The curtains are pulled over the restaurant windows. The thick, wooden doors have no glass.
What am I in for? I wonder.
I push open the heavy doors to Marrakesh, a Moroccan restaurant in northwest Portland, and am bombarded with a rich collection of patterns, colors, and textures. Deep red and blue tapestries hang from the walls. Low round tables, made of dark wood and inlaid lighter designs dot the room. Squatty cushioned stools made of leather or red with gold brocade, circle the tables. Striped fabric is pulled from the center of the room in a tent-like fashion.
The waiter greets me, dressed in traditional Moroccan garb. The seat of his pants droops down between the baggy legs. He wears a cone-shaped hat that matches his red vest. He sets down a rolled-up towel and leaves. I figure it’s like the warm and damp towels I’ve received at a few fancy restaurants in order to wash with. I press my fingers into the towel; it’s dry. Glancing around to the other patrons, I see the towels draped over their laps. I do the same. Also, I take note that they are not using utensils.
The waiter returns with an ornate silver pitcher and matching basin. I sit waiting for him to pour a glass of water for me. He stands poised and nods, waiting for me.
“Oh!” I laugh, sticking my hands out, “it’s my first time here.” He smiles and pours water as I perform a customary, rather than sanitizing, wash.
I order the five-course special, beginning with lentil soup. Next arriving is a cold salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and a puree of carrot and eggplant scooped atop, followed by the third course of b’ stilla (a flaky, phyllo dough, covered in powder sugar and stuffed with almond slivers, raisins, and chicken). The main course is tangine of lamb with eggplant.
I eat all of this with a hunk of bread in each hand. This is my style. No need to decide which utensil is appropriate. No need to remind myself to use my knife instead of my thumb to push food onto my fork. I dive in and am thankful for the child-size towel over my lap.
After the fourth course, the waiter brings the pitcher and basin back. I bring my hands to the stream, as I know to do now. He leaves and carries back yet another silver tray and a skinny, silver container. It has a round bottom and a long, thin spout that reminds me of an old oil can.
He motions to my hands.
I oblige and he shakes the liquid over my hands, as if anointing me.
“This is rose water,” he says.
I bring my hands to my nose. The floral scent lowers any tension that could possibly be left in me. I feel like I’ve been baptized in a garden.
Savoring the final course of hot mint (sweet!) tea and a dish of yogurt topped with sliced almonds, I relax further on to the cushion and drift away with the sounds of Moroccan music. Finally, I pay the bill, pull the door to the streets of Portland, and float home as I’m inspired to plan my next adventure.