Manal has been yelling at everyone for a day and a half now. This is not necessarily surprising – her general condition is one of slight, but perpetual, indignation. Nevertheless, her usual outbursts of irritability have seemed heightened recently. I suspected something was going on – and last night this feeling was confirmed, as she explained to me what was wrong: an anonymous someone had eaten her portion of the bastila that Khadija had made for Sunday’s lunch.
Manal was fasting on Sunday, and so she sat on the other end of the sitting room while we all gathered around the table. Very uncharacteristically for a Moroccan meal, we did not all dig into the big plate at the center. Instead, the bastila was very scrupulously divided into exactly 8 parts – one for everyone, including those who weren’t at the table. Those of us there for lunch were each given our slice, and Manal’s portion was taken back to the kitchen for later. She had decided to eat it on Monday, she explained to me last night, but by Sunday night had discovered the theft from the fridge, to her (and whether we wanted to or not, our) great consternation.
Bastila certainly is delicious, and something worth competing for. It is a pastry of filo dough, shaped in the form of a disk, topped with lots of sugar and cinnamon and filled with almond paste, lots of spices – and chicken. It is very, very good, but it takes a long time to make (even if you don’t make your own filo dough), and is therefore most definitely something for a special occasion. Khadija had been working on the bastila for the entire weekend: first the chicken was cooked in a broth of onions, an unidentifiable green, and spices, until the meat practically fell off the bones. Then the meat had to be cut into small pieces. Then the almonds had to be cooked, peeled, ground up, mixed with rose water and sugar to make the almond paste. And finally, of course, there was the assembly, the careful positioning of it all on the sheets of filo dough, the careful wrapping up of the fillings, so that it all formed a perfectly symmetrical disk.
Eating it is heaven (and it is, very understandably, almost everyone’s favorite food). It is dinner and dessert rolled into one. And for me, the cinnamon completely quenched the sudden craving for pumpkin spices and speculaaskruiden I developed when I realized, a few days ago, that it is late October.
And so a part of me understands Manal’s anger. I’d feel the same, if my bastila got eaten by an anonymous thief. But another part of me wonders: Is this really worth being so angry about, for two whole days? This is the cynical part of me, perhaps: she herself chose not to eat on this special bastila-day. It was her own decision to fast, despite all of the deliciousness being served. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too – literally. Perhaps to say no to bastila when it is being served means to risk not getting any at all. Saving something for later is always a little risky. And there is a little hypocritical part of me that thinks: doesn’t it go against the whole idea of fasting, to save what you’re abstaining from for later so that you can still enjoy it, and then be this mad when someone has taken your prize? Seems to me that just eating would cause a lot less trouble.
No one in the family really took her anger seriously. I am not sure what they are saying to her, but the tone is dismissive. Which clearly only fuels her anger…
Meanwhile, my stomach has transitioned from slightly uneasy to perpetually hungry. I love Moroccan food and there is too much of it, all the time. I eat three big meals a day, at least, not to mention the cookies served with coffee at 5 o’ clock. My particular vice is the white bread, which is heated up on a George Forman-style grill before every meal. I cannot resist. I am also not yet very good at using my bread as a spoon – which means that I eat a lot more bread than the rest to scoop up the same amount of food. I am afraid – very afraid – that I will come back to the US in December with 15 extra pounds…