April 3, 2014

Life in Candyland

Here’s a fun fact: Moroccans consume about 37 kilograms of sugar per capita each year; during Ramadan, that number jumps up to 95 thousand tons overall. This is why Morocco has become one of the world’s largest sugar consumers and, after two months living on a purely Moroccan diet, I can wholeheartedly vouch for this fact. Cakes, cookies, buttery crepes drizzled with honey, Nutella smeared on toast, and a hot flaky croissant–and that’s just for breakfast. This is a land where pastries sell for ten cents a pop, spaghetti is topped with cinnamon and sugar instead of red sauce, and tea isn’t just a beverage–it’s a lifestyle.

a French beignet, which costs 15 cents, is held in a napkin

As long as we’re here, let’s talk tea for a bit. Pronounced eh-tay in Moroccan Arabic, tea is taken multiple times a day and easily constitutes most of the country’s massive sugar intake. Preparing the drink alone is a process: sun-dried tea leaves are meticulously opened and cleaned in hot water, then left to simmer with sprigs of fresh mint leaves and multiple bricks of pure white sugar. Then, the sweet amber liquid is poured from high above the teacup in order to create bubbles before serving. Tea is poured at higher heights for guests as an expression of hospitality and good cheer.

A teapot and pastry

Most people wouldn’t object to a diet that consists mostly of dessert but trust me, it has been an uphill climb. As a Korean, I grew up eating mostly veggies, soup, and rice. Eating dessert after meals was always a foreign concept to me and, whenever I did get cake, I’d always scrape off the icing and leave it on the side of my plate because it’d be too sweet. Needless to say, it’s been a rough transition from this world to one where my host mother packs me extra chocolate cake to eat at school because I “didn’t have enough at breakfast.”

Consuming sugar is a fundamental part of Moroccan culture, much like wearing the djellaba, sharing couscous on Fridays, and, of course, drinking tea. These things all constitute the unique Moroccan rhythm of life, one which I at first didn’t quite understand, or even accept (on a personal as well as a gastrointestinal level).

For a while, I felt like a mere spectator in this country but lately, I’ve begun to fall into my own rhythm here. The call to prayer no longer wakes me with a jolt at five AM and the terrifying task of crossing a Moroccan street (think high-stakes Frogger) does not faze me. I’m starting to grow accustomed to the sugary diet and from time to time, I’ll be the one pouring tea for my host family.

Call it immersion or a dangerous sugar addiction in the works, but I’m enjoying my new-found comfort; for the first time in Morocco, I feel somewhat at home.

posted in Susanna Kim

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