The food in Morocco was pretty damn good. It was about as local as you could eat. We only saw a handful of supermarchés in the entire country, and any imported food was ridiculously expensive. What wasn't grown or raised locally simply was not available to buy.
They don't have a dining out culture here. The cafes and restaurants are filled with tourist. While going out to eat is relatively cheap, local people eat at home, with family.
I was on a mission to find a cooking class. After eating a fantastic lunch at Cafe Clock and seeing they had a cooking school, I signed us up. This was exactly the kind of food I wanted to learn how to make.
Like so many things in the medina, it surprised us all. A darling maze of a 3-story cafe with a lovely rooftop is hidden down a narrow, dark alley. The place was run by an Anglo-expat and it was one of the few places we went to where English was widely spoken.
Over giant smoothies, we sat down with our instructor Surette to choose the menu that we would be making.
We choose well. Surette took us off to the market to purchase the ingredients for the meal.
The markets were filled with your daily essentials: meat, vegetables, oils, breads, sweets and piles of tangerines. Oh, the tangerines. Oh they were good. I would buy a big sack of them for a pittance, and eat a pretty much constant stream of them throughout the day.
It was fantastic to have a guide as there was just so much packed into the market souk, and about half the things were completely unknown to us.
In France, when you buy a chicken for dinner, you buy it with the head and feet still attached. To the French, this is a sign that it is fresh and a chicken without them can not be trusted. In Morocco, this just isn't good enough. You buy your chicken like this:
and then it gets slaughtered, plucked and gutted for you.
Meat was another thing that is bought very fresh. There's quite a bit of it hanging out in store fronts with no refrigeration, which puts me in full-on panic mode. I asked Surette about it. "If it comes from the fridge, we know it's not fresh and we wouldn't buy it. That meat should only be used in sausages."
Apparently, the fat from the hump of the camel is considered to be good for male virility, and good for your lungs.
This woman made the most amazing phylo dough by hand.
The breads were also quite good. I especially fell in love with a really greasy fried bread with peppers and onions called lkhbez lhar.
A bit of wisdom from Surette was, "In Morocco, we don't care about our belly or bum, we just care that the food is good."
Then she whisked us away to the student kitchen.
On the menu: Spicy lentil soup, a smokey eggplant spread, lamb tagine, and a date pastry.
The prep was very basic. We shelled peas and beans, chopped onion and garlic and red peppers.
Sort of misleading: tagines are almost never cooked in the tagine vessel. It takes too long to cook them that way. It's something that would be made in the morning, left to sit in the fire all day, and then it would be ready at dinner. The tagine dish is just for show.
And the secret to good Moroccan cooking:
A liberal hand with spice. Dried ginger, tumeric, chili powder, paprikia, a pinch of saffron and cumin goes into pretty much everything.
The eggplants were set on the stove top to blister their skins and get a nice smoky flavor going.
The blistered eggplants were peeled and chopped and mixed with peppers.
Then it is added to a pan with browned garlic and good olive oil.
Fresh dates and walnuts were chopped up and made cohesive with a good deal of honey...
...then rolled back into date-shapes...
...and then wrapped up like bon-bons in the lovely phylo dough.
They would be drizzled with butter and baked until crispy.
This was something interesting:
They are wild artichoke sprouts. It was artichoke taste without the thorns, and they were delicious. They do pick up quite a bit of sand and dirt in them, so they were soaked beforehand. This went into the tagine, which usually contains whatever seasonal vegetables are available.
After three hours in the kitchen, our masterpiece was complete. We sat down with good spiced coffee and almond milk smoothies on the rooftop deck, with the hum of the call to prayer ringing out all around us.
The lentils, spiced eggplant and breads:
The lamb tagine:
The date pastries, which were drizzled with honey.
Everything was amazingly good. Plus, it was a good fun class with a group of friends and a sweet as honey instructor.
If you are ever in Fes, I would highly recommend this even if you just have a passing interest in cooking. Here's a link to their cooking school, and they also have recipes and cultural events on their site.