It’s 3am, and from the silent street we can hear the piercing sound of the harira man’s wake up alarm.
He is used to such early starts. In fact, apart from on Friday’s, everyday begins this way.
It is still dark, the sun wont rise for another hour yet – so the usually busy and happening area is empty and calm. We can see the appeal of working these hours, as it is rare that one is treated to peaceful moments inside of the medina.
There is one hour between the alarm wake up call and the call for prayer, so the mission is set. Harira must be ready to serve by the time the morning prayers are over and everybody leaves the mosque.
There are several different adaptations of Moroccan harira (soup), each eaten at specific intervals in the day or for particular festivals. Each recipe is packed full of ingredients which are designed to give a strong hit of energy and nutrients, including lentils and legumes.
The unfussy, white breakfast harira is called Hssoua Belboula (literally meaning barley soup). Although the ingredients may not sound appealing to everybody; there is nothing better than a steaming hot bowl of white harira accompanied by a strong and spicy coffee to kick start your day, and your digestive system.
At the time our harira man arrives to the kitchen, the barley has already been soaking and boiling in a deep and large pan overnight. It is now softened enough to have the other ingredients added.
He begins by adding a generous helping of olive oil to the concoction, and giving it a quick stir.
Next he fills a slightly smaller pan with hot water, and places it on the stove next to the barley mix to bring to the boil. In the meantime, the spiced coffee is prepared and put on a low heat to simmer gently.
Once the second pan of water is boiling, it is taken off the heat and combined with two large bags of plain flour and an abundance of salt. It is whisked thoroughly to prevent any lumps in the flour, then added to the barley mix and stirred again, finally being left on the heat to thicken accordingly.
By 3.30am, the early birds are waiting at the door. The day’s first customers are generally the homeless in the area, who come to collect the free bowl of harira and a cup of spicy coffee that they are entitled to. In Islam, Zaqqat (charity) is generally given on a Friday; but in this harira outlet it is given everyday – those who are unable to pay for their own meal will be provided with breakfast on the house, without question or judgement.
After a sampling of the broth by the chef, at 4am (right on cue) the first people collect their bowl of harira to enjoy. A splash of milk, drizzle of olive oil and spoonful of cumin are usually chucked onto each helping; but it can be enjoyed without if this is your preference.
One bowl of warm harira and a coffee will generally set you back by 5 moroccan dirhams, but if you can afford to pay it forward and give some extra then it will really help the kitchen to continue offering free meals to those in need.