Public Pasta Madre

Public Pasta Madre

You're in Morocco with your pasta madre. You've got friends - friends are easy to make down here - but they probably only have a toaster oven in their kitchen. That might suffice for a tiny loaf, but just around the corner, right in your neighborhood, is a magical building that's not only more appropriate for family-sized breads, but also much more social, more connecting.

The Moroccan public oven.

This place is great! And it couldn't exist without the draw of all the local families - truly a bastion of the community.

At 9 a.m. there wasn't much traffic. The women of the area don't come down en masse until late morning, so when I arrived, MBarak, the dark-skinned scraggly fellow with the cigarette hanging from his mouth, was only just getting the fire going. From a big pile of fuel next to the operator's hole in the floor in front of the oven door, he slowly added junk wood and fire pellets to the blaze. Through the opening, which is just big enough to crawl through(when it's cold!), one can see the wood-fire off to one side - just a pile of flickering orange light and heat on the charming brick floor; no pit or brazier or anything. The low ceiling is curved down to the edges like a half-pipe, making a cozy space about five times the size of my tent.
MBarak didn't speak any French(or English or Spanish) so I made do with my shwia Ar'bia until some other dude with un peu de Fran├žais arrived to hang out. We were all in good spirits; I suppose foreigners must be a rare sight in there, especially when they actually have some bread to bake, and me, I was just tickled! I'd started a huge dough rising the night before, woke up at 4 a.m. to knock it back and split it in half, and after a few more hours' sleep, I giddily but gently carried my babies down there on a big baking sheet, covered with one of my mom's kitchen towels. (yes I travel with a bread towel ;)
I hung out, my dough resting patiently on the "unbaked" shelf, until a couple women had dropped by with their own baking sheets and kitchen towels, and he put the first batch in the oven. Watching him grab the Moroccan doughs by hand, slap 'em down on his two-meter flanged oven-stick, and expertly slide them across the oven floor in a nice neat line, I got a little worried.... The local bread is flatter, and with normal yeast it probably rises enough just from the first few minutes in the oven, so okay, maybe it won't "fall." But don't do that with my bread!! Thankfully, when mine came up in the queue, he hesitated only a split second before carefully putting the whole baking sheet in there. Whew!
I went and had a kahwa nus nus at a local cafe, and in an hour or so I returned to see how it turned out. My baking sheet was now on the "baked" shelf, the bread golden-crusted and purrfect. I flicked the bottoms and smiled - it had worked! I hung out some more, chatting and joking, and they let me take some more photographs. Now the women of the neighborhood were coming and going with frequency, sparing quick, interested glances at me from under their hijab head scarves. There were many more breads now, waiting to be baked. And, gazing fondly at the gentle curves of the finished Moroccan bread waiting for pick-up, I was strongly reminded of the Casa. It's the exact same as the one-euro loaves from the Moroccan shop around the corner from Callenbourgstraat - O what nostalgia! I loved that stuff! And I still do....
I paid 3 dirham for MBarak's services - about 30 euro-cents. Do that every day and you've got bread for the whole family for like two euros per week, not including flour. And it's energy-efficient! And who cares about a few flies?
I gave one of the loaves to grandma back at the apartment, then carefully packed my living pasta-madre pet for bicycle travel, and hit the road with enough bread for several days. One loaf goes a long way when you're not a hungry hungry nomad-base....

Long Live Pasta Madre!