In the 1970s, Aunt Edna told my family about a new low carb diet that allowed bacon and eggs (as much as you wanted!) and yet still lose weight. The idea was completely new.
It seemed too good to be true. I’m sure she had heard about Atkins’ book (Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution: The High Calorie Way to Stay Thin Forever; D. McKay Co., Publisher; 1972) but I don’t recall hearing his name until many years later.
The diet swept through my small town as it did through the rest of the nation. Suddenly everyone was figuring out what “carbs” meant — breads, rice, pastas — and banishing them from the table.
People were losing weight… and buying mints by the cartload because the diet puts the user into ketosis: truly horrible bad breath.
Then Limited Food Choice Fatigue set in.
People started craving a piece of cornbread or a big bowl of rice. (At the time rice * was a huge industry in southeast Texas. Rice was a several-times-a-week dish at our dinner table. Then the cheap Chinese imports arrived and the farmers went bankrupt. To my knowledge, only one local family still farms rice in 2016.)
* People are sometimes surprised water-intensive rice production would take place there. But when people think of “Texas” they’re usually thinking of West Texas from the movies — hot and dry. It’s a huge state. Southeast Texas is wet and muggy with average annual rainfall of 63 inches. 2015 was a “wet year” and the area received 83 inches of rain.
But this is about food fatigue. What it means to have a restricted diet and soon feel as though you simply can’t eat it anymore.
That’s how I felt in Morocco. In restaurant after restaurant, the same things were offered: tagines (stewed meat) couscous (steamed vegetables over the grain couscous) harira (a thin tomato soup with bits of egg in it.)
In Tetouan there are no restaurants that serve Western cuisine… or for that matter any “foreign” food — no Chinese, no Japanese, no Indian — just Moroccan. Being a Westerner, some foods the locals ate were off-limits so my choices were even further restrained.
I would open a menu then close it again. I’d leave half my plate untouched. Often I felt hungry. I lost weight.
(Quick story: while eating at a restaurant we heard a loud screeching outside. One of the waiters opened the door. Two cats were going at one another with claws flying and high-pitched screams and growls. Suddenly they separated and one of them ran into the restaurant and into the kitchen. No one seemed concerned.
After about 20 minutes the cat wandered back in as if nothing had happened. It curled around one of the legs of a table nearby and remained there for the rest of our meal. Seeing cats in restaurants was common, but I never got used to it.)
But then watermelons arrived in the street markets. They were superb and I ate them like there was no tomorrow.
While I ate I would have these sensations, as if I was being transported. I grew up loving watermelon and my dad still raises them. Occasionally I get a good one in Sonoma County, where I currently live.
On a walking tour through one of the markets, we came across a man selling homemade candies. He’s known for his peanut brittle and he offered me a sample. It was nearly as good as my mom’s.
I had the same feeling eating the peanut brittle, as if I was temporarily at home again. I didn’t feel homesick in any traditional way. I simply wanted to eat foods I knew and loved. I bought a big bag and ate the whole thing in one afternoon.
Foods create taste memories that are inextricably tied to our notions of safety and being where we’re known. It was more than simply missing something — I needed to experience those tastes, as if my body recognized some fundamental lack and therefore created intense desires. I found myself dreaming of fried chicken, of fresh salmon, a really fine steak, salads, cold strawberries…
On our final night, Rachel drove us to a restaurant on the top of a mountain with gorgeous views of Tetouan.
The owner had carved out sitting areas in the mountainside; the restaurant has been around for more than 35 years and still doesn’t have a sign. You have to know where to go.
His restaurant serves one thing: bowls of seasoned tomatoes and onions with either kefta (meatballs) baked in it, or sardines. I don’t trust meatballs made by others… so I ordered the sardines.
We didn’t know they would arrive in such big bowls (blackened because they’re put directly into the fire to cook.) They were served with six huge rounds of bread. We also ordered two mint teas and a large bottled water, shared by three people. The cost? 35 dirhams each, including tip. Approximately $3.50 USD.
No silverware is used. You tear off pieces of bread and scoop up the food. No napkins. Within ten minutes our fingers were stained red. I noticed that all of us were holding our hands up like women waiting for their fingernail polish to dry. Fortunately, someone found tissues in their purse and we were able to more-or-less clean up.
More than half of my dish remained uneaten. I couldn’t…
It was a lovely evening and we chatted about our experience of being at GOA the past two weeks and our plans for returning home.
Bill emailed to ask me what I wanted for dinner when I returned. I told him fresh salmon, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli. And I wanted to cook it myself.
Back at home in Forestville, there was a 2 1/2 lb. slab of freshly-caught King salmon in the fridge ($52… welcome to California) and a huge head of broccoli. Potatoes were already in the pantry.
It was a feast! I seasoned the salmon simply with salt and pepper then pan-seared it, made mashed potatoes with butter (and two tablespoons of cream cheese for richness) and steamed, oh, about two pounds of broccoli. (The next day I used more salmon in a creamed pasta dish with fresh dill and green onions.)
I woke up in the middle of the night with heartburn. But I didn’t care. After taking some Tums I crawled back into freshly washed sheets, in my very own bed.
The next morning I couldn’t wait to make breakfast. I could finally have over-easy eggs (from our chickens) a huge platter of bacon and toasted English muffins with plenty of butter and three-berry jam. We keep nearly 20 chickens and so eat a lot of eggs, and I missed them much more than I expected.
After six weeks of espresso (Cafe Americaine — “American coffee” — is served in Paris and Barcelona but it’s terrible; instant coffee is served in Morocco) freshly-brewed and piping hot coffee using our own just-ground roasted beans was the best thing in the whole wide world.
Last night I fried chicken legs, wings and thighs, stewed squash with onions and made rice. I ate till my eyes crossed. How long will it take for me to eat my way through these food cravings?