Marrakesh in French Marrakech is a major city of Morocco. In Morocco, the traditional people are known as the Berbers, although there are many races, Arabs, French, Spanish, and Portuguese that make up the population. I myself am descended from both the Berbers and the Arabs, like most of the Moroccans. About 95% of Moroccans are Muslims; however, there are Jewish temples and Christian churches in all major cities.
The climate can reach extremes, with snow in the beautiful Rif and Atlas Mountains, to the searing heat of the Sahara, sometimes reaching the 50s. Morocco is a country of contrasts, from its beautiful beaches to its high mountains you can see waterfalls and lush forests, through to the other extreme of the barren desert.
Its people are all very friendly and generous, even with strangers. They are always curious, and approachable.
Moroccan spices give the cuisine its unique balanced flavour, from the classic mix of spices used in the ‘Ras al Hanout’, to the subtle flavour of Morocco’s highest quality safran (saffron).
Fresh coriander features highly, as do spices such as cumin, mace, cardamom and ginger. Moroccan cooks pride themselves on the use of fresh ingredients, however, when they are plentiful, many of the ingredients can be preserved for use later, in the seasons when they are not easily available.
One of the distinctive ingredients is the preserved lemon, which brings a totally different flavour and texture from its fresh counterpart. Preserved lemon is used in many dishes including salads, where the fresh lemon could not be used to replace it.
Traditionally, men are not the cooks for the family; it is usually the mother and women in the household who create the beautiful Moroccan cuisine. In Marrakech, there is a dish which is cooked traditionally only by men – Tangia. This is a meat dish, cooked in a clay pot of the same name, and it is cooked in the premises of a public hammam similar to a Turkish bath, taking advantage of the ashes from the fire which heats the hammam.
I always loved to cook. My mother, aunt and sisters introduced me to this amazing craft. My mother and aunt cooked specialty dishes for weddings and parties, and allowed me to assist. Through this, I learned that presentation of the food is so important to its final taste and enjoyment. I love interacting with people. Cooking gives me the opportunity to talk to people, share my love of food and exchange knowledge of different cultures.
About Mint Tea:
The best mint tea is very sweet, uses high quality ‘gunpowder’ tea, and the freshest mint, used in both the pot, and as an added touch in the beautifully decorated tea glasses. It is the most popular drink in Morocco. Families drink mint tea up to 7 times a day. It is very refreshing, and is also a digestive, so is often served at meal times. It can be addictive. (I remember my mother saying to me that without her mint tea, she would suffer from a headache). Whenever you are invited into the small shops, the shopkeeper will do business with you over a mint tea.
About Cooking in a Tagine:
The tagine is a traditional clay cooking vessel whose shape allows the steam from the ingredients to circulate around the dish as it cooks. This gives an even cooking heat, similar to a small oven, and brings the flavours of the dish together. It is traditionally cooked on charcoal, but with special care, can be used on the stove top. The more a tagine is used, the better the results of the meal, because the clay absorbs the flavours and aromas of meals past.
Couscous is the Moroccan national dish, and we believe in Morocco, that it is a gift from Allah. Most of the families have couscous on Fridays, as this is the Holy day in the Muslim culture. Its preparation is time-consuming, but the results are worth it. Couscous can be prepared with 7 vegetables, or with a combination of meat and vegetables. Commonly lamb is used, but also chicken, beef or goat. Regional variations include Couscous Fesi, which is a lamb couscous, cooked with caramelised onions, chick peas, sultanas, cinnamon and honey.
About "Bastilla" - Moroccan Pigeon Pie:
Bastilla is a Moroccan speciality, and a unique taste sensation. Unlike any other savoury pie, it is cooked using cinnamon and saffron flavoured poultry, roasted almonds and scrambled eggs wrapped in filo pastry, and finally dusted with icing sugar. It was originally made using pigeon, but is now often made using chicken. Bastilla is a festive dish, often served for occasions such as weddings and parties, because it is a time-consuming and difficult dish to prepare. There is also a seafood bastilla, which is completely different in its flavour, texture and appearance from the original.
About Moroccan Cuisine:
From as far back as the Roman empire, Morocco has been invaded throughout history by other countries, including the French, Portuguese and Spanish. For the past 1600 years, Arabs have lived in Morocco, and all have added their touch to the Moroccan culture and cuisine we have today.
Country dwellers are more likely to follow traditional methods of cooking and food preparation, tagines cooked over charcoal, couscous or mechoui, whereas the city dwellers, such as people in Marrakech, Casablanca and so on, have much more contact with the west, and even have succumbed to the ‘fast food’ lifestyle. In traditional cuisine the food is dished up in one large plate, placed in the centre of the table, for all of the family to eat using their hands and the locally fresh-baked bread ‘Khobbz’, and fingers. Western influences now find many Moroccans using the ‘individual’ serves, although they still use the traditional spices and flavourings in their food preparation.