Food is a secret language, capable of connecting two people with two very different tongues.
Minutes after meeting my Moroccan host family, I exhausted every means of verbal communication I had. I was confident in the Arabic I’d studied weeks prior to the summer I’d be there and 3 years of French from high school, but that deflated once I realized the only conversation I could hold was introducing myself and asking how everyone was. The oldest boy and mama were learning English. Their English was slightly better than my “Frarabic.” This was my first experience overseas and I wanted to learn everything about Moroccan culture and interact with the family who opened their home to me. I ran out of words.
Every night I returned home after a day of research, where I would sit at the dinner table and smile politely, completely at the mercy of the Arabic I’d learned that day, longing to connect.
One night mama made the most mouth watering Moroccan tagine! I loved everything she made, but this dish was extraordinary. Moroccan seasonings fresh from the medina hit my nostrils as I entered the apartment and I was instantly transfixed to the aromatic flavor combination. Minced chicken with rice stuffed into vegetables in a thick sauce created a stunning edible mosaic. It was too addicting not to sop up with the r’gaif we used to eat with in lieu of utensils. I had to learn how to make it. Stringing together my “Frarabic” and mama’s English, I told her I wanted to learn to make this tagine. When she understood what I wanted, she was so proud and invited me to the kitchen the next day.
When I joined her, cooking transcended us to a place where we knew the same language. Despite the words being different, mama and I understood each other. She would pick ingredients, teach me what they were as I repeated every word back, and together we recreated her tagine. I’d finally found a way to communicate and connection to this family, and bring a piece of Morocco back home t