A walk through my Miami neighborhood takes me past a Spanish melody echoing out of the Cuban restaurant, the faint chatter of a masked crowd waiting outside of the Japanese bistro, and the sight of fresh gyros being assembled through the window of my favorite Greek spot. While many associate Miami with its Cuban presence in culture and cuisine, our city is home to many smaller communities that make up our melting pot. Over the past year, my family and I have been discovering Miami’s Moroccan community through our friend Maryama. Maryama grew up in Casablanca, Morocco and immigrated to Miami, Florida by herself at 25 years old. It was in Miami that she met and fell in love with her husband Amr and had three kids together. Maryama came to be a part of our lives after my mother, a nurse, began to care for her son. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Maryama as she shared her love of cooking and how she uses food to keep her Morrocan culture alive in a new country.
Caroline: How did you learn to cook?
Maryama: I learned to cook at home when I was growing up with my family. Cooking is all we do! It’s a big part of our culture. Cooking was my school. It’s how I learned many things. If we were home, we were cooking!
What were some of your favorite dishes growing up?
I loved couscous, of course! I loved to make bastilla, which was a baked pie with fish. These were very special dishes for us.
When you moved to the United States, did you feel any pressure to “Americanize” and forget or hide your culture?
I did not feel that pressure in Miami. Even though I was adapting to a new country, I still wanted to keep my culture and was able to do so here. I would cook only Moroccan food for myself. I don’t miss Morocco a lot now, but I still feel connected to my culture. I travel back there to visit sometimes.
Were you able to make new friends and find a support system here?
Yes, I was able to make some friends. My best friend here is from my city back home, and we have a big group of friends. We would meet every couple of weeks, before Covid of course.
How do you keep your Moroccan heritage alive for yourself and your family?
I keep a Moroccan fridge and a Moroccan kitchen full of spices. I cook only Moroccan food for my kids, and I make sure that they have the same dishes I had growing up. I try to incorporate some of my culture into the decor in the house. For example, I have furniture from Morocco in the house. I also teach the kids my native language.
Where do you buy your ingredients? Are there any good markets in South Florida that sell Moroccan ingredients? Is it hard to find ingredients sometimes?
Well, something I love to do is buy lots of spices in Morocco when I visit and bring them back with me (she laughs). But here, although I have not seen any specifically Moroccan markets, I have been able to find many Moroccan spices and ingredients in Asian markets, some Chinese markets and Indian markets like Big Bazar. Many of our traditional ingredients, such as ginger and saffron, can also be found in the average supermarkets like Publix and Walmart. I can usually find most of the ingredients I need to cook Moroccan food here.
Are there any good Moroccan restaurants in South Florida?
Although Moroccan food is not as present as other cuisines in the Miami restaurant scene, there are some Moroccan restaurants such as Dar Tajine and King David Cuisine. There are some restaurants that blend Moroccan cuisine with other cuisines such as French and Spanish, like Rouge and Boulud. Many Mediterranean restaurants offer Moroccan food options. Surprisingly, many Jewish restaurants here offer great Moroccan food. Some Jewish restaurants that offer Moroccan dishes are Shalom Haifa Kosher Restaurant and Subres Grill.
Has it been hard to pass on your culture to your children when you are living in a different country?
It has been hard to pass on my culture to the kids because of school and work. Most of the time, the kids are at school and I am at work. I work from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Even when the kids have a break from school, I don’t usually have many holidays off from work. Because of this, I don’t get as much time with them as I would like, but I try to teach them about my culture as much as I can. I try to show them my culture and practice my language with them. Learning my language has been hard because they mostly speak English all day in school, but I am trying. They cannot speak it very well right now, but they can understand a little better.
Finally, would you be able to share one of your recipes with me?
Yes, of course! I am going to write a couscous recipe for you.
Thank you so much for chatting with me today!
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There are people like Maryama all over the U.S who immigrate here from around the world and bravely face a new country, culture, and language. However, they still find different ways to preserve a piece of their heritage, as Maryama does with her cooking. Food gives us the power to take our culture with us wherever we go, and provides us the comfort of home in new, unfamiliar places. Through food, we can also learn to appreciate cultures that may not be our own and embrace people like Maryama, who make our country so wonderfully eclectic.