Happy Ramadan

Friday, March 17 2006, 00:00:00

When I came to Morocco the annual passage through Ramadan became a difficult time to get work done with staff working shorter hours and fatigued from having spent the night before eating until the wee hours to make up for what they’d missed during the day. It was also a challenge for me to find a restaurant open or the local liquor store that still sold wines and spirits to foreigners. I confess I didn’t have much sensitivity for the practice and it became a month of endurance more than anything else.
When I started Rick’s in the back of my mind I thought, “At least I’ll never suffer for a place to eat during Ramadan!” The first year I was shocked to see how many Moroccans and foreigners left Casablanca during Ramadan. We decided to only open for dinner, from 7:30 (sundown was between 5:30 and 6, as I remember), and our business was terrible. However that first Ramadan at Rick’s will always be a special one. I decided to fast in solidarity with the people working with me. Kyle and Sarah were here then and during the day we prepared the harira soup, aided by Houssein our maintenance manager who was in charge of all the accompaniments. Usually Issam came by with other goodies to enrich our feast and we enjoyed our ftour in the empty restaurant.
The second year we chose to open for lunch as well, and business improved a little as word was getting out that we were open (other than the day when we had only one dining client, a man who came in alone at lunch and had a hamburger)...the kitchen prepared the ftour, it became a little less personal, but it still was special. This year we were contacted during the summer by a local lifestyle magazine who wanted to do a photo coverage of innovative ftour ideas at Rick’s. After objecting that we weren’t open for ftour we were finally persuaded to come up with some new options and our chef obliged with our fish soup and American breakfast plates. Afterwards we decided why not open for ftour??? We scrapped the American breakfast idea, prefering to keep it simple, and have the traditional Moroccan ftour, our Fish Soup with condiments and fruit salad, and for the light eaters, Gaspacho with an almond tart. Adding ftour to our Ramadan repetoire has been well-received by the local community, but will be a mistake unless I can use it to educate tourists, especially Americans, about the holiday and what Muslims go through during the month.
This year as it’s earlier in the year and the sun sets later, around 6:30 here. We open for lunch from 12noon until 3 pm – for non Muslim clients - with basic waiting staff and a staffed-up kitchen. Our doors open in the evening at 6pm rather than 6:30 to allow for people coming for the ftour to get settled, order their ftour choice and be ready to eat. We recognize, because we have all gone through it, that Muslim clients coming for the ftour need to eat immediately, and our poor staff who must try to serve them, have to grab their soup and sweets on the run. For foreigners, we hope they’ll be open to learning about Ramadan and recommend they try to fast during the day to better appreciate the “breaking of the fast.” But for those coming in to eat ftour at 6:30 who have already had lunch we ask a little patience. Since the doors open at 6, the bar opens at 6 too and people can come for drinks downstairs with the understanding the kitchen won’t start dinner service at 8. Those really anxious to start their dinner can order the fish soup or gaspacho ftour as their starter!
We’re into the fourth day of Ramadan now and service at ftour time is still a little rough – just like trying anything new it’s going to take some time, but I look at it as another way Rick’s Cafe is doing its part to aquaint visitors to Morocco with the practices and culture of Islam. Ramadan Karim!