Hearty Vegan Finds in Rabat

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While reviewing the experiences of vegan travelers in Morocco, I noticed that many of the meals they shared didn’t look very filling.  A colorful vegetable tangine over couscous or fresh baked breads with olives are tasty and meat-free but not very satisfying for us.  Some bloggers mentioned eating protein bars at the end of the day to round out what their meals lacked. It is true that a stash of almonds would do a vegan traveler well here in Morocco, especially outside of big cities, but we’ll document the hearty, plant-based meals we find along the way.

Istanbul Express in Agdal, across from Badr Mosque

This is a basic Turkish diner with a few vegan staples like lentil soup, hummus, baba ghanoush (eggplant dip), salads, and fresh-baked bread.Syrian/Lebanese Food

Al Shami and Yamal Sham near Bab el Had Tram Station, Rabat Medina

On opposite sides of the Tram station you’ll find these two Syrian/Lebanese restaurants.  Yamal Sham has better ambiance and décor but the findings in both are comparable in quality and price.

Aesthetic hummus

Al Fanous, 107 Avenue Allal Ben Abdellah, near Rabat Ville Train Station

Similar to the abovementioned, this restaurant serves salads, hummus, foul moudammas, falafel, etc.  It’s the only place I know to eat near the train station (up the road pass McDonald’s).Al Fanous

Le Mandarin (Vietnamese Restaurant) at 100 Abdel Karim al-Khataabi Street, el Mohite

This restaurant feels out of place on this busy road, down the road from Mosque Shuhadaa.  Most often the shutters are down because the very limited dining hours are from 12noon to 2pm and 8pm- 11pm, every day except Wednesday when they’re closed.  They have several tofu dishes with noodles and vegetables, all of which are reasonably priced.  The flavors didn’t really impress us but we’re not big fans of Vietnamese cuisine to begin with.DSCF8484

L’Ocean Pharmacy, Abdel Karim al-Khataabi Street, el Mohite

A few blocks away from Le Mandarin, this pharmacy has a small organic section where you can find quinoa, goji berries, muesli, raw vegan bars, etc.

Gluten-Free Supermarket near Dar Naji Moroccan Restaurant on Jazire Arabe Street

This store is actually unmarked but has a banner inside that reads “Sans Gluten”.  Inside, you’ll find organic and gluten-free products like soy milk, almond milk, peanut butter, cereals, corn and rice couscous, etc.  Their vegan milk and cereal variety is better than the larger supermarket Carrefour, near Bab el Had Train Station.

If you find other vegan-friendly eateries, please add them to the comments.  Thanks!

Eid in Casablanca

Multitudes coming to pray

For our first Eid holiday in Morocco, it was quite an event.  From weeks prior, we saw charcoal and bales of hay for sale in the streets of Rabat.  In Carrefour supermarket, employees donned red fez hats and hung banners of Eid greetings.  Sheep were bought and sold everywhere.  We tried to brace ourselves for what was to come though we were in the process of relocating.

Hassan II Mosque

We moved into Casablanca the night before Eid, with just enough time to tidy up, eat dinner, and rest before the next day’s Eid prayer.  A new friend of ours kindly offered to take us to Hassan II Mosque where the largest congregational prayer in the city would be held.  Straddling the sea and land in grandeur, the mosque stood like a light tower amidst a sea of congregants.  Most attendees wore traditional Moroccan attire—hooded djellaba robes with pointed leather slip-on sandals—but all fashion statements were welcomed and expressed.  On light-weight palm mats, we sat in wait for the start of the prayer, reciting words of God’s praise and remembrance with the congregation.

Worshippers waiting for the prayer

The Eid prayer in Morocco is much like it is in any other country.  However, this time we enjoyed the North African style of Quranic recitation which gave the familiar holy verses a nice Moroccan twist.  A stark contrast from our earlier Eids as new Muslims, it’s a blessing to now savor the added sweetness of knowing and understanding the verses of Qur’an recited in Arabic.  Lil’ Z prayed alongside the daughters of our new friend, and we left the mosque refreshed.  We went for breakfast and returned home later that morning.

