In my short, eventful life, I’ve shoved many a breast into my mouth.
Mainly, the mammaries have hailed from chickens, like the crunchy, juicy cluckers from Fort Greene’s No. 7 (7 Greene Ave., betw. Oxford & Fulton Sts.) or the East Village’s first-rate The Redhead (349 E. 13th St., bet. 1st & 2nd Aves.), which makes waist-busters as fab as anything fried down South. But no breast experience could prepare me for what I ingested in northern Africa.
Armed with Pepto-Bismol and a fistful of credit cards, I recently vacationed in Morocco. The trip was my girlfriend’s fancy, but her vegetarianism made her a terrible dining partner in a country where lamb and camel are consumed by the metric ton. Fortunately, our companions were Parisian pals Emily and Bati, a Frenchman who favors snails, pigeons and duck tongues by the dozen.
“The quacking makes them extra delicious,” he said when I saw him six months ago, sucking flesh from the appendages at Flushing’s Sichuan star Little Pepper (133-43 Roosevelt Ave.). He’s a fearless eater, unafraid of offal or fermented stinky tofu. The more unfortunate—and cheaper—the comestible, the happier he is. Even better, Bati is forever famished.
“Let’s eat,” he ordered, upon our arrival in sun-baked Marrakesh. After 14 hours of flight, including a layover in Brussels, where I drank monk-made Orval beer at sunrise, I was eager to devour Morocco. In Marrakesh, that meant visiting the teeming city’s chaotic heart: Djemaa El Fna. Once the site of public executions (its translated name is “assembly of the dead”), the expansive square bristles with snake charmers, henna artists, zooming scooters, guitarists wearing live chickens as hats and street vendors, their aromatic meat smoke swirling above the hubbub.
After every evening’s Islamic call to prayer, numbered food stalls materialize in regimented rows. Sweaty chefs in white smocks ignite stoves and stack hills of veggies and skewered kebabs. Pushy hawkers proffer menus and boasts (“Hey, Starvin’ Marvin, our food is finger lickin’ good,” one grinning salesmen says; “Five-star Michelin,” another says, gesturing to a grease-covered bench). The scene recalls Red Hook’s ballfield vendors, as run by the East Sixth Street Indian gang on amphetamines. But like basset hounds on the hunt, Bati and I sniff out deliciousness.
A thin, circular bread loaf is split and swollen with hard-boiled eggs and potatoes, then sprinkled with fresh herbs, cumin and pepper-spiked harissa. Harira (bean soup) is soothing and chickpea-packed, while pinkies of sausages are greasy guilty pleasures. Still, what’s the fun of visiting a foreign country and subsisting on victuals you can identify? Dining abroad is about escaping your culinary comfort zone by opening your mind—and mouth—to new-fangled foodstuffs. In love and dining, everything is fair game.
In Beijing, I speared a rooster’s gelatinous, chewy cockscomb. Kazakhstan provided a quivering mass of camel tripe. And in Marrakesh, Bati and I sat at a stall displaying lamb heads, their teeth frozen in macabre smiles that might’ve inspired the Joker. “Are you a lily?” Bati asked, rubbing his hands and licking his lips.
“I’m more of a poppy,” I said, ordering a quarter head. It was dunked into a gurgling, oily stockpot, then hacked apart as casually as a cold-blooded killer—jawbone shattered, brain matter splattered like gray jam. The gory spectacle resulted in meat shards that were sharp, rich and satisfying, provided I ignored the blackened lamb eye sockets staring my direction. While Bati scooped up brown nose bits, I turned my attention to a Christmas ham–size hunk of meat the color of flan. In flawless French (Morocco’s second language, thanks to colonialism), Bati inquired as to the food’s origins.
“He said it was a woman’s tit,” Bati said, puzzled. A woman’s tit? A breast, I surmised, running the phrase through my foreign-translation filter. Sure, why not try the breast of lamb! The breast was hacked into bite-size bricks, then served sauce-less. I grabbed a chunk and, beaming like a beheaded lamb, incisored it in half. This was unlike any sheep I’d consumed, almost sexual in its sensual lusciousness.
“There’s nothing like sheep breast,” I boasted to Bati.
“Do you know what you’re eating?” he asked, pushing away the plate.
“I’m eating—oh, no,” I said, as the dots connected like a terrible constellation. There is no breast of sheep; I was eating a sheep’s breast, the nipple-covered mammary glands fit for suckling baby lambs.
“No,” I moaned. I envisioned a mama sheep bleating mournfully, unable to feed her offspring, their tiny mouths grasping for nipples now entering my digestive tract.
“Yes,” Bati said, grabbing another gristly lump of lamb face, its smile long vanished. “Looks like you’re a lily after all.”