Friday, November 7, 2008


I think I have found the Moroccan counterpart to the Japanese ramen subculture. It's called besara (بسرة), a simple greenish soup made from fava beans and served with half a round of flatbread and a steaming cup of mint tea. It's cheap, typically only 5 or 6 dirhams, and is enjoyed by all classes of Moroccan working men during the day. A visit to a besara shop is usually a grungy affair, and upon visiting one will notice that the clientele is strictly 100% male. The shop owner greets you and sits you down across from a stranger, and by the time you've grunted something along the lines of "salaamuh lekm" (enunciation is a no-no here), he's brought you your soup, bread and steaming hot sweet mint tea. The bread, of course, being your primary utensil, is placed directly on the table for you to tear apart at your leisure. A single shaker of hot pepper is shared among the customers, who stay rather silent while they watch the people walking by in their business suits and Jedi robes, sipping tea and contemplating. As you tear off pieces of bread and run them through the thick soup, you try to avoid eye contact with neighboring besara shop owners, who might shoot you a glare for not trying their nearly identical shop next door. The soup itself tastes something like pea soup, and to be honest I'm not quite sure what's in it. When the bowl is empty and you've sipped the last of your mint tea, it's time to get up and walk to the plainclothed man seated near the door next to a wooden box full of money. The price of the soup is negotiable, and it somewhat dependent on how much bread you eat and how stubborn you are with bargaining.

So how is this similar to the ramen shops of Tokyo?
  • They are a dime a dozen in the city, although quality may vary dramatically. Often whole blocks are lined with them side by side.
  • They are among the cheapest lunches in the city, appealing to working men on the move
  • Communication in the shops is minimal, often reduced to grunted abbreviations of greetings and customs
  • Pepper is provided to make it as spicy as you want
  • Tea is an appropriate (and often complimentary) beverage
  • Nonstandard utensils are used to consume the soups
Overall, I find the similarities of this "working man's soup culture" striking, given the numerous other cultural differences between Morocco and Japan. Besara shops attract men of all ages and classes, from poor old men in traditional Islamic robes to young, upbeat entrepreneurs in sharp business suits. In Japan the divide is more clear, with the businessmen clearly the clients of the poorer, sweatier, bandana'd ramen chefs. I wonder if things like this exist in other cultures as well. It would be quite an interesting anthropological study.


Anonymous said...


I love reading about these cultural things. I wonder why there are no women customers. Are there other kinds of places they would go to?

Your account sounds like it was written by a seasoned world traveler... I guess because it was!


Hannah said...

What do you mean by Jedi robes? Is this part of Moroccan fashion? Please tell me you plan to take pictures/purchase one. :)

Anonymous said...

Always a Star Wars connection! Is the soup any good?