“Food feels parallel to language, your mother tongue. When you live far away from where you’re from, you have the same relationship to your language as to your food. These two things relate to your primary understanding of the world and your mode of expression.”
Born in Rabat, Meriem Bennani produces her video installations and films between Brooklyn and Morocco. Her work tackles “hard-to-resolve or contradictory issues, where I am sometimes contradicting myself.” Meriem’s multiscreen installations often include sculptures, on which elements of the film are projected. Augmenting the linear story, the architecture and sculpture build a new world that immerses the viewer. Meriem’s installations use elements of documentary as a springboard into myth, surprise, and the unpredictable.
“In order for me to talk about problems, I have to come up with a language that is shaped by the problem itself.”
The language she creates is disconcerting, humorous, evocative, yet familiar. The contradictions of lived experience find form on the screen. These qualities are also reflected in her food.
The recipe Meriem shared with me is for chermoula fish balls, her own re-creation of a traditional Moroccan dish that usually uses ground beef. The recipe is rooted in what the artist found comforting and delicious as a child, taking on a life of its own and inspiring new ideas, ingredients, cultures, and locations.
When we cook, we are often searching for what we know: home, familiarity, a past self, only to find it no longer exists.
“I was just in Morocco for three weeks, and I realized that my repertoire of things that I can cook on a daily basis was very limited since I stopped eating meat. I feel like most countries have a meatball, a familiar childhood dish. I got super excited because I tried making a dish I grew up eating made with ground beef, but with fish instead.”
Bright, spicy, and herbaceous fish balls––made by pulsing generous amounts of traditional chermoula, breadcrumbs, and olive oil, then simmered in a sauce of freshly ground tomatoes and more chermoula––are exquisite.
As Meriem says, your mother tongue and food run parallel paths. Both language and cooking are living, breathing entities that change as we change. Meriem emailed me to say she served her leftover fish balls with tahini and iceberg lettuce in a pita. “It’s not really Moroccan, but more New York 😉 but it was amazing.”