Madfouna: the surprising Moroccan interpretation of pizza

Madfouna: the surprising Moroccan interpretation of pizza

(Image credit: Chris griffiths)

Traditionally cooked in the sands of the Sahara, Moroccan madfouna is locally joked as the Berber version of pizza and is cut into pieces to be shared among many.

The Saharan regions of Morocco are home to ancient culinary practices. (Chris Griffiths)

The Saharan regions of Morocco are home to ancient culinary practices. (Chris Griffiths)

The Saharan regions of Morocco are home to ancient culinary practices that allow the Amazighs (known as Berbers), an indigenous ethnic group of North Africa, to survive in otherwise inhospitable environments. The quality of the food does not lend itself to the sophistication of modern machinery, but to the skill and determination of people.

Madfouna - a stuffed flatbread made using a handful of staples (Chris Griffiths)

Madfouna – a stuffed flatbread made using a handful of staples (Chris Griffiths)

Madfouna – a stuffed flatbread made with a handful of basic ingredients – is traditionally baked in a hearth in the sand or a mud oven, and has long served as a healthy meal for many families who live on the dunes of the Erg Chebbi near the Algerian border. When baked, the bread resembles a pizza so much that it is locally nicknamed “the Berber pizza”.

Madfouna dough is kneaded until it has an elastic consistency. (Chris Griffiths)

Madfouna dough is kneaded until it has an elastic consistency. (Chris Griffiths)

Using an ancient Saharan bread recipe incorporating flour, baking powder, salt, olive oil and water, the dough is kneaded to an elastic consistency, then rolled into a round shape before being stretched over toppings – including beef, eggs, nuts, onions and garlic, and herbs and spices such as cumin, paprika, turmeric, ginger and parsley – and pinched closed.

Food must be easy to prepare in the Sahara (Photo credit: Chris Griffiths)

Food must be easy to prepare in the Sahara (Photo credit: Chris Griffiths)

With limited resources in the arid lands of the Sahara, food must be easy to prepare. When an oven is not available, people use more rustic methods of baking stuffed bread by working with the available elements, like fire.

Madfouna's dough is covered with a metal tin. (Chris Griffiths)

Madfouna’s dough is covered with a metal tin. (Chris Griffiths)

The inhabitants dig a hole in the sand and then light a small fire to heat stones placed at the base. Madfouna paste is added directly to the hot stones and covered with a metal mold or the sand itself.

Madfouna's crust should be beaten with a cloth and scraped off with a knife (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Madfouna’s crust should be beaten with a cloth and scraped off with a knife (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

A charred black crust forms where the bread has directly touched open flames and hot stones, and should be beaten with a rag and scraped with a knife before eating.

the madfouna is cut into pieces to be shared among several (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

the madfouna is cut into pieces to be shared among several (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Finally, the madfouna is cut into pieces to be shared among several.

The traditional practice of cooking in a mud oven remains common. (Chris Griffiths)

The traditional practice of cooking in a mud oven remains common. (Chris Griffiths)

Although the recipe stems from ancient cooking techniques, not all madfouna are prepared in a fireplace. The traditional practice of cooking in a mud oven remains common for many families living in small towns scattered across the Sahara. Their adobe houses often allocate a well-ventilated room or outdoor space for preparing food with this method.

Each family has their own version of madfouna (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Each family has their own version of madfouna (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Each family has its own version of madfouna. Some use more basic ingredients such as eggs, tomatoes, and sunflower or poppy seeds, while others add almonds, cashews, olives, lamb, chicken, ground beef or slices of cooked steak. The options are virtually endless.

Madfouna has an unmatched smoky taste that cannot be duplicated by a modern oven (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Madfouna has an unmatched smoky taste that cannot be duplicated by a modern oven (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Regardless of the ingredients for the filling, one thing is agreed upon throughout the region: the authentic methods of cooking madfouna in desert sands or using a mud oven undoubtedly lead to the most popular version. more delicious, with an unmatched smoky taste that cannot be reproduced by a traditional and modern oven.

Rissani is a sleepy Saharan town famous for madfouna (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Rissani is a sleepy Saharan town famous for madfouna (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Today, madfouna is mostly found in small Berber take-out pizzas in Rissani, a sleepy Saharan town famous for this dish. Adjacent to the crumbling ruins of Sijilmasa, a medieval Saharan town that served as a stronghold of trade along the routes of caravans carrying goods to sub-Saharan Africa, the modern city humbly stands as a gateway to the dunes.

“Pizza” symbols to indicate where you can order a takeout madfouna (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

In Rissani, a slightly faster pace of life than in the desert leads to a greater demand for fast food. Tucked away in the narrow streets of the market and conveniently placed near the taxi ranks, are small “hole in the wall” take-out joints with “pizza” symbols to indicate where you can order a take-out madfouna, the main course of the restaurant. menu.

Chefs spin orders for madfouna in large fire ovens. (Chris Griffiths)

Chefs spin orders for madfouna in large fire ovens. (Chris Griffiths)

It is not uncommon for these restaurants to be so busy that people line up for over an hour as chefs rotate their orders in the large fire ovens, which are also used to bake fresh bread and toast. lamb, beef and whole chicken slowly roasted.

Each madfouna is unique to everyone's tastes (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Each madfouna is unique to everyone’s tastes (Credit: Chris Griffiths)

Each madfouna is so unique to everyone’s tastes that locals often bring their own toppings – sourced from trusted butchers or made at home by family members – which they ask chefs to prepare in their orders.

The Berber-style flatbreads are even served take-out in a cardboard box. (Chris Griffiths)

The Berber-style flatbreads are even served take-out in a cardboard box. (Chris Griffiths)

The hole-in-the-hole restaurants are so much like take-out pizzas that the freshly baked Berber-style flatbreads are even served in a cardboard box.

Madfouna is the perfect food to share before setting off on a journey through the Sahara (Photo credit: Chris Griffiths)

Madfouna is the perfect food to share before setting off on a trip through the Sahara (Photo credit: Chris Griffiths)

It’s the perfect food to share before setting off on a trip through the Moroccan Sahara.

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