A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

fantasy foods: just add water

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 10, 2006

My first hummus came from a box.

In the early 1990s, hummus came to the midwest courtesy of Fantastic Foods, accompanied by tabouli and falafel. open the cardboard box, pull out the sealed plastic bag, empty contents into a bag, add water (and, for extra pizzazz, a tablespoon of oil, some chopped parsley, and/or cucumbers), and … presto! the shores of the mediterranean lapped at my toes.

I have tried to explain this just-add-water hummus to friends around the region, along with the flavored varieties (lemon, garlic, artichoke heart, or – my favorite – chipotle) sold in the deli section of most US groceries. They respond politely, with bafflement and, ultimately, sympathy, as the deprived nature of our American culinary lives sinks in.

I have no objections to hummus in a box. it was fantastic, the way water brought a magic new food experience into our lives. I still buy the company’s products (not the hummus though, and certainly not the tabouli, which I now spell tabbouleh and think of exclusively in salad terms) – especially its couscous, which comes in a health-and-conscience-saving organic whole wheat variety.

What does distress me is the continued fantasy elements at play in selling foods whose exoticism has had over a decade to wear away.

The front of the organic wheat couscous box is an attractive medley of colorful elements: a large, well-photographed product shot (of a modified Moroccan couscous dish), with the “Fantastic World Foods” logo (shaped like an old trunk travel stamp) separating the photograph from an inset photograph above it – the Menara Gardens, outside Marrakesh.

FF Organic Whole Wheat Couscous

I get it. Couscous is Moroccan, or at least North African. I have no trouble with product packaging that references the product’s origin – as with Barilla pasta, for example – or shows its application in classic dishes.

The “story” on the back of the box, though, drives me nuts:

“The sultans of Marrakech knew how to party. In the countryside around the city walls, they built parks and pleasure palaces designed to set the scene for elaborate feasts and other festivities. Menara Gardens is a legacy of that era, a place where modern-day Marrakechis come to stroll amid palm trees, olive groves, and roses, and to picnic on couscous and other Moroccan delights.”

Menara Gardens is beautiful, and Marrakechis (bonus points for getting the adjective correct) do go there for strolls, picnics, sing-alongs with friends, and afternoon naps. Why was this not enough? Why the need to link this little box of couscous with Marrakesh’s former rulers – and why in such a “dude where’s my couscous” idiom?

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