By: Charles, NSLI-Y Morocco, Academic Year 2013 – 2014
The most omnipresent dish during my stay here in Marrakesh is by far the tagine. A tagine is not the food itself, but rather the pottery bowl with a cone-shaped lid that the food is presented in. Whenever a tagine is served, there is always this period of excitement and anticipation for what lies within. Will it be chicken, fish, or sheep? The most common Tagine is chicken but recently, after Eid Al-Adha, there is an abundance of sheep because each family sacrificed one to celebrate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his first born son Ishmael. Sheep (or Kbsh in Dariga) tagines normally feature falling-off-the-bone tender shoulder meat that is often garnished with prunes. While tagines are served daily, the variety of spices, meat, and vegetables used to create tagines keeps every meal interesting.
While tagines are the most common dish here, I am grateful for the diversity in food that Morocco has. Couscous Fridays are always something to look forward to every week. The rich combination of meat, vegetable stew, and the base grain of the dish creates a taste unlike any food I’ve tried before. The consumption of couscous is also an art itself as more traditional eaters choose to use their hands to ball up the grain while others prefer to use utensils. While utensils are an option on couscous Fridays, the majority of my meals involve using bread as a sponge for delicious tagine juice or as a scoop for vegetables or meat.
While eating Moroccan food is always a treat, cooking it is equally rewarding. At the CLC, I am in a cooking class taught by Mama Hadija. Instead of adding to the inundation of tagines in our lives, she always makes sure to have a unique recipe prepared. We have made bastela, a pasta dish with crisp layers that encase fish/meat which was difficult to make but exceptionally tasty. The other day we also made schebeckia, a sweet treat of fried dough dipped in honey and sesame seeds that we ended up sharing with the rest of the school (while also eating a lot ourselves!) By the end of the year, the class wants to have made a cookbook of the food we cook in class.
Besides food eaten at meals, there is an abundant variety of snacks that stems from the constant availability of cafes, street vendors, and bakeries. The other day, I ran to the Menara Gardens in the morning with my host brother (it’s getting cold) and afterwards, we stopped to eat msimmin (a type of bread) stuffed with cheese and sfinge (fried dough). Afterwards, we stopped at a local bakery near home and bought this large baklava-esque nut pastry. The food was delicious and well worth it (everything was less than 5DH). Similarly, I go to cafes with my host brothers to watch important soccer games and besides ordering a drink, I often go to a local hanoot (small store) to buy peanuts, candy, or sunflower seeds. On the street, it isn’t uncommon to see traditional snack foods such as cotton candy, fresh chips, popcorn, and candy but there are also vendors selling fresh corn, baked goods, khobza majnoon (crazy bread), and raib, a delicious yogurt drink.
The food here in Morocco has been varied and delicious. While tagines are a staple, they are far from representative of the cuisine. With the Souks (farmer’s markets) that offer fresh fruits and vegetables daily, there is never a lack of quality food. From the delicious oranges, to the intricacies of couscous, to the sweetness of perfectly cooked pastries, I am always looking forward to my next meal.