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Morocco: How to bake bread in the medina

Although bread is available for sale nearly everywhere in Morocco, nothing tastes as good as home baked bread – but many Moroccans, even those who own ovens like my mother-in-law, choose to bake their bread somewhere else: the furan, or community oven. This week, a New York Times article on the community oven sparked a conversation throughout the blogoma.

Four Continents remarked upon the practice:

I lived with a solidly middle-class host family and they did have their own oven and baked bread at home, but even they considered this a luxury, even in the new city where families are more isolated and independent. In the medina, houses are compact and crowded and the ovens are still very much alive and necessary. In Marrakech, I watched a little boy carrying his family's bread home get in a fight with another boy. He set his tray down ever-so-carefully in the road before proceeding to kick his opponent in the groin. This was a kid who knew that coming home with dusty bread or no bread at all would be a big problem, and who took his job as oven-runner seriously. If a six-year-old takes it that seriously, you know it's important to Mom, too.

The a la Menthe sees a slow death for this way of life, saying:

Unlike many places in the world, in Morocco it is still possible to find communities that bake their bread (Khubz) — a staple of Moroccan cuisine — in a community oven, an institution which — like communal steam baths (hammam) knits communities together. In addition, farmers sell fresh produce in the souks (markets), and chickens are bought freshly slaughtered from the butcher. As a friend of mine put it, in Morocco, it's all organic food. The Times, however, notes an ominous trend toward factory farming, mass production of food, and supermarkets, at least in the larger cities. In light of our soil-exhausting monocultures and the cruel overcrowding and massive doses of hormones and antibiotics to which we subject our livestock in the United States, I am seriously skeptical that Morocco will gain by following our example. Would anyone say that Americans eat better than Moroccans? Thought not.


A Moro in America
had only this to say:

New York Times published this well detailed and documented article. It brought back childhood memories and described a dying tradition.

Fez medina by Jillian York

The furan is particularly attributed to medina life, and as it's been said, Fez is the world's largest living medina, or old, walled city. Everything Morocco, a blogger who lives there, has this to say about medina living (or, surviving, as it were):

A lot of people ask what it's like to live in the medina. Although I live in Fez medina, one of the biggest and oldest in the country, I think it must be pretty much the same in any medina. It's true you can't drive up to your door in most cases and some of your friends may refuse to visit because you live in a ‘dangerous’ neighborhood, but the benefits outweigh that. Having lived in both the medina and the Ville Nouvelle, I prefer the medina hands down.

After further explanation, the blogger concluded:

Overall, if you have to live in the city, medina-life is the way to go. It's interesting, fascinating and educational when you are not indigenous to the culture. It is a window into the changing times overtaking Morocco as people move from the country into the city. The medinas are not stagnant, time-warped portals into the past, but living and adaptive urban environments. It may be true that you see a man turning wood with a foot lathe or another weaving on an ancient form of loom, but traditional craftsmen exist in every culture and every country; Moroccan culture just has more respect for artisanal traditions and the practical nature to keep what works rather than throw it over for technology. You have to love a place like that.

The last post this week is entirely unrelated, but poignant and therefore must not be left out. Blogger Big World Learner made a plea to stop world violence:

I’m sorry but whatever political analysts, spokesmen and supporters might say, what I think about this is simple: Nothing can justify what’s going on there. Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon neither have time nor the means to squander in civil wars – not to say in wars – full stop. This nonsense has lasted too long and must stop now!

Photo by Jillian York

6 comments

  • laila

    Furan does not mean community oven. It just means oven. It can be the oven in your kitchen or the one in the neighborhood that you can bring your bread or meat to.

  • laila

    Is this a blog or do you just post other bloggers writings?

  • Hi Laila,

    First of all, the writer in the New York Times article referred to the community oven as “ferrane,” therefore I did as well (changing the transliteration to what I had learned).

    And, no, this is not a typical blog. The responsibility of Global Voices Online is to amplify the voices of other bloggers who might otherwise not be as widely read. I provide only the commentary which links the bloggers’ writing, as well as (sometimes) the photos.

    Thanks for coming by!

  • katherine

    Are there communal ovens in the Ville Nouvelle?

  • @katherine

    There are communal ovens in the villes nouvelles of some cities; I can’t speak for all. Meknes has a couple, definitely.

    Jillian

  • Paul

    Four continents: “If a six-year-old takes it that seriously, you know it’s important to Mom, too.”

    I don’t think it is as fluffy and nice a situation as you seem to believe. In reality, the 6 year old knew that if the bread got damaged or lost he would get a real beating from his mama or papa when he got home…..that’s the reality.

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