Breaking Bread in Morocco
Updated: Jan 16
Print and Photos by Arlinda Fasliu
Rabat, Morocco, February 15th, 2017— “We eat bread with everything,” says Lokmane BenMouloud, a local travel-host in Rabat. “When I was kid, I would take the bread to the bread man to make. When I walked back to my home, I would take a little piece and eat it. I love fresh bread,” he says grinning.
Many Moroccans seem to agree. According to a GAIN [Global Agricultural Information Network] report in 2015, Moroccans consume 258 kg of wheat per capita putting them among one of the largest consumers of wheat in the world. Khobz can be found toasted for breakfast, paired with orange jam or honey, and washed down with fresh mint tea. It is the foundation of corner store sandwiches in the market and used in place of utensils at the dinner table to eat traditional dishes like couscous and tajin.
The round pita shaped bread has a thick golden crust that protects the soft center broken up to be utilized as a helping hand in eating many Moroccan dishes.
Recent reports from GAIN and the FAO (a report co-sponsored by the government of Morocco and the World Bank) say that Morocco should be careful with their bread. Although a 2016 report by the FAO predicts a record setting 1.7 percent increase in global trade of wheat, Morocco’s crop production falls by more than half of last years.
“Morocco is an agricultural country,” says Samily MuStapha. He explains, Morocco has always produced the food that they need to feed their country, but “now, very much of what we consume comes from outside Morocco.” He mentions that wheat has only recently become imported to Morocco because of the changes in weather and the governments dedication to supporting the accessibility of this delicious staple food. Data from the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) shows that wheat imports have only steadily increased since 2011.
Local bakers still hustled to start their shift at 1 a.m. to make fresh bread for the next morning’s rush. Abdula stood among his four friends preparing the oven and dough for baking bread. It was the start of their daily twelve-hour shift. “I’ve worked here for 8 years,” said Abdula, as his coworker walked past with a log twice his size and proceeded to put it into the brick stove behind him. The fire snapped breaking up the stillness of the atmosphere. Upstairs, three other men are starting their shift. As he sipped his mint tea, Omar explains how last year, the ingredients they bought cost three dirhams and now they cost four. “We have less rain now because of climate change, I think this is a big reason for this,” said Omar.
The decrease in wheat production has been attributed to the lack of rain and increase in arid climate by GAIN. The FAO shows a dramatic drop in production of wheat if technology isn’t implemented to help change the current agricultural practices to fit the future of the two possible scenarios. The Moroccan government has been forced to subsidize wheat and control the price of bread in order to keep food on the table for those who may be left without.
History shows Khobz – a circular bread with thick crust and a soft center – is a symbol of consistency in the Moroccan diet. Unstable domestic wheat and grain production threatens this consistency and makes Omar and Abduls job a little more stressful.
What this Means for the Average Moroccan
The middle of the market is crowded with illegal street vendors creating a pac-man maze that is constantly leading you into a corner. Shouts ring out across the crowds from shop keepers insisting they have the best deal. Unemployment rates for Morocco are not good.
Razi Meo, a local art professor strolled through the market, a daily routine he’s had for decades. “I think that because of the economic crisis that there’s an exponentiation of street merchants,” he said. His friend MuStapha, whom he later joined at the café, quipped that Moroccans are losing their ability to create a dish from start to finish. From the soil, to the table, this affects everything from the jobs people have to peoples access to education and success, he continued.
The accessibility of this sweet crispy loaf is important for so much more than its ability to help you eat tajine. Issander El Amrani, writer for an online blog called The Arabist, references Moroccan unrest over bread in 2007:
“Protesters clashed with police, cars were torched and buildings damaged in the demonstrations Sunday in Sefrou, 120 miles east of the capital Rabat. Some 300 people suffered injuries, Moroccan newspapers reported Tuesday. The state news agency said more than 30 people were arrested.”
Bread is a big deal. The twelve-hour laborious process of preparing the oven, the dough, and the mind lingers like flour in the air settling over every inch of the hut above the oven in the bakery. Despite this, there is still hope. MuStapha, Loukman, and Omar, all voice their assurance that no matter what happens, Moroccans will continue to cook. “We will adapt to fit with what we find in the market,” says MuStapha knowingly.