We knew off the bat that the food in Morocco was going to be a main feature of our time in this country. What we didn’t realize, specifically, was how much of a main feature it really was going to be. Where Morocco does have wonderful people and beautiful sights, their food alone could power us through a satisfactory visit for the month. There’s not a street we can walk down where the food doesn’t smell righteous and holy, to the point where I’m fully convinced the clouds we walk on in heaven is made up of the smoke from Moroccan barbecues.
It was our destiny to this end that we (or I, rather accidentally) would end up in a Moroccan cooking class, so that we could learn and someday perfect our ability to create such divine flavors and odors in our own home. With some quick googling we landed ourselves into the lovely hands of Mona and Allison, the chef and the guide from l’Atelier Madada. Though Emily was the one who initially signed up for the course, I was the one who went, due to an incapacitation formed by an unfortunate cold. I am exponentially more directionless and hard-headed than Emily, and was concerned about my ability to remember everything about the class; thankfully, I took pictures to help refresh my knowledge of how it all fit together.
Walking into the restaurant, you’re greeted with this sight: the oversized prep area, waiting for its guests to come feebly attempt to conquer an ages-old tradition in a mere couple of hours.
The setup was almost as refreshing as the smell of spices in the air; you could immediately spot the French influences in the interior design, with not-so-subtle insertions of beautiful Moroccan architecture as if to not confuse those who suddenly forget which country they’re actually in.
Mona (to the left) first taught us how to brew a proper Moroccan mint tea, which is practically a national pastime. On every street you walk down here you’d be hard-pressed to not find a man and his acquaintances with a glass of this stuff in hand and a pot nearby. When it’s done right, it’s a fantastically refreshing taste. Mona (through Allison’s English translation) taught us how to make the perfect tea, and showed us exactly why pouring it from such tall height isn’t just for showing off to your guests.
Now, on to the cooking:
The dish: chicken tajine, a common meal here in Morocco. The name of the food is more a reference to the dish it’s cooked in—a tajine—and is Morocco’s traditional answer to the modern western crock pot… or something like that. It cooks by way of steam, letting the items within the ceramic container stew together for hours, the unique shape of the tajine recirculating the evaporated water inside many times over. The result is a cacophony of flavors all working toward one goal: your imminent gratification.
While all the ingredients we used are cheap, the saffron (in picture #3) is not, weighing in at between $1-3 USD per SINGLE STRAND (or $2,000 to $10,000 for a pound of the stuff), it’s often said to be the most expensive ingredient in the world. I’m really not even worthy to be in its presence, much less cook with it.
With the tajine ready, we threw it on the cooker and focused our attention on the next item: the briouates.
Being the only American of the 5 total chefs-in-training, I was successful enough at folding up these little triangular puff pastries to impress Mona a little… or at least enough to let her pass by me without forcing me to unravel the entire thing. I would like to attribute that skill to the many years I spent in the U.S. public education system folding paper footballs and kicking them between makeshift finger goal posts. Clearly the schools were thinking ahead.
The food needed to cook, so we left the building for a spell and headed over to the nearby Essaouira Spice Market.
We were sniffing something called black cumin, which is—to my knowledge and defense—not an illegal substance in the country of Morocco.
You can’t really see it, but the middle jar does in fact say “dangerous” in French.
It was time to head back and chow down, so we winded down the somewhat familiar streets back to the restaurant and made haste to the lunch table while our food was served to us (which seems a little backwards, since we’re the ones who cooked it).
The finished briouates.
The incredible chicken tajine in its second-to-final form. Try and guess what its last form is.
And here’s the lovely team that pulled it all together. Good work, y’all.
With this newfound ability now under my belt, I’m ready to cook up my own chicken tajine for Emily and give her the experience she passed along to me. I somehow doubt I’ll remember this skill long enough to add tajine to our regular dinner repertoire, but given the incredible outcome to such a simple meal, there’s no way I’d pass up an opportunity to at least have my current kitchen smelling like the restaurants and cafes dotting the medina. And, if you’re strapped for cash and need an alternative to robbing a bank, just steal a pound or two of saffron. You won’t regret it.