Hadija wakes up earlier than the rest of the family. In the kitchen she gathers the ingredients she needs: flour, water, salt, yeast, and arranges them in a semi-circle around a large mixing bowl on the kitchen floor. She washes her hands and sits down to begin the daily ritual so vital to Moroccan life.
Bread. Also known as Akhrum in the Tamazigh language, spoken by Hadija in Ait Bougamez. Also known as Khobz in Darija (Moroccan Arabic). Bread is fundamental to the Moroccan diet. So fundamental in fact, that many meals would be logistically impossible to eat without it. In many cases, bread serves as a utensil. For example, to eat a Tajine, the most common and perhaps most famous dish in Morocco (besides couscous), you need to tear off a small piece of bread, and with it between your fingers, use it to grab the vegetables from your side of the tajine dish. (This is an important note: never grab from someone else’s side of the tajine, it’s considered rude). Bread is even used as a vehicle to eat potatoes.
In Ait Bougmez Hadija and her family eat bread with every meal: bread with olive oil, homemade butter, and homemade apple jam for breakfast, bread with diced potatoes and carrots for lunch, and bread with various types of tajine for dinner, as well as bread with oil as a snack throughout the day. The bread is wrapped in towels and transported back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room in a rather large basket.
It is imperative not to get sick of bread…
Although every morning Hadija so efficiently and methodically puts her shoulders into kneading and working the dough into balls and then flattening them into disks, not everyone in Morocco makes their bread themselves. Many in the city send their children to scamper thought the streets to the nearest bakery where the freshly baked morning bread is stacked to the ceiling, but by noon had been all sold. In this way, bread is important to the community unit as well as the family unit.
Bread is more than just a staple in Moroccan cuisine. It is a symbol of community, of family, and of friendship. Eating from the same loaf of bread gives a sense of camaraderie and commonality. But it has an additional significance in Moroccan culture. Bread is considered sacred- a gift from God, and it must be treated as such, it cannot be thrown away or stepped on, and extra is fed to animals – never wasted.
I recognize this respect in the way Hadija gently removes the fragrant steaming loaves of khobz from the oven as my mouth waters.