PoPa, a series of Posts by Hans Couwenbergh, a.k.a. Paps.
I must admit I kind of like a Burgundian lifestyle: good food and a nice wine are never far and I admit that when I travel I do sometimes look at restaurants before I look at a place to stay. What I had not anticipated was to go on a Food Tour in Marrakech, Morocco, whilst on a city trip there.
Marrakech had been on our “to do” list for quite some time already. The beginning of 2015 had been particularly hectic professionally so we decided we deserved a short break, preferably somewhere a bit warmer than Belgium. As it was going to be a short trip – 4 days only – we did not want to fly to the other side of the world. Morocco and Marrakech in particular seemed to be just the right choice. We found a nice Riad in the middle of the Medina and off we were!
When planning what to do Sofie quickly pointed out that her friend Amanda lives there and is running Food Tours with her husband Youssef. Can there be a better way to discover true Moroccan cuisine? I quickly looked up their website. We were very lucky to be able to join one of the evening tours, as most had been booked for months ahead!
A Marrakech food tour
We joined the evening tour the first day we arrived. Directions were very clear so we met at the post office on the Jemaah el Fna Square (“La Place” as the locals call it). It was nice to meet Amanda and Youssef and some gifts were exchanged (between Sofie and Amanda using us as “carrier”).
The first restaurant did not look like a restaurant but rather like a butcher’s shop. We were shown where the sheep carcasses were kept, and a big hole in the ground was open for us to peek inside. This turned out to be a huge oven, where the meat was cooked for about 3 hours in a kind of terracotta pot. The meal was served on the second floor. While we got a seat and Youssef was trying to chase a hungry cat Amanda revealed to us how She and Youssef are selecting the venues for the Food Tour (I hope I remember this correctly): the place had to be scary enough for her parents not to enter it voluntarily but attractive enough for her parents in law (they would need to like the food served in the place). Sounds like great criteria to get us westerners out of our comfort zone discovering something new!
We had two dishes: Tangia, which is slow cooked lamb coming out of the oven we just had a look at, and Mechoui, which is whole roasted lamb server with salt and cumin. Both plates were shared by the little group and rather than using cutlery the bread was the tool to take your share of the food. It was very tasty!
After the meal unfortunately Amanda had to leave us but we continued our tour with Youssef and another guide. We did not have to go very far for our next stop. We stopped at a stall selling olives of all kinds prepared in different ways. Some of them were to be used in cold dishes like salads whereas others were rather for cooking. I find most of them to be really delicious.
On it went through the souks. A bit later we stopped at a little shop, where a lady was working tireless making a special kind of dough, in which some veggies like tomatoes were rolled, which resulted in delicious “pancakes”. Unfortunately we did not take pictures here, as people did not like it so we respectfully put our cameras away.
Then, Youssef took us to his favorite Marrakech junk food joint. We were to have sardines, but prepared in a rather special way, with fat, making it almost taste like meat. This came served pretty much the way you would get a hamburger, so the junk food comparison was complete. Again, very tasty but heavy! I could not eat all of it and was stuffed already!
After this very filling part of the tour, we had to walk a little to digest. At some point in time Youssef took us through a small doorway. Inside it was really dirty; in fact it looked like we had ended up on a garbage belt. In fact, we sort of did. There were some stairs (that is what I assumed as we could not actually see them) leading down in a kind of basement where a rather cheerful character was waiting for us. In fact, this person was gathering a lot of the garbage on the streets (which in Marrakech are impeccably clean!) and burning it. By doing that, he was heating water that was running through some pipes to the Hammans and on top was providing the oven allowing to cook food in some restaurants. The hot ashes were ideal for cooking Tangia. This is the Marrakech way of recycling!
Our next stop was a small restaurant, called Naima. A lady there makes the best vegetarian couscous one can get in Marrakech. As drinks we got a lovely mint tea, very refreshing! While sampling the food I really regretted I already had been eating so much before and I was embarrassed how much of this excellent food we left on the table.
Before we went to our last stop on the tour we went into a bakery. This used to be the place where lots of women would bring their dough and get it baked. More recently, as people more and more bake at home they are now producing the bread mainly for restaurants, some 4,000 breads a day. Unfortunately, for some reason both Sonia and I failed to make pictures here.
Last stop: cookies and smoothies. The traditional one is based on avocado with milk and some other stuff I can’t remember; I stuck with strawberry and mango. The cookies were really nice but as we’d all had been eating so much already… Luckily, Youssef came to the rescue and got us each a nice box so we could take our cookies with us.
If you ever go to Marrakech the Marrakech Food Tour is a must-do item on the itinerary!
Marrakech Food Tours has a daytime and an evening tour. A reservation is needed as Amanda and Youssef’s tours fill up quickly.