Holiday in Morocco
My Moroccan Feast had me wistfully thinking about my trip to Morocco so many years ago, and wondering how it had changed since my visit. I decided to take a quick trip to Morocco between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now, there is no “quick” way to get to Morocco from Los Angeles, but it’s well worth the hours of travel.
The day I was leaving for the airport, my new Bon Appetit magazine arrived. I tossed it in my tote to read on the long plane flight. While the issue was captioned “Super Holiday Specials”, tucked inside was a two-page article on Marrakech. As my girlfriend would say, “It’s a sign!” It got better. The final stop on my trip was in Marrakech. I had already arranged with my private guide, via email, to have lunch at Nomad. I was thrilled to find Nomad listed as one of the hot new restaurants by Bon Appetit.
My interest was primarily food and so my guide and I started out early in the morning to explore this amazing marketplace called the Souk. Even though I had already eaten breakfast, I couldn’t resist buying fresh dark bread from a vendor who was there to supply the merchants. I saw a group of guys having their mint tea and bread with honey and butter. They saw me eating the same bread and invited me to share the honey and butter.
Our fascinating tour of the Souk took me through the meat markets, date sellers, fruit and vegetable markets, olive stalls, gorgeous pastries and the freshest mint I have ever smelled. All the produce is organic because pesticides are too expensive for the farmers. The meat markets sell nose to tail — every part of animal is eaten — not because it’s in fashion. This is how it has always been done.
My last Friday there, I was told by my guide that he would leave me around noon to attend prayers. Friday is the most important religious day of the week and also the day that a large family meal is shared. I told him it was fine and suggested that he leave me at a caftan store where I knew I could easily kill some time trying on caftans. He left and I started to try caftans when the store owner asked if I minded if he left me to go to prayers. I said, “Not at all, go.” So I was left in the store with a very attentive stock boy and exquisite caftans. These were the finest I had seen in all Morocco.
I had finally made my selections just as the store owner and my guide returned. It was now about 2:00 in the afternoon and I told my guide that I needed to go to lunch, wondering just how far Nomad was. The store owner immediately said, “Please stay and have lunch with us. My wife is delivering food from home. We eat in a few minutes. Be my guest.” I looked to my guide to see if this was really okay and he said, “It’s up to you.” Of course, I said, “Yes.”
I stayed and sat on a low stool around a table and joined the men for lunch. Other merchants from nearby stalls appeared and joined us. It’s a custom in that part of the Souk that the men share Friday lunch and rotate who supplies it. I felt completely at ease and totally welcome sitting there, sharing their Friday midday meal. When the gigantic platter of couscous with meat and vegetables arrived, I couldn’t imagine how we would consume all the food. But we did. After the owners ate, another group of guys appeared and the giant platter was soon empty. I never got to eat at Nomad. I’m sure it’s great but not as great as my Friday couscous in a caftan store in the Souk, in Marrakech.
If you have the opportunity to go to Morocco, go! The food is incredible, the beauty everywhere; and most important, the people are warm, friendly and generous.
Holiday in Morocco: Sweet Temptations
When you read about the food in Morocco or traveling to Morocco, you will come across references to the endless and non-stop selection of sweet pastries. I didn’t remember this from my last visit but the books do not exaggerate.
It starts at breakfast with an unlimited selection of donuts, cookies, fruit tarts, Berber pancakes drizzled with honey, deep fried deliciousness. Then you visit the Souk. Here, you are dazzled by more pastries. Simple phyllo triangles filled with almond paste and drizzled with honey to exquisite tiny pieces of art with sesame seeds, pistachio nuts and rose water, as colorful and decorative as the most beautiful Islamic mosaics that decorate the Mosques.
Don’t even get me started on restaurants. After lunch or dinner, there is usually a formal dessert with some type of pastry and Creme Anglaise, followed by fresh fruit and then followed by more sweet temptations.
It’s hard to resist. Resistance will not work. The best you can do is limit your pastries to 1 time a day, or maybe 1 1/2 times.
Holiday in Morocco: Tagines, Tangia and Magical Vessels
So much of what I love about Morocco is that I experience living history.
I wandered through Souks that have existed since the Middle Ages, that Edith Wharton wrote about in the 1920’s, that combine Berber, Hebrew, Roman and French influences. And nowhere is this more evident than in the food. The recipes and cooking vessels themselves are the same ones that have been used for centuries.
I knew about tagines as a vessel and recipes from my earlier adventures in Morocco. This time, I saw mini tagines filled with artfully arranged vegetables, ready to be eaten or taken home. This was a type of Moroccan to-go food but completely fresh. Even my hotel served basted eggs in bright red mini tagines. The vessel itself made simple eggs more inviting and exotic.
In Marrakech, I was introduced to the tangia. The word “tangia” refers to both a type of elongated double handled terra cotta pot and the food inside. The pot is filled with beef, lamb, chicken or whatever the owner chooses, lots of spices and sealed with heavy brown paper, and secured with butcher’s twine. It is cooked for hours until the meat is tender and succulent.
Historically, these tangias were taken to the hammam or steam bath and cooked all day in the ashes from the coal. Today this is the Moroccan version of a slow cooker or crock pot. People order them in various sizes from specific vendors and pick them up at the end of the day on their way home. My guide, Aziz, informed me that the smaller ones were for bachelors, Moroccan take-out. But definitely not fast food.
As to what’s in the tagia, it can be anything from chicken, lamb or beef and of course any part of the animal from nose to tail, including hooves. I was offered a taste from a small tangia that had chunks of lamb and smelled enticing. I just couldn’t manage it. It was early in the morning and I was filled from eggs and bread and honey.
I guess I’ll have to go back to Morocco.