It was about 11 o’ clock and I was starving.
It was a brilliant summer day. The sky is clear. Not a cloud on sight. All the city dwellers brought out their tiny pre-packed food for picnic and most of them are on their bicycle with their pretty sunglasses. I was surrounded by skyscrapers of all heights and widths and colors. I looked and and stared at the top.
Maybe they got a pool up there.
They rang the bells and shouted.
‘Who’s the idiot blocking the bicycle lane?’
It was me.
I just arrived in a new city and felt out of place. I understand I am obviously a fish out of water since the start of this trip and I don’t hope to fit in in any way possible but this city has an uneasy vibe about it.
Something not quite right, I couldn’t put a finger on it.
I was uneasy. The city before this was amazing. I don’t think I could ever forget the first sight I saw upon waking up in the bus. I know that I would fall in love with that place and I did.
But this new city is different. It was too modern, too civilized, too clean that it bothers me. There is nothing amusing on the street. The people avoided my gaze and looked straight. They don’t smile. They even shouted when I asked for directions. The buildings are are symmetrical and perfect which looked hideous to me.
I don’t think this is a good sign. I should leave and pick a new city. Next city should be old and shabby and romantic.
But first I got to eat. I didn’t dare asking for another direction. I didn’t understand the language so I figured I should just go with whatever my heart tells me.
Then as if the wind read my mind, she brought me the most amazing smell.
It was something boiling with saffron, paprika, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and maybe a bit of turmeric. It smelled sweet, rambunctious with flavor and fit for a queen. The monster inside my stomach was begging for mercy and I gave in.
It was a Moroccan restaurant.
They have a display counter outside of the restaurant, recently filled. Ceramic pots full of colorful gravies of beautiful garnish, smell and creamy sauce stood there waving their aromatic swirly hot fumes in front of me. I feel the monster exploding and I just had to get in and said something useful in order to eat my lunch.
It’s about lunchtime anyway.
I was the first one there. The restaurant was empty.
I suppose Moroccan speaks Arabic, I mean a sort of Arabic language. It’s not the standard Arabic but a different dialect. This is not my strongest point. But they were colonized by the French so I was hoping that I could provide something worth recognizing.
What was ‘chicken’ again in French?
Darn! Something that starts with P. Come on!
There was a big Moroccan man at the counter. Busy scooping the flavored rice and garnishing it with chopped cilantro and stopped dead when he saw me approaching.
First smile for today.
Then the conversation begins.
I can’t catch the first 2 minutes. It was German. I asked if he spoke Spanish. He bargained that he could do French. O.K. Romance Language. Should be o.k.
I pointed to the ceramic pots and asked him what is this and what is that. There were about 10 pots filled to the brim. He said oh, this one is chicken with dates and spices (to confirm that I understand he tried the usual chicken sound), this one is mutton with tomatoes and dried raisins, lamb with dried apricots, etc.
‘Which one do you want? You want rice or bread with this?’
‘Rice. I want this one and that one’
He scooped about 4 big scoops of rice.
‘No! No! That’s too much. I can’t finish that.’
‘But this is nothing! You have to eat some more.’
And he proceeded to put 4 huge meatballs with the size of a ping-pong ball and again I protested.
‘No! Every customer must eat 4 meatballs. O.K? It’s my shop and I give you four. Got it?’
It’s quite useless to argue with an Arab man, really.
While we were arguing there passed a man complete with 3-piece suit, shining shoes and perfect hair. He seemed like a businessman. He looked at us quarreling about everything up front, hesitated and finally got in.
We exchanged smiles.
He hesitated and asked about everything in the pots. It seemed like his first time trying Moroccan dish. He took his plate filled with rice and cubes of meat and sat down in front of me.
I was eating using my right hand and he promptly used his too.
I think he thought that I was Moroccan and copied me.
Anyway I got a German to eat using his hands so I think that’s a huge accomplishment for the day.
I didn’t expect a conversation from the guy but I didn’t have to wait long.
‘I have been passing the same road, the same restaurant for 5 years. I never had the guts to come in. I would rather walk another 30 minutes to another German Deli.’
‘Why today’s different?’
‘I saw you.’
‘I don’t know but today is the day I decided that should just come in and I am not disappointed. The food is amazing.’
‘If I hadn’t come here then you will never enter this shop?’
‘That’s a pity.’
‘You don’t understand. When you are stuck in a routine, everything was automatic and you don’t realize it. You have this hesitation when you want to do a little change. When I saw you, I was jealous.’
‘Because you don’t care if you were alone in a foreign country or in a foreign shop. You just do what you want to do. I admire that.’
We were laughing and chatting and more people came in. More smiles. Three, four, five, six, seven and counting until I lost count.
What nice thing in life to sit and eat.