New Jersey Food Journal

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Moroccan Meal Inspires Adventure at Home

Popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, camel meat is a delicacy. | Photo credit: Trisha Shears

By Alexa Wybraniec

I have a brand new relationship with healthy grub. I have fallen head-over-heels. My mother is a nurse, but she’s about as bland as it gets when it comes to meals. She’s healthy, don’t get me wrong, but she can’t cook to save her life. Her lunches are limited to some mix of salad greens or, to my horror, a Lean Cuisine. My father has run the New York City Marathon twice, but you’d never know it by looking at him. He’s a little overweight and has a myriad of health problems, including high cholesterol. His midnight Klondike bar doesn’t help. Meanwhile, my brothers are Taco Bell and McDonald's fiends. Sometimes I look around the dinner table on pizza Fridays and shake my head. How did I end up in this family?

On my own, I developed a taste for authenticity. Spring break in Morocco was a turning point for my life – and my palate. My roommate and I were hyped about riding a camel, and when that fell through, our tour guide offered us camel burgers in Fes. That burger was probably about the most daring thing I’ve ever eaten, and well worth it. We had just poured each other second glasses of mint tea in the traditional way (teapot at least a foot above the table, making bubbles in the drink). From our rooftop table, we could see the entire okra-tinted medina, which breathed and bustled on a busy Wednesday. When our waitress came back, I smelled them before I saw them. Two lumpy, slightly charred burgers, encased in regional bread, topped with Cheddar cheese, lettuce and onions, were plopped in front of our growling stomachs. I dove in, mouth first, and was surprised at how tough the meat was. It was fantastically prepared, though, and must have been cooked with African spices, as it was the best thing I’d tasted in my short life as a foodie. From there, I was hooked. I wanted to try everything.
“On the first night, I ate duck and goat cheese at a quaint French cafe in the Latin Quarter. My grandma beamed at my adventurousness, my mom, eating chicken, was horrified.”

When I returned to New Jersey, I began seeking out the hidden gems of Hillsborough. I entered the farmer’s market for the first time. I discovered La Costenita, a small Mexican kitchen, and talked at length with the owner of the store (a lively little lady from Oaxaca). My boyfriend and I offered to revamp her store’s website, and she offered us a year of free burritos in return. We’ve yet to embark, so I’m not exactly sure how many burritos are in a year. Over the summer, I convinced my mom and grandparents that Montreal would be a better choice for August than Miami and I promised myself to try a new food every day. On the first night, I ate duck and goat cheese at a quaint French cafe in the Latin Quarter. My grandma beamed at my adventurousness; my mom, eating chicken, was horrified. It was as if my brain couldn’t keep up with my stomach – I just wanted more.

Now I live in New Brunswick. I was so stressed on my first day of sophomore year, trying to juggle a job as an editor at The Daily Targum (which literally became full-time) with a regular course-load and sometimes a social life. I ran six miles for the first time and suddenly I had another craving. In March, I’ll be running my first half-marathon. In preparation, I try to ignore the snow, hit the rock wall as often as possible, and keep my refrigerator stocked with fruits and veggies. I only get a quarter of the fridge to work with, so I play Tetris in there. It can be hard eating healthy in the greasy, pizza pit that is New Brunswick. It can be hard eating healthy just being in college. Yet, I have a little voice in my head that keeps me on point, constantly nagging me to walk the extra few miles, to find the next La Costenita. As my tastes evolve and my feet run faster, I need to find healthy choices that eschew my Plain Jane upbringing.

I need food that can keep up with me.

Alexa Wybraniec is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies, and minoring in French. She is a foodie – and runner – in training.