Every day this week I will be highlighting a favorite travel experience from 2010. I’ve explained the Lopers Awards here. Today, the first day of Awards, I want to share my favorite food experience from the year.
While I have had some great meals and fantastic street food fare, I want to award the Favorite designation to the country where we enjoyed everything – Morocco.
Upon arriving in this North African country, our expectations were not high. We had a cloudy idea of what to expect from our dining options and while I was sure the street food would be amazing, I really had no idea what to expect.
Our first meal was at a café just off the main square, the Djemaa el Fna. Although the Café de France is a slightly touristy restaurant, that meal was our favorite and we returned several more times during the week. The lunch itself was a simple, Moroccan staple, chicken tagine.
Moroccan tagine are slow cooked meats braised at a low temperature. This slow cooking results in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. Like a conventional stew or Dutch oven meal, there aren’t many rules and you can use any meat, spice or vegetable that you prefer. Our favorite at the Café de France was Tagine Poulet et Frites, Tagine with Chicken and Fries.
The waiter proudly brought out the steaming tagine pots and unveiled them with tremendous flourish. The smell is what hit me first, an exotic combination of saffron and garlic that sent my taste buds into an anxious frenzy. The aroma was only the appetizer, the chicken itself was simple perfection. With just a few ingredients, the cook managed to create a delicate masterpiece worthy of any five-star restaurant.
The Café was not the only epicurean treat that week, everywhere we turned we were met with foods seemingly simple, but surprisingly complex in their flavors. My favorite experience in culinary discover was at the famously chaotic night market in the Djemaa el Fna.
The smoke is what strikes you first. The fires from hundreds of food stalls produce an incredible amount of smoke that forms dense clouds encircling the square. Then, almost instantaneously, the din from thousands of conversations, the bright string lights and the delicious smells wafting above the Djemaa el Fna like smoke from a genie’s lamp all hit you at once.
Competition amongst the hawkers is fierce and they yelled, cajoled and grabbed as we made our way through the stalls, seeking out #32. The menu was pretty concise, but the food was of course excellent. It’s all in French, but we knew enough to not only decide on some small plate selections, but to order them as well. We started with a few saucisses, which are little grilled sausages followed by boeuf haché, or little hamburgers. Delicious, fresh bread was provided and we fabricated our own sandwiches. We washed everything down with some mint tea and quickly left the benches, allowing the next wave of customers to take their place at this popular food stall.
I wouldn’t call the night market a relaxing experience, sitting in the stalls was like living through a hurricane of people, but it was one of the richest moments of the trip. For a brief dessert we stopped by a nearby cart selling shaved pieces of spice cake and mint tea; a perfect end to the evening.
Every meal, not just these two, and every snack we discovered in Marrakech was just as phenomenal. I am sure there must be some horrible restaurants or street food stalls in this ancient town, but we didn’t find them.