Jaynie has extensive experience with party and event planning. She has planned events for groups of 20 to 600 people.
Creating a Moroccan Feast at Home
In order to host a traditional Moroccan feast it is important to understand the Moroccan culture. Only by understanding the culture can you truly create a flavorful atmosphere at home and a more authentic experience for your guests.
Understanding the Ceremonial Meal
Moroccan feasts are ceremonious events that can include up to 50 courses! In traditional Moroccan homes, the master of the house does not eat with his guests, opting instead, to supervise the ceremonious meal. As the meal begins, each guest shakes hands with the person to their right, though never starting with the mistress of the house. Following the ceremonial handshake, each guest seats themselves on cushions that have been placed directly on the floor.
Once his guests have been seated, the master of the home, carrying a towel over his left arm and a pitcher of scented water in his right, proceeds around the table, sprinkling a few drops of water over each guest's right hand. Because Moroccan's eat meals with their fingers, the ceremonial cleansing is an integral part of each feast. Guests then use the master's towel to wipe the scented water from their hands. Even couscous, a traditional middle-eastern dish which is rice-like in consistency, is eaten with the fingers by pressing it into small bite-sized balls. Guests dip their fingers into ramekins of water to freshen them between courses.
The meal begins as the master of the house eats the first morsel and offers the ritual blessing, which is called Bismallah. Literally translated, Bismallah means, "Praise be to God!"
Each guest is expected to eat a bit of everything with the ultimate goal of achieving chban, or complete satisfaction.
Incorporating traditional middle-eastern entertainment into your event will give it that extra panache that will keep your guests talking for months or years afterward! Three examples are the smoking of the hookah, belly-dancing and henna tattooing.
The Hookah, or shisha, as it is known in Arabic, is a single or multistemmed, often glass-bottomed water pipe which operates by water filtration and indirect heat. It is often used for smoking herbal fruits or tobacco. It has been said that Arabs design the finest shishas and most preferred flavored tobaccos in the world. Smoking is a social event which is done using pipes that each have one to four hoses depending upon the number of persons smoking. When a smoker is ready to pass the pipe, he either places it back on the table or hands it to the next person, folding it back on itself so that the mouthpiece does not point directly at the person. In some circles, it is traditional for the recipient to tap or slap the previous smoker on the back of the hand while taking the pipe, as a sign of respect and friendship.
Belly dancing is a western term for a traditional Arab dance genre known as raqs sharqi, which literally means, oriental dance. It is rooted in ancient Babylon in southern Iraq where women perfected the art of the dance, while men perfected the art of drumming in order to provide accompaniment. Traditionally, men hosted large feasts and watched women perform. Belly dancing was banned with the advent of Islam, with the exception of women who performed for their husbands. Despite the ban, the dance remained popular among rich Arab men who gathered poor women and forced them to perform. In northern Africa where Morocco is located, Arab men purchased slaves from around the globe and enlisted Arab women to teach the slaves how to belly dance.
Henna has been used in the eastern Mediterranean since the late Bronze Age to adorn young women's bodies during social and holiday celebrations. It was often used to decorate the bodies of young brides as they prepared to meet their new husbands. These early traditions, in which fertile young women adorned themselves with henna, may have been the origin of the Night of Henna. Brides, and in many cultures grooms as well, celebrate their marriages by applying elaborate henna patterns on their hands and feet. This tradition is found among Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians, among others. When the Prophet Mohammed used henna and mehndi, its place in history was secured and its popularity soared throughout the Muslim world. In regions where henna was readily available, it was used to celebrate the saints. Animals such as prized horses, donkeys and salukis had their hooves, paws and tails hennaed by owners. Henna is usually a ritualistic part of celebrations of birth, battle victories, circumcisions and weddings. Henna has become synonymous with joy and celebration throughout the world, particularly the Muslim world, provided that it is readily available.
Feasting on a Smaller Budget
You don't need to rent a big tent and hire entertainers if those features are not conducive to your budget. You can throw a beautiful dinner party for a smaller group for far less expense. Though the Moroccan feast typically features a 50 course meal, your party can be just as successful and every bit as delicious with far fewer courses. First, consider that Moroccans eat meals differently than we do. Their "courses" are served separately and many account for what we might otherwise consider to be "side-dishes." While we may serve vegetables, starches and meats on the same plate at the same time, a Moroccan will serve each of these items on its own and each is considered to be its own course.
