With seeing the world being physically impossible during this surreal time of Covid-19 and a worldwide lockdown, VIRTUAL travel becomes the next best thing. Intrepid traveller Maryam Rumaney will be sharing her travel diaries to feed our imagination and wanderlust. Do enjoy the first in our series to the rich and mysterious landscape of Morroco.
“A handful of couscous is better than Mecca and all its dust.” – Moroccan Proverb
Travel has always been one of my loves. In December my husband and I jetted off to Morocco on a two-week trip. What made Morocco particularly appealing to our wanderlust nature was the rich Islamic history, the contrasting landscape and the ability to explore halaal food. We wanted a trip immersed in culture, and we were thus able to stay in riads, which are traditional Moroccan homes which have been converted into hotels. This added to the experience. Each morning we were woken up to several Athaans (Islamic call to prayer) sounding across the city and a beautiful pre-fajr (first prayer of the day which happens before sunrise) thikr (melodious recitation style on the remembrance of God), which was something unique. Then, to start each day we got to experience a traditional Moroccan breakfast which was composed of a variety of local bread, orange juice and mint tea. Depending on the city, eggs, yoghurt and a selection of fruit was also offered.
In two weeks, we visited approximately ten cities. We arrived in Casablanca and headed to Essaouira. Essaouira is very much a bohemian coastal city with a bustling harbour and fishing community. In terms of food, seafood is a must! We headed to the local fish market. Here you could pick your freshly caught fish and they cook it for you. Nothing fancy, and quite ‘rustic’, where tables are laid side-by-side, and your seafood selection is barbequed and served. Bon Appetit!
Another thing to note are the languages commonly used throughout Morocco. Berber, French and Arabic are widely spoken. English to a lesser extent, where the Arabic dialect is known as Darija. There are old cities and new cities. The old cities are filled with ancient historical stories and sites, while the new cities are uber-modern. Personally, I appreciated the old cities more, as I found myself being transported to an era from long ago. The old cities have a maze of roads and alleys called the medina. You can get lost in the magic of the winding pathways and the smell of freshly baked bread. There is a lot of walking and every day is leg day in this part of the world – uphill trips, and you naturally shed a lot of calories. We were walking an average of 10 km per day. Often the hidden gems are only accessible by foot.
In terms of climate, December is winter in Morocco. Temperatures varied from 26 degrees in the daytime in some cities, to zero degrees Celsius in other parts of the country. However, the sun shines most of the time. Climate influences the type of foods eaten. A Moroccan stew known as Tajine is the most widely eaten traditional dish. It was one of my favourite dishes. Hearty, and healthy. Perfect for the winter weather. This stew is slow-cooked in a traditional clay pot, originally on a fire, but now on gas at the restaurants. Lamb is my firm favourite, cooked with dried fruits. Tajine is accompanied by traditional breads.
Next, we headed to Marrakech, a bustling tourist destination with food from all walks of life. Jamaa el fenaa is the famous square. You will find snake charmers, henna artists, musicians, magicians and entertainers. In Marrakech, we tried many different types of Tajines, from chicken, citrus and olives, to a deconstructed version at an upmarket restaurant. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. When travelling it is best to try local dishes. What a region is best known for, will be produced par excellence. This is also where we had our first taste of a Berber omelette. Similar to shakshuka, eggs are steamed in a mixture of tomato and olives. The Berbers are an indigenous tribal group of Morocco, with their own cuisine, traditions, language, music and culture. I quite enjoyed the array of Berber dishes during this trip. A cuisine completely foreign to me.
Fruit shakes are another common find throughout Morocco. The avocado shake being our all-time favourite. However, it was here that I discovered the blissful marriage of avocado and orange. A refreshing drink and something I now recreate in my home. Another guilty pleasure was the hot chocolate as we stopped along the road when moving from city to city. I found the hot chocolate to be generally rich in flavour and creamy. It was later that I discovered that they use a high quality of cocoa, and that makes all the difference to the end flavour.
