Saturday, June 28, 2008

Butchering, Old School

Meat. The word used to be synonymous with food itself. In America, as we all know, we have lost touch with what meat is and where it comes from. But not in Morocco. The medieval medina, or walled cities, of Marrakech and Fes, are warrens of narrow pathways, crowded with passing donkeys, with sunlight leaking through the slatted roofing. Spices and herbs are for sale everywhere. And oh, the colors! And oh, the smells! Coriander and orange blossoms and blood and urine and of course, meat grilling over charcoal. Now I know what the middle ages smelled like. Goat and mutton carcasses hang from their feet, testicles intact. Heads and hooves fill the counter tops of the butcher stalls. Merguez and poultry sausage are sold in long links. Stray cats look on, not daring to blink for fear of missing out on a morsel of raw flesh that might accidentally drop to the floor.Blowfish are available both puffed up and unpuffed. Turkeys peck around the alleys, waiting for slaughter. Various meat mixtures, sausages and organ meats are available ready-made for sandwiches. But when I ordered a sandwich one afternoon in the Fes medina, I put it together from scratch, step by step. The old-fashioned way. First I went to a butcher, where slabs of beef were displayed with bouquets of fresh parsley and quartered onions. The butcher mixed these with generous heaps of cumin and passed it all through a grinder. Then I took it to the grill man who cooked the meat on a skewer. Then I went to the bread man who sliced a loaf for me so I could make a sandwich.
And here is the result. Then I bought a small bag of olives, which proved to be a delightfully simple accompaniment to my sandwich, and the perfect substitute for a shaker of salt. Finally I went upstairs to a little cafe, ordered a pot of sweet mint tea, and ate the sandwich, sitting across from this remarkable looking man. This wasn't just a sandwich, but a way of life...
The sandwich was delicious. But the odd fact is that within 24 hours of eating it, I found myself in a hospital outside the Ville Nouvelle, stricken with an intestinal infection. Here's a photo I took in the waiting room. I like the notion of a "reanimation" ward. Very Frankenstein. I hasten to add that I'm not sure the sandwich was what caused my illness. The evidence is not incontrovertible. But I'm awfully suspicious.


Riley said...

Are those colorful cones really spices piled up, feet high? If so, how do they do anything with them without causing a spice avalanche?

And welcome back!

Tai said...

Autobiography Of a Sandwich -- a well-plotted and riveting tale. Merci!

Steve said...

And you wonder why you got sick?

BTW. The olives!