Now that you understand how Moroccans serve their meals, you can determine how many courses to serve. Though less authentic, your Moroccan feast will be quite enjoyable if you blend cultures and decide to serve Moroccan foods in a more Americanized style, that is, using silverware and serving several courses simultaneously.
When planning your menu, you may want to consider dishes that are diverse in texture, color and taste in order to offer guests a more authentic taste of Morocco. Fresh breads, salads and fruit platters are popular in Moroccan culture and these items are easy to prepare and even purchase from the market. I find that preparing couscous, roasted chicken and a crockpot of Moroccan chicken in addition to these other items provides a pleasing, tempting array of dishes. Because much of this food can be prepared in advance, you'll have more time to concentrate on creating a festive atmosphere on the day of your party.
Creating the Ambience
Consider hosting your gathering in the living room instead of in your kitchen. Doing so will allow your guests to be inundated with the marvelous aromas from the feast without having to look at the mess in your kitchen! Your living room will also provide a comfortable and more authentic setting. Remember that Moroccan tradition includes sitting on the floor, perched upon or reclined into decorative throw pillows and eating with one's fingers from a low table in the middle of the gathering. In order to protect your carpet, consider using an inexpensive tablecloth under your table, with another one draped over the table. Cloths of contrasting colors will add greater flair to the atmosphere. Don't be afraid to use bold colors and patterns. A low table can be accomplished in many homes by simple unscrewing the legs of your dining table and placing the platform directly onto the floor or atop crates. You may already have several decorative throw pillows on your sofa. If you need more, but don't want to purchase them, you might purchase inexpensive fabrics and sew your own pillows. If your guests are not comfortable sitting on the floor, consider seating them at a table, but line each chair with a decorative pillow. You may also drape or tie chiffon ribbons around the backs of your chairs to add a splash of color.
If an outdoor party is more your style, consider renting a small tent made of mosquito netting in which to host your gathering. If this isn't in line with your budget, don't despair. There are a variety of highly effective products on the market which can hold the pesky insects at bay for hours. In addition, citronella candles and tiki torches can add illumination and mosquito repellent to your party. You may consider using tiki torches to line your driveway or front porch to signify to guests, upon arrival, that something special is happening inside.
Lighting is at least as important as any other aspect of the environment. You can set the mood in a variety of ways. First, consider using only candlelight. Consider using a variety of sizes and shapes to cast a warm glow over the room that will add to the romance and authenticity of your party. You may also consider draping chiffons over your lampshades and using dimmer watt bulbs to create a rich, elegant atmosphere. Hanging a string of white lights around the perimeter of the room will add a nice touch. You can also drape the string of lights over an existing curtain rod or through greenery which can be draped across your mantle piece. If your party is outdoors, try stringing the lights across a fence, along your gutters or tool shed.
Music is one of the most important aspects of your event because it really helps to set the mood. Whether you are going for a more subdued or very festive atmosphere, there is music out there for your gathering. Now all you have to do is find it. Because music is so powerful, I must confess that many of the parties I have planned have been inspired after I first found the music! Some of the most enjoyable Moroccan music that I have discovered on i-Tunes includes such artists as Chalf Hassan; Rachid Taha; Sufi Brotherhood; Hakim; The Kamkars; Farid El Atrache; Aradia and DJ Zen Fatme Serhan; Ercan Saatchi; Kurd; Kayhan Kalhor & M.R. Shajarian; and Petrol Bomb Samosa. Because a gathering of this type is focused on the feast and conversation, the music should be enjoyable, but played at the proper decibel so as not to become a distraction.
If the feast and company are the main focus of your gathering, you've likely covered everything using the simple tips provided so far. If you're interested in having entertainment you might consider on of the suggestions above such as smoking the hookah, having a henna tattoo artist or a belly dancer. Henna tattoos also come in self-application kits which guests might have fun applying on one another. Such kits can often be found in craft or hobby shops.