Slurping Snails

“Just copy me,” Imad said as the vendor placed two steaming bowls of escargot before us. He picked up a snail shell and, using the toothpick, pulled out the little black mollusk. He tipped his head back and gulped it down. Imad proceeded to smile at me when he saw my slightly horrified reaction. “What?” he asked. Although I am an open-minded individual, this was not at all what I had imagined. My only experience eating a shelled creature was one snail from a can, and without the actual shell.

We stood by the side of the wooden cart in the square of the Chefchaouen medina. There were snail shells covering the wood, indicating that this vendor did great business here. Although it was late at night, the medina was alive with lights and the air buzzed with the sound of many voices.

Mimicking my friend, I picked up a snail shell—but dropped it immediately. It was too hot to touch, fresh out of the pot.

“Careful, it’s hot. Let it sit,” he advised.

Stubborn, I pinned the shell against the bowl while I pulled out the snail with a toothpick. Its stringy, long, black body dangled off my toothpick. I didn’t think, I just popped it into my mouth, savored it for a moment, then swallowed. It wasn’t slimy like they were when they’re alive—it had a slight chew with a meaty center, but an odd after-taste of something unique to the species. I looked over at Imad, who picked up another snail shell and, instead of using the toothpick like he’d done previously, slurped the snail from its shell. I followed suit—it was actually easier to eat it that way. I didn’t have to actually see what it was I was eating. I didn’t have to think. And this way, there was also an oddly flavorful liquid inside the shell as well.

Imad was nearly half done while I continued to slowly pick through the snails one by one, dropping empty shells on the wood as so many others had done before me.

“Are you from Portugal?” A young man beside me spoke English.

“No, I’m from the U.S.” I responded.

“In Portugal, we eat snails all the time. They’re usually different, but we get a lot from Morocco.”

“Do you speak Spanish?” Imad chimed in. “¿Hablo espanol?”

The two of them exchanged words in Spanish that I didn’t follow. Instead, I just focused on my snails. One by one, I continued to slurp them. Some of the bigger ones were a bit extra meaty—gooey even. I didn’t like the texture of those.

“Do you want any of these?” I asked Imad.

“No thanks. Come on, you can finish them,” he encouraged.

I stared down the four remaining snails and finished them. I then watched him drink his bowl of mysterious green liquid.

“I drink this?” I eyed it.

“Yes,” he responded.

“Don’t even tell me what this is. I don’t want to know,” I said quickly.

“Okay. I won’t.” He laughed.

I sipped it slowly. It was no longer boiling hot, but was the same flavor as the liquid in the snail shell. I realized it was the broth the snails had been cooking in. Except this was spicier than what was in the shell. It was hot on my tongue.

I finished it, feeling quite triumphant.

“It’s only 2 dirhams.” Imad dug into his pocket for change.

I did the same with my purse, pulling out a two-dirham coin and thanking the vendor.

—Michaella Wiss

Before I Leave

Before I leave Tangier, I want to discover something more. I want the feeling paleontologists get when they uncover bones that prove something existed on this planet millions of years ago. The feeling of something being always there but never noticed, because no one ever took the time to see it or to understand its purpose. I want to find the hidden treasure of Tangier. It could be a particular mint tea in which the sugar perfectly evens out the bitterness, creating the definition of yin and yang. The café view where you forget where you are: you just feel overwhelming beauty that you can only describe as tranquility. An alley of the medina where you’re transported back to a time long before even your grandparents’ births, where the colors create such a vibrant rainbow you wonder if you’re staring into the sky. Rugs upon rugs, tapestries with patterns and color collaborations you couldn’t have dreamed of, vegetables and fruits in dynamic shades that you couldn’t find in the States no matter how hard you tried.

Before I leave Tangier I want to find a way to capture everything I’ve seen and wrap it in a little bow. So I can give it to my family, allowing them to live through this experience too. I want to witness tradition more—I was given a glimpse purely by fate when adventuring with Kevin one night, following the trail of music to a wedding and seeing how Moroccans celebrate the sanctity of marriage right outside the UNE gates. I didn’t realize the influence of traditional Moroccan culture in a modern-day city until then. We Americans always claim that our heritage will remain a part of us but Moroccans do it. They practice what they preach and think nothing of it; culture is tradition and tradition is life, something they were raised in and don’t question. The most I can say about my culture is I’m a fan of wine and I can roll a mean meatball.

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Before I leave Tangier I want to thank every Moroccan I’ve met. Starting with Douaa who I have become amazing friends with, a friendship I know will continue after I leave. And ending with the old man in a green djellaba I saw sitting in the Chefchaouen medina, looking like a piece of seaweed floating within the blue pearl. Everyone in between made this experience a little sweeter and more memorable. From the loud nights surrounded by music and alcohol in Régine, to the quiet evenings sitting at our secret garden café, enjoying mint tea and conversation accompanied by an acoustic melody.

—Natalie Tremblay







5 Reasons to Experience a Moroccan Home Stay

Until recently, I was never entertained by the idea of a home stay—regardless of the country. However, after putting my shy personality aside and spending two nights in a Moroccan home in Chefchaouen, I now understand why home stays are an experience many people choose to seek out. As I saw in Chefchaouen, Moroccans go above and beyond expectations as hosts. Here are five reasons why you should experience a Moroccan home stay:

1. You’ll Never Go Hungry
After arriving at our hosts’ humble abode, we were greeted with cups of steaming mint tea that were magically refilled every two minutes, and a plate of lemon cake that was shockingly replenished every time a piece was consumed. Dinner and breakfast the following two days were no different. There were three or four large plates everyone shared that contained a limitless amount of delicious food; this is perfect if you have a bottomless stomach.

2. You’ll Feel Like Family
After a long day of hiking the Akchour Waterfall in the Rif Valley, I came back to our hosts’ home exhausted, sore, and ready to curl up in bed. My neck was extremely rigid and swollen, to the point where I could barely turn it—this had become a regular occurrence since a group excursion in February, where it was mysteriously injured. My host mom noticed my discomfort and immediately brought out Voltarène, an anti-inflammatory gel with a strong rubbing alcohol odor. She sat there and massaged it into my neck as I drank my bottomless tea; this is the kind of treatment I would receive at home from my own mother.

3. Your Foreign Language Skills Will Improve
Our host family spoke several languages, but the host mom was a French teacher so she frequently spoke to us in French, testing the limits of our knowledge. What little Arabic we knew was also implemented in our speech; we were corrected when mistaken, praised when we were right, and taught some useful new phrases like bgit makla (I want food) and ma-fhmt-sh (I don’t understand).

4. You’ll Have A Real Moroccan Experience
After spending two days in the footsteps of our host, we had an inside look at the ordinary life of a Moroccan: an afternoon spent sipping tea in a café, a stroll through the medina, a grueling evening engaged in yelling matches about soccer. Be aware that some households turn their water off at night, so make sure to brush your teeth before 10:00 p.m., otherwise you might be out of luck; or in this case, out of water.

5. You’ll Cherish Your Memories Forever
Tangier is unlike anything I have ever experienced before, but staying in a dorm in the city can’t be compared to staying with a Moroccan family. You’ll always remember the warmth and kindness of your hosts, the sweet aroma of pumpkin wafting off the mountain of fluffy couscous, and the vibrant colors of mosaic tiles lining the walls and floors. Besides, how could you forget a home where you are immediately greeted with endless amounts of tea, and welcomed into the family as if it was your own?

—Alyssa White