Malena Eats Moroccan

Everything was dark. The heavy wooden door closed behind us, and I blinked a couple times as my eyes adjusted to my surroundings. Thick curtains in deep colors were pulled over the windows. The old-fashioned lamps on the walls were lit to their dimmest setting. My friends, Alissa and Erica, and I peeked past the “Please wait to be seated” sign. There was a group of guys all wearing baseball caps and Nike t-shirts sitting at a table in the back room, but other than that, we were the only patrons.

The host appeared from behind two swinging doors, dressed completely in Moroccan garb, from the slippers all the way up to the fez on his head. He walked us the four or five steps to our table.

Six-foot-tall Alissa called the booth, so Erica and I settled onto the low stools as the host (who was also apparently the waiter) explained to us what each of the courses would be. We would first get two traditional appetizer courses to share, then we each choose an entrée, and that was followed by dessert and tea.

I glanced at the menu.

Mmm, chicken. Blech, that one has eggplant. Skip. Skip. Skip. Lamb? Don’t think I’ve ever had that before. Skip! Beef and veggies, that sounds normal. No weird spices with it, that’s good.

After the waiter left us to decide on an entrée, I leaned closer to the table. “Was anyone else surprised that our waiter at the Moroccan restaurant is…white?”

“Yeah! Not as authentic as I imagined it would be.”

I glanced at the curtains above Alissa’s head. There were Christmas lights strung across them.

We started discussing what we were going to order, deciding that we would each get something different and share. I started rereading the chicken and beef options, and all of a sudden I wanted to slap myself.

Here I was, trying to do something new, something different by eating at a Moroccan restaurant where the table only reached my knees and we used our hands and bread instead of silverware. And I was thinking about ordering food that I could get in any damn restaurant.

“Lamb with fried eggplant,” I announced and closed my menu.

Erica decided on the skewed beef and vegetable brochette and Alissa, to my joy, wanted the honey chicken. (Because, you know, what if mine was gross?)

The waiter came back to take our order, and after a fancy handwashing in a silver basin with rose water (“Friction is key,” the waiter told us sternly as we rubbed our hands together), we were given our first appetizer, taktouka, which tasted a lot like salsa. (It consisted mostly of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and spices, so no surprise there.)

Then came the second appetizer. He set the plate in the middle of the table.

“Chicken and eggs inside fried dough, topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar,” he said with a grand gesture of his hand before disappearing back behind the swinging doors.

The three of us stared at the dish for a few moments.

“Is it breakfast? Is it an elephant ear? I’m so confused,” I said.

“It’s your adventure, Malena. You go first.”

“Alright, alright, I’ll do it.” I tore off a piece of the dough, pinching it to keep the chicken and egg inside. And somehow, through an inauthentically authentic Moroccan miracle, it was amazing.

“I love it, but I don’t know why!” Erica said, and that pretty much summed it up. Who would have known that cinnamon and powdered sugar actually tasted good on poultry? The Moroccans, that’s who.

We apologized for the mess of powdered sugar all over the floor the next time the waiter came by.

“Oh, don’t worry!” He laughed. “If it doesn’t look like a toddler was there, you’re doing it wrong!”

Then it was time for our main meal. I was okay using my hands to eat my food up until this point, but pulling meat apart with my hands? I don’t even like eating chicken wings with my hands, let alone lamb from the bone. But alas, we were given more bread and told to enjoy.

Once again, the Moroccans came through for us.

The fried eggplant was…an interesting texture. If I call it rubbery, you’ll think it tasted bad. (Like rubber, presumably.) But that’s what it was like chewing it, and yet the taste was not awful and I ate the whole dang thing.

But the lamb!

“It just falls off the little lamb bone, doesn’t it?” Erica said as I pulled apart some meat to give to each of them.

“We all had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb. We all had a little lamb and it was so goooood!” Alissa said in a singsong voice. (Yes, the lamb was so good, she actually broke out into song at the table.)

We were all sufficiently stuffed with leftovers on our plates by the end of the course.

“Do you think we get to-go boxes?” Erica asked as she looked around for the waiter.

“No, they make you carry out your food in your hands.” I smiled.

We did get to-go boxes of course, but all of our leftovers fit into one box. Because despite being full, we all just kept on eating to the point of discomfort.

“Hey, don’t we get dessert?” I asked excitedly as the other two groaned and held their stomachs.

What was the dessert going to be, I wondered. After the chicken elephant ear, I could hardly wait to find out.

Custard. It was custard. (Custard that was gone in two bites because I’m no dessert amateur.)

But more importantly was the mint tea. The waiter grouped three glasses together on the table (that was, remember, at his knees) and poured the tea from a shiny silver pot that he held at his waist. It splashed some, but for the most part, the stream of tea landed directly in the glasses. After researching it later, I learned that the art of pouring the tea was as much a part of the dessert as drinking the tea itself. We were right to tell the waiter we were impressed.

However, we were informed that the belly dancer was late and was most likely just not going to show up.

I scrunched my face up after the waiter left. “That was the main reason I wanted to try Moroccan food!” I tried sipping my tea in mock anger, but I was having too much fun to pull it off.

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