June 30, 2013

I’m now a changed woman. I’ve eaten brains.

Not that Liz and I are now spending our free time dancing the Necronomicon (anyone reading this a fan of “Evil Dead: The Musical”?). Yesterday we experienced some serious Moroccan culture at our first baby naming party.

Photo courtesy of Liz: The two of us with the brains.

Photo courtesy of Liz: The two of us with the brains.

Our host uncle and tutor and his wife just had their first baby! A cuter-than-cute little guy, seriously, I have not seen a cuter baby. Anyway, babies are a big deal here in Morocco. Like go out and buy a ram to slaughter for at least 50 or so of your closest friends and relations level of big deal. So that’s what host uncle did.

Photo courtesy of Liz: Me with the ram's head.

Photo courtesy of Liz: Me with the ram’s head.

Photo courtesy of Liz: The ram, split right down the middle.

Photo courtesy of Liz: The ram, split right down the middle.

The baby was born last Saturday and both mom and baby are healthy and aside from everyone being a little stressed out, everything went fine. Since our big market or suq is on Sunday, there wasn’t time to go out and procure a ram for the party. Which lead to a search across the region for an animal, all the way out to a town at the edge of the province, where there were not any rams to be had because there was a festival going on there. Luckily, one of host uncle’s friends had a spare one (I’m still not sure how you come to have a spare ram lying around. It’s not like going to borrow a cup of flour from someone). So somehow they got the ram back to T– (tied up in a car, so I’m told), where it spent the night on our host family’s roof.

The next morning, our host dad, host uncle and a friend slaughtered it. Traditionally, even if the baby’s father doesn’t have training to properly butcher the animal, he slits the throat, and right as the throat is cut proclaims the baby’s name, which is when everything becomes official. Liz and I got there right after the throat cutting when the skin was being taken off.

Oddly enough, besides a cleaver and a couple really sharp knives, one of the essential tools for butchering is a bike pump, which is used for everything from blowing air between the muscle and skin to get the skin to come off to cleaning out the digestive track.

Photo courtesy of Liz: A bike pump and some cleavers. Essential ram slaughter tools.

Photo courtesy of Liz: A bike pump and some cleavers. Essential ram slaughter tools.

So first the skin comes off, then the whole thing is hung up from a hook and the stomach is cut open to remove all the internal organs. Everything gets used, from the intestines to the stomach to the lungs to the brain. Each time an organ is removed, it is washed and set aside to be used in whatever dish it gets used in. Sheep poop is green, by the way. And there’s a lot of it.

Once all the organs are removed, the carcass is cut in half and left hanging, wrapped in mesh, to dry for the night.

Wrapped and drying.

Wrapped and drying.

The head, de-haired and ready to chop.

The head, de-haired and ready to chop.

The next morning the real cooking began. Our host uncle hired a lady to come in and cook, and I think that woman spent a solid 18 hours just cooking. She started in the morning around 10 a.m. and we didn’t go over until about 4 p.m., which was when the 20 chickens were being prepared.

Ten chickens in a pot...

Ten chickens in a pot…

An outdoor kitchen. Lovely at night.

An outdoor kitchen. Lovely at night.

One of my favorite foods here is called djaj mhmmar, or roast chicken. It was just a small party with only about 50 people, so there were only 20 chickens to prepare. Big baby parties are kind of like weddings here, with people getting dressed up and everything. The chicken is first cooked in a broth with lots of spices for hours and hours and then at the last minute deep fried and smothered in almonds and olives. It is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had. They were all cooked in a pot that can hold 10 chickens at a time, and the pot was set on a portable butane stove, set out on the roof.

The second course of dinner was the ram of course, which had to be cut up and simmered in another pot with lots of spices for hours and hours.

Ram pieces in a pot.

Ram pieces in a pot.

And there was fruit and cookies and tea, and we didn’t eat until after midnight, but that was ok because we got to snack on some stomach and some brain in the meantime.

For a sense of scale, that's a pressure cooker behind the giant tea kettle. That's the sort of stuff you need to make tea for 50 people.

For a sense of scale, that’s a pressure cooker behind the giant tea kettle. That’s the sort of stuff you need to make tea for 50 people.

The stomach meat is cut up and mixed with a bunch of spices and ends up having a chewier texture. I’d had it in training, cooked with fava beans, and I think I’m getting better at eating things I’m not used to eating, because I ate two pieces. Be proud.

This is what a ram's head looks like when it's split in half, in case anyone wondered.

This is what a ram’s head looks like when it’s split in half, in case anyone wondered.

Brains also get cooked with spices, and have the consistency of scrambled eggs. I tried explaining zombies to the host cousins.

Liz tries some brains.

Liz tries some brains.

The party itself was split into a ladies’ party in my host family’s house and a men’s party at one of the neighbor’s houses. So there was lots of food, lots of oohing and ahhing over the baby, lots of getting kissed on the cheek by everyone in the room (me and the baby), lots of attempting to practice my darija, and best of all, invitations to break fast during Ramadan! It’s going to be a busy summer!

Liz photo-documenting the head chopping.

Liz photo-documenting the head chopping.

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Categories: In site, Morocco | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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