It doesn’t take much to get me nostalgic these days, what with being a parent and all, but that’s always been especially true about food. You knew that already, right? Some things haven’t changed in the past few years, like our personal obsessions (me: chocolate and ice cream, DH: coffee and coffee) and our inclination to be food tourists everywhere we go. But some things have–like the frequency of elaborate and intricately planned meals. Case in point: before-kids, we made home-made pasta fairly often, more often than anyone else we knew, because we could and we loved it. Apres kids, I think we’ve made it twice. And the second time I tried to wriggle out of it.
Now the nostalgia is thinking back to the pre-child days when we worked hard but also played hard and didn’t have the responsibilities of house and small people and careers. When we traveled freely and wantonly and slept in without guilt. Breakfast was always a big deal for us. Every weekend morning was a chance to outdo the one before and we’d flip through cookbooks and plan the mornings in a way that seems so indulgent now. Thank goodness we got to do it, if for no other reason than the memories I have now.
Being food tourists, when we traveled through Morocco, we were thrilled to discover that Moroccans take breakfast pretty seriously too, but in a way that’s both familiar and wonderfully different. First of all, the fresh orange juice was so intense, such a deep orange-pink hue, it could have been a tall glass of dessert. Then there were the French-influenced pastries, and the traditional Moroccan pastries and the chunks of creamy butter and bright apricot jam in ceramic bowls. But there was also an array of flat breads, farmer’s cheeses and other savoury bits that really won our hearts.
Bessara is a simple soup made of broad beans served with a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, cumin and paprika and it was cooked and sold on morning street corners in most cities we went through. Served with warm bread, it was the surprise best breakfast of the trip. The year we bought our house, I grew broad beans for the sole purpose of making this soup. And I discovered that growing, harvesting, shelling and cooking those beans before they even made it into soup was a serious undertaking. One fit for those yet without children. Hence, I now look for dried broad beans for this recipe (though it was delicious with the fresh). Here’s another recipe for it if you like soup for breakfast. And you should.
But the second best breakfast memory of Morocco, and a recipe we have replicated multiple times since (like this past weekend), is a breakfast pancake called beghrir. It’s a yeasted semolina pancake that resembles an English crumpet but is much flatter, pancakier. While still hot, it’s slathered in butter and lashings of warm honey. Oh yes.
Here’s a Moroccan blog with photos, info and recipe.
So for me, this is a breakfast memory that links our past with our present. It’s something we picked up on our travels, but also something that’s easy and familiar in our un-Moroccan kitchen. I hope it will be something our children ask for on Sunday mornings, the way my sister and I asked for European dishes our parents grew up eating. Because that’s the best thing about being a food tourist: each experience with a new dish is like a culinary postcard you take with you (especially if you’re like us and photograph every plate). It’s a fascinating window into culture. One I hope my kids will be as enthusiastic about as we are.