Eating Morocco

Previous to visiting Marrakesh my experience of Moroccan cuisine had been limited to the Palais des Délices in Brussels, where I’d tried my first ever tajine. One thing I found surprising about the food in the country itself was the relative lack of variety. Pretty much everywhere we went, from upmarket restaurants to foodstalls in the main squares to a kasbah in the Atlas mountains all offered a set menu of salad, tajine, couscous. To be fair, the salads were a revelation, especially the one we had in Dar Moha. The one in the picture below is from the restaurant where we spent New Year’s Eve, Le Tobsil.  The plate at middle left of raisins and sweetened carrots was fantastic, but Dar Moha had a wider selection, including some amazing little pastries and fried potato thingies.

 

The tajines were in general very good, usually with either poultry or lamb, and the long, slow cooking process means that the flavours really have time to infuse the meat, which simply falls off the bone. Probably the best one we had was with chicken, figs, apricots and walnuts in Kasbah du Toubkal.

 

Couscous is one of those foods about which I find it hard to get excited (polenta is another), so despite the fact that it was served with almost every main meal it was never a particularly memorable experience, and on one occasion it was so dry (apparently there are different types) it felt like eating sawdust. The one below, from the kasbah, was more moist and pleasant.

 

One afternoon while wandering the Jewish quarter we stopped on the spur of the moment at a hole-in-the-wall kind of place which was serving irresistible harira (a soup usually made from vegetable or chicken stock with added chickpea and tomato) and some kind of greasy fried doughnut. I could have happily eaten a dozen of them but I stopped after three (doughnuts, not soup). It was also nice to eat in that kind of modest establishment, although we got a fair few curious glances from locals as if to say “What are tourists like you doing in a place like this?” and some passing children seemed to find us endlessly amusing.

Further along that street we stopped again to eat some filled msemmen, a kind of thin oily pancake which was often served for breakfast at our riad. Here we had one filled with cheese, and another with onion and spices.

The stalls in the main square (Djema el Fna)  offered the usual stuff, plus grilled meats and sheep heads – in the picture below the menu advertises large heads, small heads, 1/4 heads and head sandwiches. No, I wasn’t tempted. The waiters in Djema el Fna were very insistent in their attempts to attract new customers, and whenever I told them that I’d already eaten they’d exclaim “But you look so skinny!”

One thing we did try there was a glass of khendenjal,  a wonderfully peppery ginseng-based tea, accompanied by a blob of moist, spicy nutty cake. It’s supposedly an aphrodisiac. Speaking of behaviour-altering drinks, one evening we were approached by a shady, drug-dealer-type gentleman who asked us in a hurried whisper “You want a restaurant…with alcohol?”. Alcohol isn’t served in most establishments in Morocco, as Muslims aren’t allowed to drink it.

As for food shopping, the souks offered a very picturesque array of tripe… 

olives…

pastries…

and seemingly endless quantities of figs, dates and dried apricots. Keeps you regular, I suppose…

 

By the way, if anyone’s thinking of going to Marrakesh, one of the riads has kindly put a pdf of the entire Rough Guide online free to download here. Generous people, the Moroccans…