Friday, June 14, 2013

Letting Go and a Moroccan Gigolo

"You have beautiful eyes," the Moroccan sweet-talker said to me in his tourist English as he handed me one of his sugary confections. Never mind a napkin or piece of wax paper to transport his offering in. He used his bare fingers. Was this a special form of intimacy or merely questionable hygiene? Weren’t those the same fingers he used to take people's money? It didn’t matter. This was a gift, and I felt obliged to eat it. 

After a few days in Morocco, I had come to expect their overly familiar fondling of my food. The surprise here was that this was the first good-quality sweet I had tasted. Many of them foreshadowed the promise of almond paste, but this one actually delivered. After throwing my wheat-free diet to the wind while on an international adventure, I was desperately seeking the French influence in Moroccan breads, pastries and sweets that had eluded me thus far. They had simply not proven to be French enough, but this particular stand-in was the closest. "I'll be back," I sweet-talked the sweet-talker. But would I really go back for pastries that this stranger in a strange land purposely pawed?

I didn't mind that bees were cavorting on his confections. After all, they weren’t flies, and with colony collapse disorder, frankly I was happy to see them cavorting anywhere. But the shopkeeper's cavorting fingers? Not so happy about that cavorter disorder.

It’s not that I’m a grumpy germophobe. Okay, maybe it is—but not enough of one to stay away from North Africa and to eat from the market stalls in the souks. Yet even the neuroses-free visitor should have a beef about the way Moroccans handle their food. The large plastic scoops in the dried fruit, nut and olive bins? They're just for show. Not that those are sanitary anyway, but let's just say they are closer to godliness than some of the ungodly things I witnessed. Yet from my observations, European tourists weren't bothered by any of this. Was there something wrong with my germ logic?

Those olive pyramids didn't build themselves

Moroccan shopkeepers are so involved with their fruits, nuts, olives, candies and pastries, they are like overprotective parents holding their children's hands before sending them off to boarding school. I was surprised they didn’t kiss each one goodbye. And the passersby, like proud uncles, give each fig, date and nut a little squeeze for good measure—even if they’re not in the market for a fig, date or nut. It’s a small affirmation as if to say: Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.

Once I ordered some snacking garbanzo beans that I was really excited about since there was a scoop in the bin. But the shopkeeper bypassed the scoop—as if that were too formal for our budding relationship—and grabbed some with his bare hands, tossed them in a tray and lovingly caressed each one before bidding them adieu. Suddenly I freaked out and told him I changed my mind as I quickly left his stall. Who was I to come between a man and his garbanzos? 

What gives Moroccans carte blanche to roll food around in their unwashed hands, no matter how gooey, sticky, salty or powdery? It's in their DNA. They are endowed with a tactile propensity that Louis Braille would have marveled. Consequently, their DNA is in their food. If the authorities need fingerprints, I’m pretty sure they go to the food souks to find them. 

Meanwhile while I was there, I read about a hepatitis A outbreak from organic berries in Oregon. The article said hepatitis A is usually spread from food in North Africa and the Middle East. Yet I hadn't gotten sick in Morocco. Apparently it would have been more dangerous to stay home and eat USDA organic. And then my epiphany: I have no control over anything. (But still, do they have to fondle everything?)

So I returned to the sweet-talker and gave him money in return for some freshly groped sweets. Afterwards, I heard him say to a British woman, "You have beautiful eyes," as he handed her a sugary confection with his bare fingers.

"Two-timer," I thought. If it weren’t for the almond pastry that would soon caress my lips, I would’ve felt jilted.

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  1. Great article, I don't know what I would have thought had I been there. So strange for us Americans eh? I always watch these foreign food shows and think the exact same thing, what in the world??? Open markets freak me out a little, but a hot dog off the street in LA, I pay the lady and sit on the filthy curb... no logic

  2. hahaha, food for thought! I knew they eat with their hands, often many dipping into the same dish, but wasn't aware of their propensity for groping food in the marketplace.Tough on us Americans that have been raised so hygienically - you really threw caution to the wind - Bravo :)

  3. OMG... I laughed until I cried. Thanks for putting words to what I have felt while shopping/eating food in many countries. Dubai and India come to mind for me...

  4. Best line:"Brownie, you're doing a heckofa job!" Peed my pants!

  5. Did he give you some sugar as well?

  6. Americans have issues with food that the rest of the world just doesn't get. We see food as the enemy. My theory is its a late blooming guilt complex for having too much of everything and not appreciating it for hundreds of years. GREG

  7. Food looks very appealing. Do they shake with their right or left hand? Did you get sick?

    1. I didn't get sick and didn't see anyone eating with their hands in restaurants or anywhere else, including me. :)

  8. That looks like really gooey, sticky, yummy stuff. I'm really looking forward to more stories from your trip!

  9. more dangerous to eat USDA organic - scary, huh?

  10. Haha, well at least he didn't kiss each confection goodbye (in front of you, that is) :)

    Your stories are really funny, you have a way of telling them :).
    "They are endowed with a tactile propensity that Louis Braille would have marveled" :)))


  11. Love your writing, Adair... I agree Moroccan Gigolo was highly appealing, sticky hands or no!

  12. Omg that's the cookie man in Marrakech, aren't his sweets amazing? I love love your blog, this brings back so many great memories, the lemon coriander olives with a bit of bite, the makrout, the chebakia, oh wow, oh yes the chickens were a good memory too. I am vegetarian but do eat organic chicken once in awhile.

  13. Really? That's the cookie man you're talking about? What a coincidence! There are many, many of those vendors!

  14. No this is the real cookie man, he has a stand in Marrakech and he is known throughout the souk. I am so glad you got to meet him.