Belal didn’t actually work in the restaurant he coaxed us in to. He’d been watching as we wandered slowly through the town square, gazing non-committedly at menus. We’d been looking for our first Moroccan meal and an escape from the 40 degree heat that was beating down on Chefchaouen, a small village tucked in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. Suddenly standing up from a table, Belal invited us to sit down, waving his arm backwards, putting the restaurant on display. Seeing doubt on our faces, he turned to pick up a menu and assured us of the great range available – tagines, kebabs, fruit juices…”anything you want!”. We didn’t need much convincing. All the restaurants looked much the same and this guy had made a non-aggressive effort to talk to us. We sat down.
We scanned the menu. “Do you have hummus?”, we asked, sure that hummus and bread would be quite the typical start to our Moroccan adventure. Belal looked at us blankly. “Hummus?” I repeated. He turned and shouted to the kitchen. The owner came out. This was serious. “Yeah, yeah”, the owner assured us after more to-ing and fro-ing. “And a tagine?” I requested. He looked pained. “Mmmm. A tagine would take too long to make”, he apologised. Right. We’d arrived in the middle of Ramadan and the only people sitting in the surrounding restaurants were fellow tourists. The place was mostly empty for a reason and food hadn’t been pre-prepared. We asked what our options actually were and the owner shouted down to the kitchen, with Belal standing nervously by, his narrow frame moving from one foot to another. Read the rest of this entry