It’s bloody annoying how Morocco has two ‘c’s and Marrakesh has two ‘r’s. For a time, prior to my departure, I was using the letter r and c interchangeably and in varying quantities which is quite similar to my experience of Moroccan food; tagine or cous cous in reciprocal amounts.
I haven’t ever stated it in my blog before, partly because I don’t want to be shoehorned into an area of the foodie community which I don’t belong, but I don’t eat meat. I almost wish I was a vegetarian because that would be a much easier label to wear. I will keep you guessing as to what I do and don’t eat because, quite frankly, the whys and wherefores do not matter. Anyway, I struggled to find SW-food person-friendly eatings in Morocco (there you go – I’ve just had to retype that several times in order to banish those wriggly red lines from my page).
Tagines have the promise of a slowly cooked lamb which is succulent, tender, richly flavoured in it’s own juices, and delicately uplifted with a rainbow of spices that terra Maroc has to offer. Even for someone like me, there’s scope with chick peas, flaked almonds, prunes, aubergines, and all manner of pulses and vegetables. The fact I went for two weeks in Morocco without coming across so much as a lone chick pea was, in my mind, quite a surprise. Even for someone such as the Welshman, whose vocabulary when it comes to describing food is ‘nice’ or ‘tasty’ i.e. most things that are edible – said that the dishes were ‘surprisingly bland’. He eats meat for your information. Spices, where present, were rarely identifiable. Cous cous dishes’ flavour came principally from vegetable stock, and vegetable stock alone. Having said that, cous cous is something the Moroccans do extraordinarily well. You’ll not find anything fluffier this side of Battersea Dogs Home.
There is more to Moroccan cooking than tagines and cous cous. Moroccans are the trailblazers of the north African breakfast scene. The former protectorate of France will oft give an early morning nod to their European colonials in the form of a croissant. But the real gems are msemen (fried semolina and flour pancakes). They’re a bit like Indian paratha, and after you’ve doused them in honey or date syrup (so, so good) and rip into them with your teeth, they’re chewy and flaky all at the same time. Beghrir too is another Moroccan pancake which most people will recognise as a giant, although significantly-thinner crumpet. Let me hear a boom-ting when it’s coupled with freshly squeezed orange juice and a thick slug of grainy coffee! Oh yeah!
Surprises in came in the form of fresh fish. Essaouira is a medium-sized touristy town on the western coast which thankfully still thrives independently of the tourist scene, as a fishing port. This means every day you can pick a fresh fish down at the fish market (fish souk), have it gutted and scaled, before taking it to the cooks at the back who will season and cook it to your requirements. They’ll serve it with a salad Marocain (dressed and diced tomatoes and onions), olives, bread, and some frites if you ask nicely. For two of us it was about a four quid each.
Another surprise was in the Djema El Fnaa. Come 8pm when the sun has set, the food stalls set up. Walking through them, hungry, and not knowing what you want, or even showing the faintest of interest – you’re fair game for the hustlers who want bums on seats. If you listen to anything I say in this blog, then go to the stall selling calamari at the eastern end. You’ll know which one I mean, because it’s the one where you’ll struggle to find a seat. Fried pieces of fish, fried sole, chips, salad Marocain and an aubergine dip, it’s all pretty simple. That means it can’t fail to go wrong. And it doesn’t.
One last thing before I close. Make sure you have a dentist check up after you return, much like you might visit your doctor for vaccinations before you go away. If you get the all clear and have no cavities, then you’ve been spared. Tourists have been known to have had teeth fall out after just looking at a mint tea. Six sugars in one mint tea is apparently the national average in Morocco.