Edible Morocco: Did Somebody Say Berber Pizza?
When I received my hotly-anticipated copy of Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide, I beelined through the pages to the North Africa section. Authors Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras are immediately frank about their seven continent, 120 country, 500 dish-long taste-test: “We love tasty food, but we aim to be explorers rather than gourmands. Seekers rather than epicureans.” Gastro Obscura is a “noisy, delicious, action-packed feast” that integrates the history and traditions steeped into recipes around the world. It’s the quickest way to be transported to a destination like Morocco!
Did you know?
Most Moroccans have ovens in their homes but leave the dirty work to a local oven attendant who commandeers the community’s communal oven. In the port city of El Jadida, a popular oven is found in a 16th-century Portuguese fortress. Here, locals bring meats, fish and pizzas to be baked by the expert. And we thought Uber Eats was convenient!
Tasting 1, 2, 3
When you think of Morocco, you might imagine the elegance of the traditional sweet mint tea pouring ritual. Maybe you think of a spicy tagine. Similar to paella, “tagine” describes both the type of clay or ceramic cookware and the actual stew. It’s like the ultimate single-serving slow cooker. Butchers will fill the tagine or tanjia with beef or lamb seasoned with all the staples: saffron, cumin, garlic, fermented butter and preserved lemon. The tanjia is then offloaded to an attendant. In Marrakech, butchers rent out tanjias which can be taken to the local bathhouse or hammam to be placed in the hot ash of the coal-burning oven (used to heat the bathwater). Curiously, the tanjia is known to be a bachelor’s meal as no cooking skills are required!
Another no-cooking-skills-required option is the stuffed camel spleen sandwich– the Moroccan equivalent of a burrito. Stuffed with camel, cow and lamb, spices, olives and preserved lemon, the “tehal” (spleen) serves as a convenient tortilla shell.
A Lunch Date with Jenny
I asked Jenny Martindale, Wild Women Expeditions spunky Program and Operations Director about her edible experience in Morocco. She has been twice (2019, 2020) and still swoons over the mention!
Tell us about Berber pizza!
The first time I tried Berber pizza (“Madfouna”) was at a desert cafe in Merzouga before we travelled under the setting sun to our Sahara dune camp by camel. At first glance, it looks like a circular flatbread but the secret to this delicious dish is the surprise found inside! There are versions with meat, vegetables, and spices, sometimes eggs, nuts, seeds, fruit and olives. I’m sure there are as many different savoury fillings as there are families that prepare them, baked fresh in mud ovens or in the heat of the desert sand. (*Just like your favourite pizza joint, a little investigation revealed that the ‘toppings’ are only limited by your imagination and can include sunflower or poppy seeds, almonds, cashews, olives, lamb, chicken, minced beef or slices of cooked steak.)
Are you a mint tea or Moroccan coffee kind of gal?
This is a tough one! Moroccan coffee has such a unique and exotic flavour and uses very similar spices to chai (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom and pepper), which I often make from scratch at home. I must admit that when spring arrives and the backyard garden mint is growing again, I replenish my supply of loose leaf green tea and drink pots of ‘Moroccan’ mint tea, several times a week. I have two sets of Moroccan tea cups which brings me back to the medinas, kasbahs and unforgettable hospitality in an instant! I took so many photos of people serving and pouring mint tea I could make a collage. It really is all about the tea–also known as “Berber whiskey!”
What do you find yourself craving from that trip? Tagine? Arabian date cookies? Moroccan orange cake?
I crave the tagine for sure. That is a dish that I think would be hard to duplicate here and unfortunately I didn’t purchase a tagine pot to bring home and try!
Have you made a pastilla or maybe something from that cooking class since returning home?
I do sometimes make Moroccan ‘inspired’ soups and stews but nothing as authentic as the pastillas or tagines. I just need to go back someday again! Or maybe find a Moroccan restaurant in Toronto next time I’m there!
Did you buy any spices to kick up your own kitchen?
My mom brought home a bright orange-coloured couscous spice mix which she shared with me and it’s very good! I was drawn to the pieces of dark amber resin (not edible) and have placed them around my house–one of my favourite scents!
If this virtual lunch with Jenny has you seriously thinking about Morocco, we have a seat at the table waiting just for you!
Spice up your life in 2022! Check out Wild Women’s colourful 15-day Mosaic of Wild Morocco Tour.
Can’t you taste that smoky Berber pizza, perfectly blistered and hot from the mud oven?
“This trip exceeded all of my expectations! Our guide, Hafida, was constantly working to make sure we were having the time of our lives and we were! The cooking class is located in a beautiful place founded for the purpose of helping and training Moroccan women in unfortunate circumstances. It was a true gem! The people we encountered everywhere were so gracious and welcoming and the food was delicious! The accommodations were also all perfect!”