The town of Telouet, southwest of Morocco’s southern capital of Marrakech, lies perched on the edge of the country’s arid scrublands. Once a strategic outpost between Marrakech and Ouarzazate for purposes both commercial and military, it is now a jumping-off point for anyone wishing to visit the Sahara Desert. It is here in Telouet, where much of the local population lives a rural, semi-nomadic existence, we take a closer look at food and the culture thereof in a typical southern Morocco town.
The weekly market, or souk, in Telouet is held on Thursdays. This is the day of the week to purchase fresh vegetables and meats, which are bought only in quantity enough to last a few days. Between the time these fresh ingredients are used up and the next weekly souk, dried fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, and maybe dried meats are used for meal preparation, along with couscous, grains and lentils.
There are two types of dried meat used in the area of Telouet, both heavily salted and dried in the sun. Neither are referred to colloquially as khlii, however; both have local names. The first is called tikrtsine, made from the offal of sheep. The stomach is mixed with parts of the intestines, liver, and other organs, then cut into tiny pieces and arranged in a pile on the stomach, which has been laid flat. This mix is salted heavily, perhaps with other seasonings added in. Remaining parts of the intestines are cut into long strips used to bundle everything into a ball. It is then salted more before being hung to dry in the sun for several days or more.
The second dried meat is made from the flesh of a butchered sheep or other livestock. The meat is cut into strips and salted, sometimes with the salt pounded into the meat. This is called kadid. The strips of meat are then hung to dry in the sun for several days or more. Both kadid and tikrtsine are used when fresh meat is not available. These dried meats are added to lentil dishes or tagines, and may be used to accompany couscous. Children are especially fond of chewing kadid by itself.
The residents of Telouet have found ways to use [their environment] to their advantage.The basic couscous dish in Telouet is called tarouaite, and it’s made in a specially crafted earthen work vessel called the tagdourt. In the basin of the tagdourt is cooked vegetables and meats, while couscous is prepared in an akskous, another cooking vessel that is placed on top of the tagdourt. Tarouaite can be made from typical duram, or from farina flour, which is more of a regional specialty, with coarsely ground maize or barley. In preparing the tarouaite, the tagdourt and akskous are placed on an earth banked stove.
Cooking this dish takes many hours. When the tarouaite is finished, it is served in a very large clay platter called a tazlaft. The steamed couscous, meat and vegetables are arranged in the center of the tazlaft, and a shallow depression is made in the couscous to be filled with a cream-based butter called aoud, a regional variant of the Moroccan herbed butter called smen. A cup or bowl of liquid whey, called azhou or lebn, is served alongside. It is considered bad manners to scoop up too much of the aoudi with any portion of the food, it is better to dab gently at it to flavor each bite.
The residents of Telouet have not only acclimated to the austerity of their southern environment, but have found ways to use it to their advantage. In no way is this more evident than in the food eaten there and the methods used to prepare it, be it drying meat in the sun to be used for a meal later in the week, or making do with these dried foods until the next weekly souk. While this resourcefulness is in use all over Morocco, in Telouet, it is almost artistry.
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