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2009-08-14

Moroccans debate young people's taste for ready-made Ramadan dishes

By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Casablanca – 14/08/09

As Ramadan approaches, many Moroccan women are gearing up to give this special month a fitting culinary reception.

Preparations usually start several days ahead, beginning with traditional Ramadan dishes like the ubiquitous "sellou" and "chebbakia" that grace Moroccan tables during the month.

These are very old traditions, although in recent years many young women have chosen to buy ready-made products rather than spend hours preparing them.

"It is absolutely essential to have a few traditional dishes on the table during Ramadan," said Salima Karouachi, a young assistant manager. "But it's not necessary to prepare them at home, given that you can buy everything at the market."

Karouachi said she used to make everything herself. She enjoyed the preparations as part of the spirit of Ramadan. But she had to spend hours in the kitchen preparing food after she came home from work, an approach she called "impractical".

"Then I realised it's much easier to buy the finished item, provided you can be sure it's clean," she said.

Karouachi is not alone. The younger generation, the generation of fast food and the fast pace, prefers to get the dishes ready-made. But that does not go down well with the older generation. Older women are usually ready to criticise the trend.

"Even if one has money, it is still a fundamental duty for the woman to prepare Ramadan dishes at home," said Hadda Oualidi, 54, a public sector worker and mother of four. "For the sellou (a sweet made of flour, sugar, almonds, sesame and butter), for example, you need to select good ingredients, then wash and sort through them before mixing them together."

"How can you tell if what you're buying is clean and has all the ingredients?" Oualidi said of the practice of buying ready-made dishes. "I can't believe how lazy girls are these days."

But working women cannot do all this work in the kitchen and still have time to rest and take care of themselves, said Touria Bekkali, a teacher. "So they try to prepare small dishes such as briouates and msemen so that they can freeze them and bring them out when needed, with a minimum of fuss."

Hadda, while considering herself one of Morocco's more traditional women, opts for the cook-and-freeze solution. She said she starts preparations for Ramadan weeks ahead, making dishes and freezing them so she can just warm them up during the holiday.

"I think [ready-made] dishes have damaging health effects," she said, "But these women don't realise it."

Sociologist Fatiha Bahiji said it is only natural that Moroccan society should change, even in terms of Ramadan eating habits, given that the country is undergoing fundamental transformations.

"Today, a number of dishes have worked their way onto Moroccan tables, such as fish and other little delicacies," she said. "It's natural for working women to turn to others for help when they feel they can't keep up."

Whether they have traditional or modern tastes, Moroccans are eager to start the holy month. All those interviewed agreed that whether they prepare the dishes or buy them ready-made does not matter; what matters is the spirit of Ramadan.

In working-class districts, stores will be open throughout Ramadan to sell chebbakia, sellou, dates, pastilla, msemen, baghrir and much more.

"The profits increase considerably during the month of Ramadan," said Fatna Moussaidi, who sells baghrir, msemen and pastilles. She even delivers the dishes to her clients, who she says are mostly young working women.

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