Part of the mosque is on the ground and part  is on the water

The rest of our day was mostly spent at home.  Everyone else seemed to be preoccupied with the tradition of animal slaughter.  On this particular Eid, the faithfulness of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) is commemorated.  When the blessed prophet saw in a vision that he should sacrifice his son, Ishmael, he proceeded in obedience, but God made a ram appear for slaughter in the place of his son.  While slaughter in Islam is not for atonement or sacrifice, it is an act of obedience and charity that is shared with family members and the impoverished.  Even though we don’t eat meat, our new landlord’s family brought us skewers of roasted mutton and a bag of fresh meat, which we happily shared with a homeless man and our new neighbor.

Some Moroccans grilling sheep heads

Aside from the religious aspect of slaughter, Moroccans find it very culturally significant.  It seemed like an act of machismo to sharpen your knife before slaughter, walk the streets after the slaughter with bloodied clothes and machete in hand, and roast the sheep’s head in the street.  The urban adaptation of animal slaughter seems less reverent than it might be on a farm where the sheep roam freely.  There is nothing sacred about sheep skins lying on the sidewalk or entrails hanging on your neighbor’s clothesline.  Watching people try to manage a large, furry beast on their balcony or terrace seemed unfitting for an apartment domicile.

It was disturbing to hear my friend share that some sheep attempt to take their own lives or run away before the slaughter.  It would be more humane for their lives to end in familiar green pastures versus unfamiliar concrete and pavement pathways.  On the other hand, I have to give people credit for facing and embracing the reality of what eating meat entails and not divorcing themselves from the cost, work and responsibility that comes with taking an animal’s life.

Once the roasting ended and the streets were cleaned up, we ventured outdoors in search of strawberry sorbet to end our day.  The streets were sparse with people and cars, which made walking around our busy neighborhood much easier than usual.  We didn’t have the time or resources to decorate our new apartment or prepare a sumptuous meal, but we spent the day together as a family and that’s what matters most.

On our way to the Eid prayer

In and Around Rabat

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Today is our last day as residents of Rabat.  Morocco’s capital has been kind to us and gave us a good first impression of what the next year has in store for us.  The neighbors in our old building aren’t the most sociable, but we share our common space with respect.  We learned to make our way around town with ease and most people are helpful when we ask for directions.  In our few short visits to Casablanca, we already see the contrast between Rabat and will certainly miss the friendly people and trustworthy taxi drivers.

With special thanks to the following neighbors who made our stay memorable:

-The elderly lady who chided me for taking up to much clothesline space.  I didn’t understand the words you said but I got the message loud and clear.

-The elderly lady’s husband who patiently walks with crutches everyday to sit outside of a storefront.  Every day he is dressed in a white turban, long brown robe, with red-framed glasses and prayer beads in his hands.  He never hears our greetings but his warm smile lights up our day without fail.

-The quiet chicken seller who only has two chickens for sale every day.

-The new storeowner next door who carried a full gas tank to our doorstep.

-The cyber café owner up the road who helped us to stay connected to our friends and families and helped us figure out Moroccan coinage.

Review: Wok to Walk in Casablanca

wok to walk

Now that we’re back in North Africa, we have to come to terms with how much harder it is to be vegan here than it was in Oman. Yes, there is more locally source produce at a fraction of the cost, but the variety of plant-based protein sources is lacking.  We’ve been eating a lot of lentils and hummus, along with the occasional dish of fava or white beans.  If we had red lentils and black-eyed peas to alternate, we would probably fare better, but we can’t help our unsatisfied craving for tofu and brown rice.  We haven’t found either in Rabat, and our apartment-hunting trip in Casablanca was our only hope for a lentil or hummus-free meal.

counter

Not too far from where Urbndervish will be working, we found an international Asian franchise that recently arrived to Morocco.  They streamline their menu to encompass a simple stir fry.  You pick a base of rice, noodles, or veggies.  Then you add a variety of ‘favorites’ like tofu, extra veggies, seafood, or meat.  Finally, you pick one of six sauces and voila, your meal is served in a Chinese take-out box, whether you’re dining in or taking your food to go.

tofu and brown rice

We all chose brown rice with tofu with a variety of different sauces.  Vegans should note that the Beijing sauce is actually oyster sauce and that you must customize your order to exclude egg.  With a few scattered shreds of cabbage and carrots, the meal was unimpressive in appearance but so satisfying in taste.  At less than $5 USD per serving, they keep their culinary direction extremely focused and work those woks in record timing.  The portion sizes were perfect for lunch but a double helping would make a more wholesome dinner.  Needless to say, this little eatery raised our optimism about what life in Casablanca has to offer.

art deco

 

Please Note:  Wok to Walk is not a purely vegetarian eatery, but they do wash and scrub each wok between use in full view.  In the United Kingdom, some of the franchises are certified halal but we are not certain about their Casablanca restaurant.

