The main reason for a recent trip to Morocco was, for me, the food. The idea of tender tagines and vegetables cooked the way they should always be cooked, thoroughly doused in olive oil and grilled to within an inch of their lives, was utterly tempting. It is always exciting to finally taste food you love from the place it is grown. Without the thousands of air miles, oil is richer, dates more succulent, and authentic combinations far more varied and exciting than in any restaurant.
A wonderful surprise in Marrakech was therefore the famous Djamaa El Fna square, known for snake charmers and henna tattooists, transformed at night into a dining sensation, with row upon row of food stalls setting up shop for the evening. With only traditional Moroccan food on the menu, although the variation of stalls was not great, the competition gave the atmosphere a true buzz as vendors fought for your custom amongst their piles of vegetables and meat cooking behind them. Upon sitting down you are immediately offered a large bread roll, traditionally used to eat the food with, and a variation of salsas from fresh tomato concoctions to spicier ones not for the faint of heart.
Particular highlights were the large and salty olives and the Moroccan salad consisting of thick slices of beetroot and a potato mixture similar to the Spanish patatas bravas. However, the best dish was the plate of aubergines, taken from a pile on the stall, that had been grilled until the outer skin turned blackened and crispy, whilst the flesh was soft and mushy, a feat achieved by adding salt to reduce the water content when cooked. Drenched in olive oil it was the perfect example of how aubergines are best cooked.
The meat becomes meltingly tender and sweet as a result…
The true star of Moroccan cooking is, without a doubt, the tagine. From a stall at night, to a high end restaurant, it is the way the meat is cooked that makes this dish perfect every time. It is the Moroccan equivalent of a French stew, but rather than having been thickened to perfection in a cast iron casserole dish, it is slow cooked in a thick ceramic tagine dish. The meat becomes meltingly tender and sweet as a result. The addition of coriander, prunes, sesame seeds and the ever popular Moroccan argan oil heightens the flavour of the meat.
Although for an eager cook these dishes can be recreated quite satisfactorily, it is only in Morocco that they come with a warm, balmy evening, electric atmosphere and all for only five pounds.