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Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for February 15, 2000

The Interpreter

Monday in Morocco

I phoned the Restaurant Rissani in Casablanca to confirm that my wife and I would be there Tuesday morning at 9 A.M. We were to learn and photograph the preparation of Harira (hu-ree-ruh). Harira is the steaming brew used by Moroccan Moslems at sundown to break their daily fast during the holy lunar month of Ramadan. Madame Benthammadi Fatna would be our instructor.

Tuesday in the Kitchen

Since the chef and the McMillins had no common language, I had arranged with the government Tourist Bureau to furnish an interpreter. I phoned them to confirm and they gave me the bad news that none would be available! So, we charged ahead, resigned to a hard morning of communicating by smiles and pantomime.

Madame Fatna

Madame Fatna preparing Harira under the watchful eyes of my wife and the restaurant "manager."

Adorned with tribal tattoos from forehead to ankle, Madame Fatna was a photographer's dream. So as she and my wife got down to business, I quickly set up my two still cameras, one movie camera and the movie lights. It created enough of a stir that the manager (left in the photo) joined us to watch the procedure. Fortunately, he didn't say a word, so provided no distraction. The saffron, chick-peas, cubes of loin of beef coriander leaves, lentils, etc. cascaded into the massive cauldron. After an exhausting 90 minutes of trying to get the fine points by gesture and shrugs, they were through. I packed the cameras as the manager watched, and thanked him for arranging the demonstration. He replied in perfect English, "Mr. McMillin, I'm not the manager. I'm the interpreter sent by the Tourist Bureau!!"

Harira and Wine

Recovering from the shock out in the dining room, we were offered a local red wine to enjoy with the soup, which is very suitable for an American winter day. The wine had an earthy core, reminding me of a good Mourvedre. So that's our wine of the day...

1996 Concannon Mourvedre, Contra Costa County, $17
Winemaker—He's a rare one, just as good with words as he is with grapes, Tom Lane. For more on that, see "Tom's Touch", WineDay, Dec. 10, 1997. Here's what Tom says about this wine. "Vibrant septuagenarians—such as our Grower, Walt Antoniazzi, and his vines, both pulsate with life's experiences. Walt is the sensitive keeper of rather aged yet responsive vines...a combination that yields intensely flavored fruit."
Rating—For those who enjoy the lesser-known reds, this one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Food Affinities—Tom didn't mention serving it with Harira, but did suggest pouring "this savagely fruity Mourvedre with wild boar sausage."
Contact—(925) 447-3760, FAX—(925) 456-2501

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created February 2000