Saturday, April 3, 2010

Parasites or bleach?

I love food. I love to shop for it, smell it, cook it, share it, experiment with it and ultimately EAT IT! So of course I was really excited at the thought of all the new and exciting foods that there would be in Morocco. How can't this be a really great gastronomic adventure?

There are a few supermarkets here, but the more easily accessible food is in the hanuts (I'm positive I'm misspelling this). These tiny little family run convenience stores are everywhere. They have the basics of: milk, bread, some assorted fruits and vegetables and non-refrigerated yogurt....yum. No fountain drinks, frozen burritos, slurpees, beer or porno mags but you can get cigarettes (it is Muslim, not Mormon). At least a few times a week you're going to need a hanut and wherever you are you'll be in walking distance from one. Bring your dirhams, cause they don't take credit.

When you can't prolong that trip to the grocery store any longer with your hanut visits then you have 4 grocery stores to choose from. The grand daddy of them all, the Superwalmart of Rabat, is MarJane. It's got both food and your usual assortment of stuff. One stop shopping. It didn't take long to figure out it's chock full of overpriced electronics, appliances and toys. However, the food is adequately priced and there's rows and rows of it. It's all a mirage though. While there is alot of food, there is very little diversity. If you are one of the 5 people in the world that just can't get enough couscous you're in luck. That's 1/2 an aisle. And this isn't flavored or spiced couscous. It's just plain couscous. Different brands, packaged in an array of sizes from a handful to a barrellful.

My favorite thing about MarJane (and I mean other than the fact that they sell liquor) is that they do have a pre-wrapped meat department. The alternative would be me playing charades at the meat counter. (I like to keep that one in my back pocket for emergency use only.) Lucky for me they have a skinned rabbit that is already on a styrofoam tray snuggled by a warm blanket of cling wrap and priced for my convenience. Whew... In produce you'll find mounds of green beans, potatoes, oranges. Lots of a little. The most disappointing produce is the lettuce. It's not iceburg, but it's the next step "up" from that. It is wilty and tasteless and I LOVE a good funky salad so this really depresses me.

Then I went to Aswak Asalom. This is one of the other grocery stores that I affectionately refer to as asswhack, cause you've gotta have a little fun when you can. They actually sell romaine lettuce (that to me is totally worth going across town for... that is if I had a car, which is a whole separate issue). However, every American that I have talked to about lettuce has one of two things to say: they don't eat it or they bleach it first to get out the parasites. I'm not sure what scares me more bleaching or parasite exposure. Right now my thought is bleach. Although it's probably less scary to ingest the bleach than whatever is in your toothpaste. This thought occurred to me after Ember wrote her name on the kitchen table in sharpie pen and I googled how to get it off and the number one answer on-line is toothpaste. And YES it works! Then think how much of that toothpaste that one accidentally ingests during the teeth brushing process (especially kids and maybe not so accidentally either) and the bleach doesn't seem so bad. Even having made a compelling probleach argument, I still can't get myself to do it. Is just seems wrong, although I'm sure our teeth would be really white. And parasites sound so "natural" and "earthy". I've already got some kinda intestinal funk that won't let me stray too far from a bathroom at any given moment. Yes there IS a link between the food and the number of bathrooms Moroccans have in their houses and also why a bidet is standard equipment.

There is a French grocery store here named Label Vie that I haven't been in yet. It's supposed to have nice lettuces (bleach spray solution sold separately) and located close to our new house we'll move into in a couple of weeks. Really I'm so disappointed in the lack of selection at the other stores I don't want to get my hopes up. I think I'm going to save my initial visit to this new, exciting place to when I've truly hit rock bottom on the food front. I think I'll know I've hit bottom when I can taste test different couscous' blindfolded and can identify what brand it is. If I even attempt to taste test couscous blindfolded please come rescue me and bring a nice salad with goat cheese, craisins, exotic lettuces and that great hazelnut vinegarettte dressing (just a suggestion). That could be as soon as next week...

I didn't realize how I took for granted that I could get basically any kind of food anytime I wanted in the states. I could find the ingredients to make any ethnic meal any night of the week. I could get broccoli whole, chopped or shredded. Even if it was shipped from farms all across the world doused in pesticide and uses millions of gallons of oil to transport it. God bless America.

I always thought of good healthy food as a necessity, but now I see it's a luxury. Seriously, my kids are eating far more refined carbs and crap than they do in the states simply for lack of healthier options in the stores. Even they have noticed and complained about the lack of diversity. Though they weren't thrilled today when my quest at the store was brussel sprouts (which I couldn't find), they still sympathically obliged my need to scour the produce department in search of it.

Eating a diet more like we did in the states is going to require alot more organization, planning and creativity. Lukily, I just found out about so I ordered some quinoa, whole grain pasta, pesto sauce (would love to have fresh basil to make my own), veggie booty, flax seed, Life cereal (Sky's favorite) and a bunch of other little things to supplement our Moroccan diet. The bummer is of course you can't get fresh produce shipped here which is what I really miss. So I think I might try to start my growing my own. After all no one here knows I am a convicted serial killer of all things green. Please don't tell them either, my parole officer doesn't know I've left the country...

So what's your vote? Parasites or bleach?

Reading recommendations: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog when you left a comment on my old one (760 Days in Morocco) and having just finished reading this first post I love it already!

For fresh produce, you really must learn to navigate the souks- you will find just about everything you are looking for at very cheap prices- we never buy any produce at the grocery stores- it's much poorer quality, but higher prices. Believe me, once you get to the fruit and veggie stands in the souks, you'll be set. Well, you'll find better lettuce, but you will have to strip away about 50-75% of the top layers, but you'll find good crisp lettuce under there. Yes, I do triple and quadruple wash it, but just with water and inspect each leaf for bugs, but the effort is worth the salad you get- I'm a salad lover too!

As far as the grocery stores go, they are a big treat for us as we shop everything at the souk and hanuts (yes, you spelled it write) near our house. But, the best store in all of Rabat is Label Vie in Souissi. The Label Vies in other parts of town aren't as good. But, the Souissi location has a good assortment of everything- it's not too big and not too small. Let me know if you need directions by bus or taxi.

The lack of variety is something that is hard to get used to here and I have even found it either too hard, too expensive or just too much work to recreate American dishes at home. So, every now and then we go to TGIFridays or McDonalds for a touch of familiarity. There's KFC, Pizza Hut too if you like.

Well, I could go on, but I'll end here and let you know that I sent you an email if you would like to chat further. I'll be catching up on the rest of the posts.


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