Between Xmas and New Year, I ventured off to Southern
Morocco for a bit of sun and a taste treat. For the first part of my stay, I rented out a small Ryad in
the heart Marrakech’s bustling medina. The staff
were delightful, the rooftop terrace was sunny and warm during the day and I
treated myself to a hammam scrub and massage.
One of the nicest things about Morocco is the food. From sweet couscous, to crunchy poultry
and raisin stuffed pastillas with powdered sugar on the top to exotic tagines
(dishes prepared in earthware pots) – the fare is vegetarian, meat – mostly
chicken and lamb, or even seafood-based, depending on where one is relative to
the sea. The dishes can be salty –
with olives, onions and other vegetables, or sweet, with prunes, raisins and
To top off any meal, one is tempted by exotic pastries
flavored with natural orange blossom, almond, pistachio, date, rose and
honey. My alltime favourites are
the “cornes de gazelle” – crescent-shaped almond-filled wonders! De
rigueur with these is “berber whisky” – the omnipresent sweet mint tea.
Along the coast, near Essaouria, one finds argan trees – the
only place in the world where these grow.
The trees are a magnet for goats, which actually climb up the branches
to feast on the berries and leaves.
Known for their medicinal and cosmetic properties, argan berries are
typically cultivated by women who press and market them in collectives and then
sell them to make a living. Argan
oil has a strong nutty flavor unlike anything I’ve tasted before and is
excellent on salads or bread.
There are also vineyards with increasingly good wines dotted
across the country. In the 1950s,
during the peak of wine production in the French colonial period, there were
over 55,000 hectares of vines. Production
dwindled after independence to a low of 8,000 hectares in the 1990s. The late King Hassan then changed the
tide by enticing French growers to invest and improve the quality of the local
wines. Wine is now big
business. The Celliers de Meknes
control about 65% of the market and feature ordinary table wines to premiers crus. Now major names like Bernard Magrez, Alain Graillot, and
Jacques Poulain are producing local fare that is of very high quality.
I spent a few days in Essaouira, first at the Sofitel
Thalassotherapie centre and then in the most delightful B&B called la Villa de l’Ô, to enjoy the sea air and some very good grilled fish. The town is a former Portuguese colony
called Mogador and still has ramparts, whitewashed walls with blue shutters on
many of the buildings and fun markets.
This is the town where folk and jazz musicians – in their heyday,
Leonard Cohen, CSN and others sojourned here – come each summer for a music
festival. It’s also a windsurfer’s
Of interest in Essaouira is a great new cooking school. If you’re interested in Moroccan cooking,
why not give it a try? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more