Monday, July 23, 2012

I ate a horse!... and other gluten-free Moroccan stories

by Rachel

During Ramadan, Moroccans break the fast with a traditional soup called harira. But harira is often made with flour, and since I’m gluten-free, I can’t eat any.  Instead, when my family broke the fast, I ate horse, cactus, and traditional yoghurt, which is sour, curdled milk to which you add lots of sugar to make bearable.
But how did I know I was eating horse? Before sunset, my family and I went to the souk where my host dad visited a butcher that sold just one kind of meat: horse.  In case I didn’t believe the sign, my host dad proceeded to act out a horse and say “neigh, neigh” multiple times while pointing at the meat to deter my skepticism.  He asked me, “You will try?” And, not wanting to miss the opportunity to say that I was so hungry from fasting during Ramadan that I ate a horse, I did.
So, now for the verdict – horse meat, yay or “neigh”? I vote tasty, though I don’t know if that was because of the meat itself or the way it was prepared (I am fortunate to live with excellent cooks). The meat itself was very chewy, like a well-cooked steak.  Admittedly, it’s not a meat I would prepare on my own, but if my family serves it again, I will eat it.
Yet I digress – I promised a post about gluten-free dining in Morocco.  But before I detail further, please note that my allergy is not severe, so I don’t worry about cross-contamination; more severe allergies may require additional accommodation.  Disclaimer finished.
Bread is the cornerstone in Moroccan dining, but not in Moroccan cooking. In actual dining, bread is served at every meal in place of forks and knives; in cooking, traditional dishes – tajines – typically consist of meat with vegetables, dried fruit, or nuts. The exception to this rule is couscous, which is a type of pasta served on Fridays. So long as couscous, pastelas, and pastries are avoided, gluten-free dining is easy.
Bread is also the most common breakfast food, served with jam, butter, or cheese, but most families and restaurants are accommodating: I usually eat eggs and some sort of fruit or a bowl of rice and milk with cinnamon in the mornings.
If you ever do miss the sweets, there’s no need to sacrifice your health: you can always have fresh fruit or flan, which are common desserts, or sip some sweet mint tea.

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