At a time when a number of people from the Arab world are being ostracised for religious reasons or assumed to be all fanatics, let us remember that their traditions of hospitality and conviviality are legendary.
Let's Start With a Simple Mezze
What does that mean to you? Several small dishes composed of a bit of everything that you may have on hand: meat, herbs, dried fruits, and vegetables. Technically, this is true. But if you were to take a closer look, you could easily see that Lebanon, the crossroads of many cultures throughout history, has developed as many Jewish recipes as Muslim ones, that the Maronite Christians also held a place, not to mention, in more distant times, the Greeks and Armenians.
And further, what is a Lebanese dish, really? It is hard to say, since its traces can be found in the Ottoman Empire, and thus in modern Turkey. In short, in terms of cuisine, the mezze is a symbol of hospitality and the appropriation of the culinary traditions of others; while for dining, it represents the sharing of dishes between guests.
The Art of Sharing a Meal
Let's remember that the art of hospitality and the sharing of a meal is also at the foundation of Maghrebin traditions. Certainly some of our Western customs have leaked into the culture there, but in the beginning there were no individual plates. We share a large communal dish with a plate for two or three, beginning with the food closest in reach and finishing at the centre.
Add to this the still-ongoing tradition of placing a cup of tea on the tray so that those who pop in unexpectedly do not feel as if they are merely grabbing food on-the-go, and you can feel the wind of civilization blowing, far from those who build walls.
The Sense of Commitment
And even if in Essaouira chef Ahmed Handour serves individual plates at Heure Bleue, he forgets nothing of these principles of solidarity, as demonstrated by his support of the women's cooperative in a rural village that provides him with goat cheese, chickens, and pigeons raised on corn and figs.
In terms of commitment, a stone's throw away from Marrakech's Jemaa El Fna square, chef Jean-Claude Olry of Villa des Orangers goes as far as leaving his ecosystem completely. It is in Tameslouht, a village located 15 km to the south of Marrakech, where he supports a home for a hundred disadvantaged youth. There, they practice music, but also gardening as part of an ambitious project of a "nourishing and educational farm" backed by a vegetable garden that will provide the Centre with independently grown organic food.
At a time when some feel as if they exist through banishment and stigmatization, others continue their traditions of hospitality and solidarity – all gods should know which ones are theirs.