Moroccan Meals

After having a few experiences with Moroccan restaurants, I can now safely make the generalization that the service there (for tourists, anyway) is incredibly slow. It doesn’t matter how many other customers are in the restaurant. It could just be you. They’d still take forever.

Meals in Morocco arrive to the table one by one in the order in which they are cooked, with intervals of often several minutes between dishes. As an American waitress, this is indeed a foreign concept to me. Back in the States, orders are made all at once, and served all at once. Anything finished early stays in the oven until the last dish is ready. One friend, having received his beef tagine first, indicated that he’d wait for the rest of us before eating. Our server urged him to go ahead while it was still hot. Our meal together proceeded with no two people ever eating at one time. Cats crept over in the meantime while we waited, stepping onto the table and sniffing with mild curiosity at our bread baskets.

A couple of times throughout our trip, our restaurant would be completely out of something integral to their entire menu. At one particular restaurant in Fez, those of us who ordered chicken simply didn’t get anything at all for about an hour. When finally (overcoming our fear of being culturally insensitive) we spoke up to our waiter, he replied, “We don’t have chicken.” As if to say, “Oh, you still wanted that? My, but you’re tenacious.” When we asked if we could order something else, our waiter replied, “Well, we’re closing.”

The staff couldn’t have accommodated us even if they’d wanted to, though. They got their food from the restaurant next door, not a kitchen on the premises. Back in my small hometown in California’s Napa Valley, a region that prides itself on its fine dining, restaurants that don’t bend over backwards to cater to a customer’s finicky preferences lose traction quickly. Any server who declares, unapologetically, that the chicken won’t be arriving to the table, will surely see a reflection of the customer’s dissatisfaction in the final tip.
By no means do I intend to paint our Moroccan dining experience as an unpleasant picture, however. The entire lack of urgency was refreshing in some ways. In America, the check comes almost as soon as the last person is finished eating, in cheery, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” fashion. In Morocco, the check would arrive only when we asked for it. No one seemed to particularly care how long it took us to leave, either.  The longer we sat, the more likely we were to order more food.

I came to understand that, to a certain extent, this could be attributed to a Moroccan attitude of shared commercial gain. Vendors in the markets frequently made change for each other, or supplied each other with products. It may have appeared to us that they were pitting themselves in competition with each other, but I detected a certain degree of solidarity among them as well. The restaurants were the same way. That little place in Fez was out of chicken because the restaurant next door was out of chicken–and that restaurant next door was where the food was actually prepared. Our restaurant was just a middleman.

And while the concept of middlemen should be familiar to many Americans, this sense of collective effort is nonexistent in the American restaurants at which I’ve worked. Our tipping culture makes servers within an establishment into competitors, each seeking to turn the most tables and secure the largest parties of diners. In Morocco, it wasn’t so cutthroat. They knew they weren’t working for our tips, and because we didn’t speak the same language, dispensed with formalities. We seated ourselves, shared a menu, let our elbows rest on the table, and relaxed. And in the end, this change of pace was what I came to appreciate most.

— Micaela Jones

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