It's true what people say about food having the power to bring people together. While almost everyone feels anxious about meeting their significant other's loved ones for the first time, Ann-Kristin Afflerbach shares how traditional Moroccan dishes eased her nerves and brought her closer to her boyfriend's family.
My boyfriend and I have been in a relationship for almost 5 years now. As in most long-term relationships, we have had our ups and downs and we have struggled. A lot actually. Apart from growing up and struggling the normal struggles of teenagers in the beginning of our relationship, we found ourselves struggling with our cultural differences. My boyfriend’s family is Muslim, and my family is mostly atheistic.
It took quite a while until I actually got to meet my boyfriend’s family, but when I did, I felt a bit out of place because everything was so different to what I was used to. I didn't know what to talk about with his parents and I was so scared to say or do something wrong. I wanted to make a good impression and I wanted my boyfriend’s family to like me, after all.
Then, one Sunday, I was invited over for dinner. I was terrified. There were so many things I had to think about. I was scared that I would forget to eat with my right hand – I am left handed, so eating with my left hand comes naturally to me, but it is a cultural no-no for them. I felt like a toddler playing with a spoon trying to eat with my right hand (I actually practiced at home, but it didn't help much).
But, of course, I went there that one Sunday afternoon and my boyfriend’s mom had prepared some cake and traditional Moroccan mint tea. I love everything sweet, so she immediately made me smile with that. I had never had actual Moroccan mint tea before and with my first sip that afternoon, I was hooked. It was delicious! No taste will ever compare to this tea for me and I am absolutely in love with it. I am very bad at hiding my feelings, so it was obvious how much I enjoyed the tea, which was one of the most normal things in the world for my boyfriend’s family. Even his dad, who never really talked to me up to that point, had to laugh.
Fast-forward to dinner that day. My boyfriend’s mom made a traditional Moroccan dish, placed it in the middle of the table, and everyone shared it from the same plate. I had never experienced a meal like that before, but I found myself enjoying it a lot. We had a Moroccan couscous with cooked vegetables and chicken. I remember that everything on the plate was somehow yellow, so there surely was some turmeric or Ras-el-Hanout in it. I especially loved the carrots in the dish, they were so soft and sweet. The combination with the other spices in the couscous and the chicken was just perfect. I was so happy about eating something so delicious, which, in turn, made my boyfriend’s parents very happy. From that day on, I was continuously invited whenever my boyfriend’s mom made traditional Moroccan dishes, and whenever I come to visit, they always make mint tea.
During Ramadan, I often came over for dinner. After a while I started to hang out with my boyfriend’s mom in the kitchen and helped her prepare dinner, and we talked about everything under the sun. I became a lot more at ease at their house to the point that it feels like a second home to me now.
This year during Ramadan, my boyfriend’s grandfather came to visit from Morocco. The day I was going to meet him, I was almost as nervous as that Sunday when I came over for dinner for the first time. I had never seen the grandfather before, I did not speak his language, and I did not understand a single word of what he said. I helped my boyfriend’s mom prepare dinner as usual and when it was time to eat, I was determined to eat as much from the traditional dishes as possible since I love them so much. My favourite dish is the Moroccan pancake msemen, sometimes filled with onions, sometimes plain. My boyfriend’s grandfather was rather surprised to see that, but it made him happy. He smiled at me, gave me a slight nod, and I knew that I was accepted into the family. All that by simply falling in love with their traditional food.