Some people make a point to try foods they don’t like once a year to confirm whether their tastebuds have evolved or that they still don't like it. This is similar to how I occasionally attempt to diet. Whether it's a new year's resolution to be more healthy or in anticipation of a beach vacation, I determinedly pretend to enjoy sad, leafy lunches. Fake it till you make it, right?
“You will thank me later when you’re not doing an impression of the Michelin Man in a bikini,” I sternly inform my rumbling stomach.
Inevitably I come crawling back to bowls of pho and ramen, unable to deny how happy eating good food makes me any longer. How can I be so cruel as to deny myself such pure joy three (to five) times daily? When I travel, I have even more reason to eschew any kind of dietary limitations since sampling local cuisine is considered immersing myself in the culture. I want to have an authentic experience of Morocco therefore I must eat everything.
I’ve compiled a list of the most memorable, drool-worthy dishes that I devoured that will make you ditch the diet and travel to Morocco:
Served in a clay cooking pot, the many variations of tagine (chicken and lemon, lamb and apricot, vegetable, etc..) can be found in every restaurant, served with couscous and a flourished removal of a conical lid. I particularly loved kefta tagine – meatballs cooked in a tomato sauce with whole eggs – but hands-down THE BEST tagine I had was at Kasbah Ait Moussa. The fragrant aroma of the meaty dish permeated the kasbah-turned-bed-and-breakfast, making our mouths water in anticipation. The tender chunks of beef soaked in a pool of rich gravy and topped with carrots and briny green olives.
This filling soup is thick with tomatoes lentils, chickpeas and lamb (sometimes beef or chicken) and topped off with a bright squeeze of lemon juice and freshly chopped coriander. Harira is a staple of Morocco as the fast during the holy month of Ramadan is broken at sunset with a steaming bowl of it. It was slightly different in each restaurant I had it but I couldn’t get enough! I mashed together three different recipes to find one that was close to the memorable variation I enjoyed in the thicket of jungle greenery at Le Jardin.
3/ MINT TEA
Also known as Moroccan whisky, mint tea is the traditional welcome drink of Morocco. Often while we were perusing the souks, we’d be invited into a little stall and offered a piping hot glass of heavily sweetened liquid, poured from a height to create a froth called the crown. Misleadingly, mint tea is actually concocted from Gunpowder tea and steeped with spearmint. On our way to the desert, we stopped by a restaurant and were taught the proper way to prepare the drink and were informed that now we were ready to find Moroccan husbands. Tea-making abilities are apparently an essential wifely skill…
As the world’s largest exporter of canned sardines, some of Morocco’s most famous recipes include the little fish so it’s no surprise that many of the menus I salivated over in Marrakech had dishes centred around them. On the sunny rooftop of the popular Nomad Marrakech, I enjoyed a sardine tartlet with phyllo pastry and olive tapenade, topped with slivered almonds with an expansive view of the Atlas Mountains in the distance. A couple of days later, we visited Café des Épices (owned by the same people) and tucked into a gorgeous sardine egg salad sandwich that was perfectly pocketed inside of a fresh khobtz bun.
5/ LAMB HEAD
Also known as lahem ras this Moroccan delicacy can be disconcerting for tourists but growing up in a Chinese household where my parents would argue over who gets to eat the fish eyeballs, I’m far from squeamish. While we wandered the numbered food stalls in the chaotic Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech, my only concern was which stall had the most locals which led us to stall thirteen. The air was fragrant with the intoxicatingly scent of cumin, coriander, turmeric and garlic, spices used to marinate the lamb. We were each served a plate of meat from various parts of the lamb’s head like the brain, cheeks, etc… with crusty khobtz bread to sop up the flavourful gravy.
While the lamb head is prized, Moroccans didn’t forget the rest of the animal. Waste not, want not! Méchoui is a whole lamb or sheep, spit-roasted slowly on a barbecue resulting in perfectly grilled, fall-off-the-bone meat. Craving a lively night out, Kelly and I dropped by Comptoir Darna and ordered this dish that came with spiced new potatoes and sautéed veggies as belly dancers gyrated their way through the club/restaurant, swivelling their hips to the rhythmic beats of a live band. We didn’t expect this dish to be as MASSIVE as it was and made the mistake of ordering the seven mezze appetizer and the roasted goat cheese to start. Leftovers for days. Ok, day singular.
7/ GAZELLE HORNS
A symbol of good luck in Morocco, the fragrant orange flower water reminds me of my trip, not only because it often scented the air in fancy hotels and restaurants throughout Marrakech but because they were used as an aromatizer in the coffee as well as in the Kaab el Ghazal, or gazelle horns. Despite the misleading name, gazelle horns have nothing to do with meat but rather are a type of horn-shaped dessert comprised of a paper-thin pastry encasing an almond filling delicately flavoured with cinnamon and orange flower water. Our guide picked up a box of these horn-shaped delights at a bakery on our trip to the desert to tide us over till dinner.
8/ ORANGE JUICE
Moroccan orange juice has been hailed as “a mouthful of liquid sunshine” and many visitors claim it’s like tasting a real orange for the first time. Morocco has become the fourth largest exporter of fresh citrus since the Berber people first bought OJ from Roman who planted citrus groves around the area of Volubilis. My memories of Morocco are peppered with drinking a freshly squeeze glass with breakfast or at one of the many stalls in the main square or during a quick leg stretch long a narrow road in the Atlas Mountains.