How We Ended Up in Morocco

Bab Medina in Rabat

Imagine you’re at a train station.  With cash in hand, you’re prepared to go somewhere.  You go up to the ticket counter and all of the trains heading to your intended destination are sold out.  You’re not bothered because you’re flexible.  There are at least several other places that you wouldn’t mind going as an alternative.  They’re sold out too.  There’s only one train departing from your station and its coming fast.  You have to decide quickly to jump aboard or wait for a chance at a better destination.  Time is ticking.  The train is advancing.  Your heart is pounding.  You look at the other tracks and there’s not another train in sight.  If you wait, you have no idea for how long.  So, you quickly buy your ticket, grab your bag, and leap for the train, with a prayer that all will be well.  You find your seat prepared for you.  You know this is where you’re supposed to be though you’re still not completely sure how you got here.  You close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ride on.  Metaphorically, this is how we found ourselves where we are—in Morocco.

About a month ago, we had a critical decision to make about a study and work opportunity for Urbndervish.  After months of job searching, interviews, near-offers, and pathetic offers, we were visiting our family in the United States with no idea about our next move.  In spite of our best efforts to prepare for our post-Nizwa life, nothing at all seemed to be going according to our plan.  We were still left with as few possibilities as we were many months prior.

When the idea of Morocco came up, it was met with little resistance.  For years we’ve had plans of visiting Morocco, traveling throughout Morocco, but living in Morocco  wasn’t really what we had in mind for now.  However, at this particular season in our lives, we can afford a little hiatus.  So, we decided to embrace this year as one of adventure and exploration.   There are many sights and cities we want to see here and we’re already scheduling visitors and trips for the proposed ten-month stay ahead of us.  While many of our friends and relatives had no idea about Oman, Morocco has certainly piqued their curiosity.  Even their own friends light up when they hear the name of our exotic locale.

Rabat

The last three weeks since arriving has been an easier adjustment than we expected.  The weather has been sunny and pleasant.  Here in Rabat, we’re getting much further with Standard Arabic than we imagined.  We’re enjoying life as pedestrians with a well-connected tram and train system and frequent, fixed-rate taxis.  Locally-sourced produce here is good and cheap like amazingly sweet peaches and bananas, some of the largest and tastiest pumpkins I’ve ever had, and the crème de la crème, creamy avocados.  Even though our apartment and neighborhood is basic and simple, we have the advantage of living by the ocean–a first for all of us.  The gentle waves both soothe and orient us when trying to find our way home.

Farmer's Market

On the days we’re shopping or exploring, life in Rabat is fun.  On the other days, I struggle to come up with engaging excursions or activities for Lil’ Z.  We spared room in our luggage for her drawing supplies, canvas, some books, and a few activities for her in-home learning environment. But we’ve yet to find a decent a park or other homeschooled children.  Instead, I’m trying to make a lesson out of everything—the woman making bread on the street side, the crane lifting bags of cement to a roof top, and buying fresh produce from the market.  By far, the hardest lesson to tackle is panhandling.  In spite of Morocco’s apparent progress and development, you still see elders, mothers with children, and the disabled begging.  This is what our scenario is like in Rabat, but our landscape and its options are likely to change next month when we move to Casablanca.

Train to Casablanca

We haven’t been too thrilled about relocating to Casablanca because the city is huge and more socially and economically challenging than Rabat.  French is more widely spoken there, and the class divide is more noticeable.  A prime example is the Montessori school there.  We briefly entertained the idea of enrolling Lil’ Z in their program but found the cost so prohibitive that it’s downright elitist.  We worry that other recreational or extracurricular activities we consider to supplement Lil’ Z’s days at home will be too expensive or in the company of overly privileged children.  Regardless, this is where our train is moving us, and we know with certainty that there is purpose in it.  We’re trying to keep our hearts open to give and receive whatever lessons we are here for.

All of us are missing Oman in one way or another.  We’ve shipped our coveted books to our parents’ homes. We’ve left behind kitchen goods, children’s books, and wooden activities with our friends and sold our beloved, faithful ride, Suzi.  For now, that chapter is closed.  We’ve had to swap the sights of black abaya gowns for hooded jalaabiya robes, speeding cars for trams and trains, and Omani biryani for Moroccan couscous.  We’re going to make this move work for us, one way or another, because everything we need has been with us all along.

