For anyone that knows me well, they know that I miss Morocco. For anyone that doesn’t know me quite as well let me explain. I spent a year in 2007 living in Casablanca after I graduated college and did my practicum at a Chinese Medicine clinic in the city. I also was there doing a bit of modeling/movie stuff. It was an incredible experience to say the least. There’s so much I could write about my time in Morocco but today I’m going to tell you about the food.
When I first arrived in Casablanca I was honestly scared, the food scared me as strange as that may seem. After living off of pizza and Tim Horton’s during my time at college the smells and appearance of Moroccan food were so completely new to me. Shockinglydifferent. My first little while in Morocco I would only order the ‘safe’ foods that I was familiar with which was pretty much chicken and bread. I would beg my friends to go to Pizza Hut with me (yes there is pizza hut in Morocco!). Everything was different, the ketchup tasted different, the bread was cut differently, the meat was different and often bled when it was cooked (which I later found out was due to Halal methods). I would often dine at a french restaurant in the heart of Casablanca called Chez Paul, it boasts modern architecture and french cuisine and pastries which at the time was a lot more welcoming to me than Moroccan food.
New friends that I had made in Casablanca would often invite me over for lunch. The food was usually Moroccan and mainly prepared by their maids, which is very common in Morocco (even I had a maid!). Slowly but surely I was exposed to more and more Moroccan cuisine and began to develop a taste and appreciation for it. All ingredients are fresh and there are no preservatives used in Moroccan dishes. Before long I was becoming more adventurous is my dining.
Fridays became my favourite day because every Friday in Morocco is couscous day! For anyone that’s not familiar with couscous, it is a dish made with seminola, spices, meat and veggies . It is prepared on a massive dish and looks absolutely gorgeous when served. Couscous is typically only made on Fridays for lunch in Morocco and is available to anyone. Rich or poor, you can walk into any
restaurant and order couscous and dine for free. I had some interesting experiences on couscous Fridays. A girlfriend of mine who was from Britain but had been living in Casablanca for a few years had invited me to tag along for lunch with her and her Moroccan boyfriend and his pals. We entered into a restaurant, went through a back door and headed underground. There in a dimly lit basement of a restaurant we dined on couscous and drank beer. Alcohol, especially for women is technically frowned upon and often times considered illegal to consume during Arabic holidays so I suppose that’s why had to be so sneaky about it and hang out in the restaurant secret dining room. One of my favourite time eating couscous was before I left to head back home to Canada.
My friend Mehdi had brought me to his families riad. A riad is an architecturally beautiful place, much like a hotel except for family members only. In Morocco it is typical (not so much anymore) for a man to have more than one wife and Mehdi’s mother used to live in one of these rooms in the riad. As the riad wasn’t used anymore it sits in the middle of a medina and its barely used. Mehdi had his lovely maids prepare a massive plate of couscous for us as I admired the hand layed tiles covering every inch of the riad. It was the best couscous I have ever had.
Mehdi actually served as my guide and good friend throughout my time in Morocco. He’s a talented Moroccan journalist and former editor of Maroc Soir newspaper. Lucky for me his work allowed him plenty of time to show me around the city. One of the tastiest and most unique meals I have ever had was courtesy of Mehdi.
One afternoon with a group of friends Mehdi guided us into one of the cities off the beaten track street markets. There he showed us the black magic section of the market which had caged owls, rare cheetah skins and caged baby turtles. It was very shocking for me to see and I desperately wanted to let all the animals free out of their cages but I had to respect their customs and hesitantly move on. Mehdi took us to the butcher area of the market. Giant slabs of meat hanging in the open market were abound. A gigantic camel head with his neck skinned was hanging beside me and I nearly walked into it. Mehdi took us to his favourite butcher and ordered us what I believe were cuts of lamb. I thought we were just going to order it and bring it back to cook for dinner, but I was wrong. Mehdi explained that we order whatever cut of meat we want, the butcher cuts it fresh, uses his seasonings, cook it up for us there and voila. This was different, as I had never gotten meat from a butcher who cooked it for me right then and there. When the freshly cooked meat arrived I wasn’t sure what to expect as I took a bite. It was cooked to perfection. The meat was so unbelievably tasty like nothing I had ever had before, the seasonings were hands down the best mixture of spices I’ve ever had!
I wish I could duplicate this recipe myself and many other Moroccan recipes that I had while I there but alas I didn’t bring any Moroccan spices back to Canada with me. I did however follow the recipe for a few Moroccan meals that I saw my housekeepers make which somehow turned out surprisingly good as I had never cooked Moroccan food before.
Mehdi wasn’t my only ‘tour guide’ to Moroccan cuisine in Casablanca though. I met my dear friend Ingrid Pullar while working at the clinic. She’s a Swedish born photographer who’s been living Morocco for the past 30 or so years. She is one of the top photographers in Morocco and her work as appeared in the New York Times, in many magazines and ads, and she’s even taken a few modeling portfolio shots of me back in the day(you can creep on her website to hunt down a few of those photos).
Ingrid would often invite me to her house which has a pretty backyard patio area where we would eat the freshest and healthiest Moroccan foods while her little pet turtle would wander around the backyard.
Ingrid also is the person who introduced me to Moroccan ‘fast food’ one day after horse back riding in the hillsides of Dar Bouza we pulled over on the side of the road where a mother and son had a stand set up. They were selling fresh corn on the cob with a water bottle mixture that she would pour on top of your corn cob for toppings. Like manly Moroccan dishes, I’m not exactly sure what the spices are but it was delicious.
Being the super photographer that Ingrid is and me with my aspiring journalist hopes, Ingrid invited me so the first and only at the time completely organic farm in Morocco. We ventured out to the farms lands with a couple from South Africa. The farmer and his wife toured us around the farm while their little boy played in the fields. We left the farm that day with a plethora of fresh organic veggies. It was so great to see concious farming methods being practiced in a developing country.
Those people and experiences are a huge reason why I miss Morocco so much. I’ve tried to duplicate the recipes back home in Canada myself but it just doesn’t seem to go right. I unfortunately didn’t bring any of the delicious Moroccan spices back to Canada with me for fear that the airport might give me a hard time for having a suitcase full of powdered substance flying back from an Arab country.For my birthday few years ago Matt and I went out for a taste of Moroccan food at a now closed restaurant in gastown called Le Marrakech. We dined on couscous, chicken tagine and finished of the meal off with a fresh and very sweet pot of Moroccan mint tea. I miss the unique flavours of Moroccan food and sincerely hope and pray that I can go back to Morocco again someday soon. Until then I’ll just have to hope that my Moroccan friends will send me some spices from afar.