled, so I knew he remembered me. I mean, how could you forget that!? He showed me the turkey cuts, made sure they were around the weight I wanted, I paid, said thank you and left. It had definitely been a funny learning incident, but I left with what I wanted!

I have to say, it’s definitely one of those stories to keep for the books to share later. And trust me, I have shared this story multiple times. It never gets old.