Blue Door

Review: Dandelion Communitea Cafe in Orlando

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One of our last errands on our Florida to-do list was an important trip to Orlando.  We had no interest in Disney or Universal Studios.  We had to pay a visit to the Islamic Society of Central Florida to draft our will and last testament.  As morbid as that may sound, having a will in place to allocate your possessions and sort out custody matters is a religious duty in Islam.  Most people wait until near or post-retirement to start thinking about a will but we wanted all of our after-life expectations to be crystal clear and legally binding.  So, for a cheery way to start our very serious day in Orlando, we met a friend for lunch at a very vibrant eatery at 618 N. Thornton Avenue.

Before entering Dandelion, we were drawn to the beautiful aqua hues of the property, Tibetan prayer flags, and community gardens.  The property is shared with several wellness-related businesses to the rear of the property.  The café itself is like a house-turned-restaurant with dining areas contained in separate rooms.  After a brief orientation, we found a table in the furthest room from the entrance and then returned to the front counter to place our order.  Their organic and plant-based menu was full of so many tantalizing options, it was hard to make a selection.  Lil’ Z settled on the slightly spicy vegan black bean and cheese quesadilla served with blue corn chips and hemp hummus.  I went for the chili tempeh wrap with spring mix greens and fresh seasonal fruit.  My mother-in-law had a fruity Polynesian salad with walnuts on a bed of greens.  Urbndervish and our Floridian friend both ordered buffalo tempeh wraps with quinoa, spring mix, blue corn chips with salsa and pea guacamole respectively.  I think their selection was the best of them all.  The portions and prices were appropriate lunch fare, costing about $7 – $9 per platter.  Purified drinking water was served generously in mason jars.

Before our departure, there were three last temptations that we didn’t have the time to indulge before our appointment.  The first and most appetizing was a selection of vegan frosted cupcakes and brownies, followed by an entire wall of homegrown organic tea selections.  Lastly, there was the cutest little free library box on our way out.  We left satisfied and enlivened by the tasty meal and uplifting atmosphere.  The place was jumping for lunch and we could easily see why.  Though we left abruptly, we conveniently had to pass Dandelion upon exiting Orlando, so we popped in for a brownie, a chocolate coconut banana cupcake, and a vanilla strawberry cupcake to take home for dessert.  All of the baked goods were fresh, moist, and moderately sweet, just the way we like it.  If we ever need to return to Disney town, we now know to start and end our stay with a pit stop at Dandelion.

Our First Trip to the Herbalist

Health Wise Center

Our general approach to medical intervention is pretty simple—avoid doctors if and when possible.  We take preventative medicine seriously enough to exhaust every avenue of natural healing before succumbing to a clinic or hospital.  We are grateful for access to quality medical care but prefer not to use it without necessity.  Without being health nuts or fitness fanatics, we have steadily improved our diet, lifestyle, and exercise habits to a sustainable plateau that keeps us feeling pretty well, without major complaints, most of the time.  But even when you feel good, sometimes curiosity about your internal affairs turns to skepticism.  We’ve considered routine blood work, naturopathic consultations and iridology sessions for an overall check-up, but the most affordable and satisfying option for us was a consultation with our local herbalist.

At the corner of N. Armenia Avenue and Dale Mabry Boulevard, Health Wise Center is one of Tampa’s best kept secrets.  A warm and endearing Master Herbalist, J. Maricella “Marcy” Pinella, is the main practitioner with other therapists available for massage, sauna treatments, counseling, etc.  Even before Marcy’s lilting Latina voice starts to inquire and assess your wellbeing, the center itself emits an aura of calm and wellness.  Just the presence of Himalayan crystal lamps, organic foods, and essential oils begin the therapeutic process before your consultation even begins.

