The Singular Satisfaction of Overcoming a Food Fear
Khlii in Morocco
“There’s no way I’m eating that!” I loudly protested to my soon-to-be husband as he eyed a vat of yellowish paste one day in Marrakech. “You should just try it, it’s really good,” he cajoled me. But I was firm. No way, no how was that going in my mouth. It looked like something a cat had coughed up. He gave up, shrugged, then ordered it anyway. I had to leave the table.
Moroccans have learned how to eat and preserve almost every part of an animal; some of it is good while the rest has something to be desired. Khlii is one example of these preservation techniques. Hard to pronounce but supposedly delicious to eat, khlii is cured and dried strips of meat (usually beef or sheep) that have been preserved in fat. It is sometimes labeled as rotten meat, which isn’t true. A spoonful is added to a hot skillet to melt and then cooked with eggs. It’s sometimes also used to stuff in breads or mixed into soups.
I thought after my first run-in I was in the clear, but every time we went to visit Morocco, and every time my husband returned from a trip, a plastic container of khlii was present. Slowly I learned not to recoil from the sight of it, though I couldn’t imagine taking a bite. As we had children, they, too, learned to appreciate their Dad’s love of this mystery meal and wondered why I never joined in. “Go ahead, you guys enjoy,” was always my response.
We moved to Morocco almost ten years after our first meeting. One day, when we had friends visiting, we decided to take them for breakfast. My husband claimed he had a great spot that we would love. I trusted his instincts and happily went. He ordered a traditional breakfast and our table was graced with all of the components that make a great Moroccan breakfast. There was soft, flat batbout bread and small plates of butter, olives, honey, amalou (an argan oil and almond paste), argan oil, and olive oil. I very happily tucked in. Then the waiter brought something else.
This isn’t happening, I thought. My friends knew I was a total foodie and rejecting this meal would mean they wouldn’t want to try it either. I smiled while secretly shooting eye daggers at my husband. He somehow had seduced me into trying it after all these years. He knew I wouldn’t let on to our friends that I was too afraid. So I did the only thing I could.
I ate it.
Ripping off a piece of bread I tentatively went for the eggs, avoiding the meat chunks. I put it in my mouth and chewed. No problems yet. I took another piece of bread and held my breath while reaching for the meat, quickly moving it from the plate to my mouth before I could think to much. I chewed and smiled. My husband laughed.
It turns out khlii reminded me an awful lot of beef jerky and tasted absolutely delicious. I so regretted having missed eating it for all these years. If you open my fridge today there’s one thing you’re sure to see: a small plastic container filled with khlii. Just for me.