Bailey Carkenord Blog Post 1 – “Kulī!”

Kulī, kulī!” Mina insists. She gestures to the plate in the center of the table, looking at me imploringly.

I smile and nod as I let her serve me another piece of cake. I make eye contact with my roommate Molly as she accepts another slice as well.

Mina is our host mother here in Fez. She lives in the Old Medina with her husband and three adult children, and, from what I can gather, she does most of the cooking in the house. Tonight, she is serving peanut butter cake as the first course of dinner. The cake is excellent—moist and flavorful, with a thick, peanut butter frosting—but we have had cake for breakfast three times in as many days and for kskaraT, snack, too.

Kulī, kulī!” Mina chirps again. She has noticed that the progress on our cake is slowing.

We smile at her and simultaneously eat another bite of cake.

Kulī: the imperative of eat. It is a phrase we have become accustomed to hearing in the short time we have stayed with Mina. If Molly or I ever pause during our meal, Mina will insist, “Kulī! Kulī!” until we resume eating.  In a way, I find Mina’s demands endearing. She just wants to make sure we get enough to eat and don’t go to bed hungry.

But she needn’t worry. I haven’t felt hungry since arriving in Fez.

I read that the diabetes rate in Morocco is much higher than the mean for the region—the fourth highest in the Middle East and North Africa. As I nibble at my peanut butter cake, I can see why.  Moroccans eat what I would call four square meals a day—breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. Moroccan tea, flavored with mint and sweetened with an exorbitant amount of sugar, accompanies each meal, along with chants of “Kulī, kulī!” until Molly and I are unable to eat any more. The food Mina prepares tastes wonderful—we eat a lot of fresh khobz, bread, and beghrir, sponge cake-like pancakes slathered in honey. However, after only a few days here, I am craving a fresh vegetable.

I wonder what factors influence Moroccan people’s diets. In the United States, where diabetes and obesity also plague the population, “healthy” foods like fresh produce are more expensive than their processed counterparts. I wonder if the same rings true here. Are bread and honey simply more affordable than fruits and vegetables? Or is it tradition that compels Mina to prepare sweets for every meal? Perhaps these are the recipes passed down to her from generations and generations of sweet-toothed Moroccans. Or maybe, I think, looking around the table at Mina’s family as they lick frosting off their fingers, gathering the whole family together for a home-cooked meal is more important than the nutritional value of the meal itself.

I hate to admit that I do not know enough about Moroccan history and culture to know the definitive answers to my own questions. Mina takes our empty plates back to the kitchen as I struggle to think of a sustainable workout regimen for my time in Fez. If I’m going to be eating cake for dinner for the next six weeks, I’ll need to find some time for cardio.

Mina emerges from the kitchen and I crane my neck to see what is on the plate she is bringing to the table. She sets it down in front of me and I my heart almost skips a beat as she returns to the kitchen—pasta! My taste buds water over the thought of something savory. But then Mina appears with the sugar bowl, and my hopes are dashed as I watch her douse the undressed pasta in sugar and cinnamon.

Mina hands Molly and I each a spoon and sits at the table. “Kulī,” she declares, grinning warmly.

I try not to raise my eyebrows as I make eye contact with Molly again. Sugar on pasta? We cock our heads knowingly at each other. When in Rome. Stifling laughter, we pick up our spoons. We dig in.


Dinner in Fez – angel hair pasta with cinnamon and sugar.


5 comments to Bailey Carkenord Blog Post 1 – “Kulī!”

  • JRC

    Interesting read, Bailey! I can really picture Mina. I wonder, are these recipes and the methods of cooking things Mina shares with her daughters, or any of her children? From what I can gather from the other blog posts, it seems that many women in Morocco take on the role of cook in their homes. As to the food, the already sweet dishes coupled with the sugary mint tea does sound especially overwhelming. Like the sugar epidemic in the U.S., especially soft drinks and candy, someone who consumes a lot of sugar requires more and more over time to experience the same gratifying taste. It makes sense that if a family ate this way for years, eventually their sugary meals would taste milder to them than to someone experiencing the dishes for the first time.

  • Di

    I am surprised that there is so much sugar for regular meals. It would be interesting for me to see if Greece has experienced a similar rise in diabetes because the Greek desserts have so much syrup in them, but I do not recall the other parts of the meals being so sweet. You are probably right not to try to resist the urgings of a caring grandmother. Do you have a sense of whether or not the offerings are equally sweet at restaurants, or just in the home where you are staying.

  • ماكس

    This is really fascinating and thought-provoking Bailey. And you’re right, The culture of hospitality that persists throughout the Arab world often encourages people to overeat and nourish their sweet tooths to a concerning degree. Though i’d never heard before of people putting sugar and cinnamon on a savory dish such as pasta, save for Will Ferrell’s character in the movie “Elf”. I’ll be interested to read about what more new dishes you find in Morocco, and I too hope you find a vegetable or two along the way 🙂

  • Di

    Wow, I never imagined having a host family that fed me too many sweets! I am somewhat shocked that this is the practice unless there is some real need for calories there. Are the residents excessively thin or active for some reason? You say that diabetes is on the rise there, and it makes me wonder if that is true for the population in Greece too where most things which would qualify as dessert are soaked in syrup. However, the Greeks I knew ate a lot of savory pasta, green beans, and fish items too. Do you have meat in your diet as well? Hang in there with the Kuli, Kuli,’s tough to go against a grandma without hurting her feelings.

  • Anonymous

    Bailey –

    I’m glad you are with a family that is trying to make you feel welcome and happy. As you say, the act of gathering family, friends, and visitors together for a meal often provides benefits that are more important than the nutritional value of the food. As you say, “When in Rome …!”

    Love Dad

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