Reception Area

Once your session with Marcy begins, she reviews your current medical complaints and your dietary habits before initiating a bio-feedback reading.  A small metallic cylinder with plastic-capped ends is held in the left hand for about two minutes.  The energy frequency of your various organs and body systems are scanned, assessed and reported on her computer.  A printed reading of the assessment explains where glaring imbalances exist and where areas of toxicity or dysfunction lie.  Followed up by an explanation of how your body’s imbalances correlate to a particular complaint with a few further diagnostic techniques, Ms. Marcy then prescribes an herbal and dietary regimen without putting you in a patient’s gown or forcing a needle into your veins.  The experience was insightful without being invasive.  In total, six of our family members sat for appointments with the herbalist, including Lil’ Z.  One relative later had follow-up blood tests and assessments done by a medical professional and found Ms. Marcy’s initial assessment to be totally congruent to what the doctor could only conclude after a battery of blood work.

Some of us had no major complaints but felt that the assessment could still be worthwhile, and it was.  We were prepared to hear some of the typical vegan diet criticisms but instead received praise and encouragement for our eating habits.  We discovered a few minor imbalances, all of which can be addressed with herbal supplements.  At only $35 USD per consultation, it is very likely that we’ll be adding a visit to Health Wise Center to our annual tours of Tampa.

Receptionist's Desk

 

Review:  Caribbean Crown in Tampa

Instead of going to Jamaican this summer, we brought Jamaica to us.  My dad and grandmother came to visit us in Florida from Kingston.  While I was excited about the visit, meal planning was giving me a headache.  Cooking for my grandmother is easy because she can appreciate a good meatless meal and loves taking a break from her own cuisine.  My dad, on the other hand, is not as open to new foods.  Like most Jamaican men I know, a meal is not complete without meat and gravy, rice and peas, and fried plantains.  To assuage his appetite, we found a lovely restaurant on Busch Boulevard where Muslims businesses thrive in a tight cluster.  The Trinidadian owners were wise to market themselves as halal, since the typical fare available for Muslim diners is Middle Eastern and Indian/Pakistani cuisine.

We enjoyed our favorite foods from Trinidad like doubles, roti, and dhal, while our relatives feasted on curry goat, ox-tail, and jerk chicken. Needless to say, everyone was left satiated.  We kept finding excuses to return and made a grand total of three visits to the modest eatery in a three-week span.  The only damper to the delicious dining and warm service was their use of Styrofoam and plastic plates and utensils. The Trinidadian auntie occasionally peaking through the kitchen curtains cooks up a storm in such timely fashion that the dishware may be the least of her concerns.  Regardless, the environmentalist in me can’t help but notice these things.

If you’re in the Tampa Bay, stop by Caribbean Crown.  Everyone is sure to find something irie!

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for a grieving mother

i have no poignant words to share

nor wisdom to lift your grief

i have no proverbs or parables

to offer you relief

 

in the midst of sorrow and pain

we are left asking “why?’

not even time can heal some wounds

as the days go by

 

the woes of this life are plenty

and even in times like this

we must remember this is not our home

there is a greater bliss

 

this world and its disappointments

at times seem so unjust

but the nature of life is that it ends

parting is a must

 

there is only one constant, one truth

which we can apply

God never fades nor ends

on this we can rely

 

God is never far, always close

to God, we must draw nearer

until the certainty of faith

makes it all seem clearer

 

our only lasting source of peace

and Giver of every good

has a greater plan for us

even if not understood

 

so cry your tears, grieve your loss

and recall the memories passed

but thank God for every moment

even if they did not last

 

keep gratitude on your tongue

until you feel it in your soul

and pray that God heals your hurt

and makes your heart feel whole

 

i pray that the joy you find with God

will outshine these dark days

and that you and your family remain

in God’s loving gaze

 

Review: Spicy Village in Nizwa

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Our former home of Nizwa often gets a bad rap.  With no mall, cinema, or spa, many expats arrive and leave in dismay.  Some also complain that the town has no decent restaurants but I have to contest.  Spicy Village is Lil’ Z’s absolute favorite but she’s biased—she’s been enjoying the food since she was in utero.  We’ve all been well-fed by this cozy little Indian restaurant off the main road in Firq, not too far from Lulu Hypermarket.  The food is always freshly prepared, tasty, and satisfying.  Our favorite dishes are Spring Rolls, Yellow Dal Fry, Chana Masala, Garlic Naan, Sauteed Spinach, and Vegetable Manchurian.  Efficient and friendly waiters attentively take order and serve the dishes with ease.  As per our request, they omit chili peppers from our dishes and prepare our breads without ghee.  Next time you’re in Nizwa, stop by Spicy Village for their lunch buffet from 12-3pm every day except Friday or any evening after 7pm for a sumptuous meal.