Moroccan Serpent Cake

Moroccan Serpent Cake

Moroccan Serpent Cake

There is a Moroccan proverb that goes thus: “Little by little, the camel goes into the couscous.” What does this mean? Answers, please, on a postcard to …

It is not my place to irreverently interpret the sayings of a country whose cuisine lies near the top of my favourites of all world cuisines. Nor can I provide any feasible link between that proverb and this post about my Moroccan Serpent Cake. I was simply searching the Net for a food related proverb from Morocco, and was quite tickled by this one. It put me immediately in mind of my favourite comedy series of all time, the BBC’s radio comedy of 1964-1968, Round the Horne. This is exactly the sort of line that would have been spoken by the hilarious Hugh Paddick, or the devastatingly funny Kenneth Williams, in one of their (racially stereotyped) sketches involving Arabic characters. Invariably they would come in with something like “Greetings Effendi, and may your concubines be as plentiful as the grains of sand in the desert.” In one classic sketch they are Egyptian camel traders who, after making a sale of a camel, offer change in goats, which is politely refused because the buyer (an English archaeologist called Professor Mollusc) does not want to weigh down his pockets…

Anyway, I digress. I do indeed love the cuisine of Morocco, and as unappetising as my serpent cake may look, it was truly delicious, and well worth the effort of handling filo pastry. The centre of the roll is filled with a deliciously sweet almond and orange water paste, and much though I dislike the taste of marzipan, this sweet treat could almost convert me.

The Arabic name for this dish is M’hanncha, which I have seen variously translated as Snake Cake, or Serpent Cake. Somehow Serpent Cake seems to hold more allure. Coincidentally,  the above mentioned Professor Mollusc, whose story is narrated by his widow Lady Counterblast, comes to a grisly anguine end in an Egyptian excavation, where he is found dead, with “an asp, clasped, in his grasp.”  Not surprising, since his specialty area was “tombs defiled.”

“Look! There’s someone lurking outside the tent. A strange, lumpy figure in a camel hair coat.”
“Who is it?”
“A camel.”

Why don’t we have sketch comedy on radio anymore? Round the Horne was and still is one of the funniest British comedy productions ever.


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