A taste of Morocco

The North African dish stewed for hours to perfection

The night we arrived in Marrakech, we went to a café in the heart of the Medina. On the roof under the stars they spread matting, blankets and cushions for us, and we sat there drinking mint tea, savoring the cool air that begins to stir above the city after midnight when the stored heat of the sun is finally dissipated.

The above is an excerpt from Paul Bowles' "Journey Through Morocco," which was published in the February 1963 issue of Holiday Magazine. The American writer was one of many Westerners who sought refuge in the colorful riads of Morocco, often seen writing in the cafés of the kasbah in pastel suits. Bowles was a symbol of the expatriate Americans' descent into the exotic cities of northern Africa, setting the precedent along with other writers of his generation such as William S. Burroughs to flee the ennui of their home country. Bowles also had the unique mission of recording Moroccan music for the Library of Congress.

What makes Morocco an appealing country for American and European travelers is its European influences among Arab and Berber culture. There are abundant souks filled with deep spices of all shades and carts selling the fragrant dish that all tourists must sink their teeth into: the tagine.

The tagine is a staple of North African cuisine. The meat stew is named after the clay pot in which it's baked, which is flat at the bottom and has a conical top. It's designed to be slow cooked and to let condensation drip down and moisten the simmering meats at the bottom. While it often calls for less expensive meats such as lamb neck, shoulder, or shank, that makes the dish no less luxurious. Slow cooking tougher marinated meats in olive oil and garlic creates a tenderness that is unmatched by any other cooking method.

The traditional tagine includes olives, fresh and dried fruits, preserved lemons, and the legendary spice blend, Ras el Hanout. This blend of spices varies by cook and can contain up to 100 different spices, such as cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, paprika, and saffron. There can be chicken tagines or kefta, which is small meatballs in egg and a tomato-based sauce. You should also try a Berber omelette, which is eggs poached in a tomato-paprika tomato sauce.

The great thing about a tagine or Berber omelette is that they are widely accessible throughout all of Morocco, from its street stands to its more elegant restaurants. You don't have to be a writer or an artist to appreciate the majesty of the Atlas mountains, the medieval city of Fez, or an invigorating camel ride. You can start with your taste buds. Here's more on some of the best tagines in the country of Morocco. Paul Bowles might agree.


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