I woke before dawn spread its light over Kasbah Africa..I was eager. Today I would dip my hands in the cauldron of moroccan gastronomy.
I laid in bed like christmas morning waiting for the clock to give me permission to leap into the day. Finally it did. Mohamed was in the kitchen proudly assembling his mise en place. Fatima is also present. She smiles modestly. I ask if I can take a picture of them-“oui”.
Mohamed lends me some chefs whites, which I graciously accept. Abdul would be translating today. He speak both english and Berber, among other languages.
Mohamed guides me to the ornate tass (hand washing apparatus) to wash my hands. Abdul explains that in their culture, the youngest takes the tass around the table each meal for the elders to wash before eating.
Fatima approaches-she is also Berber and lives in the neighbouring village. She has been cooking since she was 12. The lesson would begin with Fatima guiding me through the art of making Morochan bread. She teaches me two kinds-one typically served at breakfast-msemen- and the second-harcha-often served with tajine.
And then it begins. My greatest, and inarguably, most successful romance to date-has been my love affair with food. Flour dusts the air around me. I mimic Fatima, pushing pulling, kneeding the dough until small balls take form.
We make our way to the gas stove where we heat them until it’s surface cracks. I notice that Fatima throws and retrieves her dough on the hot pan without flinching-her hands unscathed. My hands are notably covered in cuts and burns-some might say terribly unfeminine -to me mere relics of culinary bliss. But Fatima..Fatima is next level. She is not just impervious to the fire, it’s as though her hands were made from the coal themselves. This is the woman I aspire to be.
Next, Mohamed presents the spices and herbs for the tajine-saffron, ginger, garlic, cumin, thyme.
We then cut the potatoes, corguettes, peppers and carrots. Fatima watches me cut. She subtly comments to Abdul who smiles and says to me “she says by the way you handle your knife-you cook”. I nod modestly but inside I light up like that moment when Shane Dehan asked me to dance at the sock-up in grade 7. So now I’m slicing with a little swagger.
We cover the base of the tagine with the garlic, onions, spices, lemon wedges and herbs; we then layer chunks of chicken and place the ceramic tagine over the hot coal.
Fatima thinks there are too many coals so she removes a couple..ahem..WITH HER BARE HANDS! Once it starts to sizzle we add the carrots and potatoes then after a few minutes we add the peppers and courgettes. Then finally diced tomato. We place the domes over the hot coal and let it slowly cook in its natural fragrance. I am told one can add caramelized fruit or slivered almonds to the tajine should one wish.
I am passed off again to Fatima while the tajine simmers. We make the oily, crispy layered msemen that have become, hands down, my favourite Moroccan bread. It resembles flatbread. Again we kneed and roll the mixture of flour, semolina and warm water, to create little balls that are then folded like phyllo into little purses. When it comes time to form them into squares Fatima interrupts my process. It seems I did something wrong. “MADAM”, she says firmly. I would fear being scolded by Fatima. I instantly lose my swagger and recoil to my proper place as young grasshopper. Fatima translates through emphatic exclamations; Abdul translates through whisper.”She says put more oil on it” he says faintly over my shoulder. Fatima splashes oil on the hot pan-again she doesn’t use water to test its desired heat. She uses the palm of her hands.
I hesitantly press my fingers to the dough and quickly pull them from the scolding heat. Mohamed brings me a spatula. “No! No!” I say. “I want to be like Fatima”. Abdul translates this to the others and they all laugh supportively. Little by little my fingers press until finally I push that dough with my bare hands into the hot pan until bubbles spit in its centre. Fatima nods in approval. I finish and give her a high five. I don’t follow the beat of others drums but with Fatima it’s different. If Fatima jumped off a bridge would I? Well ya, probably. Because, you see, the mighty Fatima would likely break the ground before the ground broke her.
The day is as how I imagined it would be-I love when that happens. I bow to my mentors and unabashedly pull them in for an embrace. They have no idea the impact they have left on this gal from canada, by simply being them.
I shower then make my way to the river to say my final private goodbyes. Max is in tow.
Goodbye resident mule
I wear my white moroccan linen shirt etched in golden thread, tie my hair up and make my way to the dining area where I am presented with my tajine. It tastes similar to the ones I tried but it’s still special..because its mine.
For many years, I have dreamed of travelling to Morocco. Everything about it intrigued me-the culture, the colours, the enigma of it all. But mostly because of the food. Although Moroccan food has been influenced by their exchanges with other cultures (as is often the case for many countries) there is something still so undeniablly distinct about moroccan dishes. Something so warm and comforting yet at the same time exotic and alluring.
Morocco is a country that conjured up excitement and entrancement yet, in the same vein, apprehension. From the minute I landed every emotion and sense was intensified. This is what living is all about.
Have you ever had those kind of dreams (often recurring) of being in a place that feels so familiar and so unfamiliar at the same time? Some are so exceptional that when I wake I immediately try to fall back asleep in effort to recreate it. Morocco for me, is one of those dreams and certainly one I will return to.
Tanya’s Unsolicted Travel Tips✈️
- The currency is called dirham and I used the ATM without any problem
- I didn’t drink the tap water but I did eat raw fruits and vegetables-I didn’t get sick
- Bring or buy shawls and dress modestly out of respect for their culture
- Take your shoes off before entering a persons home
- Be flexible with the notion of time
- Try to map out your routes on your own. If you ask a local to help you, you will be expected to pay
- If you have the time venture out of the city -I didn’t have time to get to the coast but I hear Essaouira is stunning
- Being cautious doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly-Morrocans are amongst the friendliest warmest people I have met
- Ask permission before taking close up pictures, particularly of women.
- Riads are an authentic way to stay in Morocco and they will become your family for the duration of your stay. I stayed Riad Africa in marrakech and Kasbah Africa in the mountains..I recommend both.
Note to Female Solo Travelers:
I can only speak from my personal experience. I did not feel unsafe once in this country. Yes men were flirtatious, venders at times aggressive (while smiling), but other than being duped by a henna artist, I was fine. Use discretion and caution as you would anywhere else… hold your space… but don’t let fear get in the way of experiencing this magical country.