“Kitchen Histories” and the Taste of Mobility in Morocco
- Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies
- Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies
- Volume 6, Number 2, 2019
- Additional Information
Mashriq & Mahjar 6, no. 2 (2019), 36–55 ISSN 2169-4435 Anny Gaul is Assistant Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Email: email@example.com Anny Gaul “KITCHEN HISTORIES” AND THE TASTE OF MOBILITY IN MOROCCO1 Abstract Scholars have long recognized the importance of everyday life to understanding the formation of modern nation-states and national cultures. Culinary culture offers especially rich insights into these processes, but the nature of culinary practice poses a challenge to researchers: namely, much of it exists not in conventional archives or written texts, but in embodied knowledge, learned gestures, and oral tradition. This article outlines a method for conducting “kitchen histories,” an ethnographically oriented oral history methodology focused on memories of kitchens and cooking. It describes the narratives of three Moroccan women in which migration and mobility are significant factors in the formation of both national and class identities. These histories highlight a tension between consolidating national cultural styles and tastes within a bounded geographical unit and the centrality of migration and middle-class mobility, both of which frequently cross national borders, to that process. In an essay on cookbooks and the making of a “national cuisine” in India, Arjun Appadurai discusses the practices of women from India’s urban, “spatially mobile” middle classes—in particular, the exchange of recipes among women hailing from different regions.2 Highlighting the relationship between textual and oral forms of culinary knowledge, he argues that these kinds of verbal exchanges were foundational to the creation of a new genre of cookbooks, a genre that is part of a process of “constructing a new middle-class ideology and consumption style for India.”3 Appadurai’s insights speak to the importance of verbal, interpersonal interactions to the codification of a cuisine intended to reflect national tastes. They also point to a central challenge facing scholars working at the intersection of nationalism and popular culture: much of everyday cultural and social practice is intangible, existing in memories, learned gestures, and oral traditions. Even once recipes are written down, they remain intertwined with the layers of Kitchen Histories 37 nontextual historical material that coproduced them—and which inform their use or evolution. Scholars have long recognized the importance of everyday life to understanding the formation of modern nation-states and national cultures. Following the work of Eric Hobsbawm and others, Jon E. Fox and Cynthia Miller-Idriss call “for examining the actual practices through which ordinary people engage and enact (and ignore and deflect) nationhood and nationalism in the contexts of their everyday lives” by studying what they term “everyday nationhood.”4 They outline a number of modalities of everyday nationhood, from the performance of symbolic rituals to forms of consumption by which individuals enact “national distinction” through “mundane tastes and preferences.”5 This article draws on examples from culinary culture in Morocco to explore the latter modality, tracing the formation of a Moroccan national cuisine within the home kitchens of the mobile middle classes, along similar lines as the context Appadurai describes. It is based on material collected through an interview-based methodological approach I refer to as “kitchen history,” which is designed to focus attention on the oral as well as gestural and sensory aspects of culinary practice and history.6 The methodology, which will be explained in further detail below, builds on an oral history interview. Women are asked to narrate their memories of kitchens, cooking, and eating, prompted not only by verbal questions but material objects, foods, and spaces. “Kitchen histories” conducted with Moroccan women reveal a tension at the heart of the formation of national culinary tastes: namely, although the making of a national cuisine reflects a process of standardization identified with a discrete, bounded geographic unit, migration and mobility are nevertheless central to that process. The dynamics of both migration and middle-class mobility, including movement within and beyond national borders, were and remain foundational to the way that certain foods were invented, reproduced, and consumed as Moroccan. For scholars of the Middle East and North Africa, this approach to the history of everyday life and nationhood offers a salient means to counter misperceptions of the region’s societies as fundamentally...