Soon after my arrival in Fez last month, I came down with a nasty summer cold. A medina friend came to the rescue, concerned after listening to me hack away for several days. When I answered a knock at the heavy street door, she held out a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, bottled just for me. I was about to experience the Moroccan gift of “beldi“.
“Zitoun beldi!” she announced, thrusting the gin bottle into my hands as she stepped inside. “Wahad,” she advised, handing me a tablespoon, and mimicking sleep. “Take one spoonful every night before you sleep”. Patting her chest, she smiled, “Ana”, “Me”, followed by a barrage of Moroccan Arabic. I got the message: “I do it myself, and I never get sick.”
The olive cure-all
Olive cultivation is central to Moroccan cuisine and culture. Masters of curing, marinating and infusing olives, Moroccans eat them with just about every meal, even breakfast. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn they practically drink olive oil as a preventive measure or treatment for a host of ills, especially after learning that the remedy is prescribed in the Koran.
“Beldi” refers both to the fruity olive variety grown in Morocco’s Middle Atlas and to the traditional ways produce, meats and herbal concoctions are prepared for culinary and cosmetic use. Many foods described as beldi here, qualify as “slow food”, as well, since they are prepared for consumption according to time-honored methods.
Beldi does not mean organic, although it often has many of the qualities we associate with organic cultivation and preparation: no pesticides, chemicals, or artificial preservatives. It is a term the locals throw around frequently, and with pride, and my ears perk up when I hear it.
Beldi olive oil is good stuff, aromatic and fruity. It is also pricey by local standards, even if it does come in recycled bottles. Nonetheless, my neighbor brushed off any attempts to reimburse her for the gift. Before she intervened, I’d been to see a pharmacist, who sent me home with decongestant tablets. The tablets helped, but was it the friendly dose of olive oil that really cured me?
Black soap, another “Moroccan gift of Beldi”
Beldi takes many forms, but there is a constant: Anything beldi is unrefined, rustic, representative of the region, genuine and authentic. Black soap, also made from olives and olive oil, is another much-loved Moroccan product. And visiting a Moroccan hammam is another way to experience it.
Have you had a beldi experience in Morocco?