On route to the desert, we passed through Ouarzazate, with a stop at the Dades Valley. It was here that we had a traditional Berber dinner with entertainment delivered by people of Berber heritage. This was a four-course dinner that boasted interesting flavours, Course one was a traditional Moroccan soup known as harira. This soup has a lentil, chickpea and tomato base. Delicious and hearty! We could literally live off this stuff. Next up we had a slice of Berber pizza which was made of zucchini. My favourite dish of the evening. As a third course, we had fried chicken and an assortment of vegetables. What made this course unique was the Berber spices used to flavour the chicken. Lastly, we had a slice of traditional Berber cake. This was a mixture of chocolate and coconut, paired with a bit of fruit. To end off we had Moroccan mint tea.
This trip to Morocco was filled with many unique experiences. One such experience was glamping in the Sahara Desert. Warm during the day, and chilly at night, it gave us the perfect experience of something close to Bedouin life. A camel trek or a four-by-four dune drive got us to the camp. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by Berber entertainment and a selection of nuts, Moroccan sweets and mint tea. Dinner consisted of Berber cuisine. We were served a Berber pizza made of zucchini and a type of pink flesh potato, rice with an assortment of vegetables, fried chicken in traditional spices and a novel take on aubergine. Thereafter, we were entertained with Berber music and dance around a bonfire. This glamping experience consisted of rooms that were quite impressive in terms of size and amenities. Rooms were housed in spacious, sturdy tents with king-sized beds, en-suite bathrooms and electricity. Not forgetting the impeccable service, making this an all-round exceptional experience.
From the desert we had a short stop in Meknes. This was mainly to visit the Tomb of Maulay Idrees I, who is a respected figure in Moroccan history. Here we tried some street food which consisted of grilled chicken and beef. The use of minimal spices allows for the flavour of the meat to really shine through. I particularly enjoyed the beef with the side of grilled tomato. An assortment of olives is widely served as a ‘staple’. The olives were of high quality and very flavourful. Since this is a Muslim country, it was a welcome difference to be able to eat anywhere.
In keeping true to the tourist spirit, we visited the picturesque Chefchoune. This literal blue city is known for its Instagram worthy streets and alleyways. In terms of food, given that this such a touristy area, cuisines of the world are widely available. However, the culinary highlight of this city was the Moroccan breakfast served in a basket straight to our room. It reminded me of the perks you get when booking a honeymoon package. The basket consisted of eggs, pastries, olives, tomato, cucumber, cheese, orange juice and mint tea.
Next up was Fez. This city is known for handmade artisanal crafts. From pottery shops, and leather tanneries to brass etching studios. This city also has quite the spiritual feel where you can hear thikr being recited on almost every corner in the medina, often in ‘institutions’ known as zawiyyas (sufi learning centres). The Moroccans have a different manner of recitation, which I found draws the soul to exploration. On this leg of the tour, we got to choose a local craft workshop. As a couple, we chose the brass etching workshop. This was labour intensive and required an eye and hand for detail. Given the level of precision, I developed a new appreciation for the brass, silver and copper ornaments on sale in the medina. It truly is an art form that deserves appreciation.
Fez’s signature dish is the pastilla. This is a sweet-savoury phyllo pastry pie with a meat filling (chicken, lamb, beef or camel). It is quite flavourful with hints of cinnamon, and to end off it is dusted in icing sugar. I would recommend this dish. Another interesting Moroccan tradition is the couscous that gets eaten after Jumuah (Islamic congregational prayers held on a Friday). The couscous can have meat or it can be a vegetarian dish. It is served with some dried fruit and a stock. I found this dish to be fairly tasty.
Morocco is a land rich in culture and food. It is thus no surprise as to why it is such an incredible tourist destination. With the mazes comprising the medinas, where the magic of the old city lies, the country beckons travellers to come back to experience more. I hope that you have enjoyed this culinary journey. Perhaps my story inspires some lockdown recipes and a Moroccan evening. Take care and stay safe.
By Maryam Bibi
Maryam is a molecular scientist by profession with a passion for writing. She currently works as a freelance consultant offering laboratory advisory, scientific editing, and English language services. She loves
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