Every evening, at sundown, the snail soup seller set up his stall on the main square. We watched him from the roof of the only bar in town which would sell me a beer. It was Ramadan and the street hawkers were doing good business in this ancient fortified town on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. The snail soup in particular was attracting crowds of enthusiastic locals, and I knew that J wanted more than anything to try it.
I have lots of blurry pictures of food from that holiday. In the medina, I snatched shots of sheep’s heads and cows’ feet on my phone. Those weren’t going into the fare they served the tourists. Nearby, squawking chickens were selected and slaughtered in an instant, and blood ran in the streets. It was an education in real life and death for my 12 year old. At the harbour, we named our budget and chose our seafood, which was grilled out in the open while we waited. And back at our lodgings, the woman who cooked invited us into her kitchen to watch while she prepared the evening’s tagine.
I think there might be a gene for an adventurous palate. When I first adopted him, J was remarkable for his appetite. While in foster care, he’d had the plain, healthy, very British diet of a child of my own generation (his foster carers were in their sixties). Think meat pies and swede. Everyone thought he ate a lot because in his earliest years before he was taken into care, food had only been provided sporadically, and sometimes barely at all. In reality, I think he just adored food and could not refuse any new culinary experience. He takes delight in identifying every ingredient in sometimes quite complex dishes, from taste alone. Not long after he moved in, my social worker couldn’t conceal her delight when he announced that his favourite food was now frittata.
All this to say that J was certainly familiar with the taste of snails by the time we arrived in Essaouira. Our forays into France had made sure of that. But Essaouiran snail soup never did make it onto our menu; there was too much to try and not enough time.