Mr Smiley the Nougat seller
Mr Smiley the “name” of the nougat seller kept ringing in my head the day we visited the Chouara tannery. We had passed by his shop to buy some nougats as gifts for colleagues back home. For the uninitiated, nougat is a family of confections made with ingredients such as honey, whipped egg whites, candied fruits in some instances, sugar and a whole variety of nuts such as almonds, walnuts, macadamia and pistachios.
He was honest, gregarious and affable. I almost passed out when he started giving peace signs. Behave Grand Dad!
Stopping at this shop which incidentally is only a few meters away from, according to UNESCO, the oldest university in the world was special. As the saying goes “Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.” We have adopted this spirit of courtesies shown mostly in gift giving in my rather interesting office. I do not go to Ghana without coming back with a whole load of shea butter to share and when it’s a destination other than Ghana I am always compelled to bring back a gift. As we stood there gazing at the nougats Mr Smiley just handed over some to taste, with a smile that communicated to me that he believed one or two bites would seal the deal for him.
We had a ball with Mr Smiley. He shot how much he wanted for two plastic containers of nougat. All he got back was a walk away in a huff hoping he’d do what they all did in Fez, call us back to barter. He didn’t. Will our hurt and bruised egos we walked back and literally complained. He smiled confidently and said emphatically that these were “Moroccan” prices i.e. not tourist prices. We was a good sport about it though as he posed for my camera and tried to hide behind his stall to make semi faces at us. How could you not buy his nougats, I remember thing to myself?
Our Fez nougats eventually made their way to London and became the star dessert attraction after lunch a few days after arrival. It did generate a bit of intense discussion which got me feverishly googling. My French colleague claimed nougat was a French invention. She was soon joined by others. For some reason I had deposited Nougat in my knowledge bank as North African or at the very least Middle Eastern. I was wrong though but I consoled myself with the fact that no one really knew its origins for sure. It is safe to assume, given what I’ve read so far about nougats, that it had been a part of French, Italian and Middle Eastern culinary history for centuries. Given there is a pretty strong French colonial connection to Morocco perhaps that explains it ubiquitous nature in the Fez medina.