If I said what I wanted to say, namely that what I ate at Beijing Bao didn’t taste like Chinese food, then you’d probably take me for an idiot. You’d say China is big, China is far away, and as the only Chinese food you’ve probably eaten was eaten in Chinese restaurants, the restaurants not being in China, then you don’t know what Chinese food tastes like.
That would be fair enough.
It started at 6 so we figured we’d probably be out early. And anyway, or so I thought, it was a wine tasting (small sips, spit spit) and it would all be natural (wine that has been farmed according to organic or biodynamic principles plus minimum intervention thereafter… including, according to some diehards, no sulphite at bottling; a practice that has the effect of stabilising the otherwise very much still alive wine by stunning microbial reproduction, fermentation and all-round interaction as well as sanitising bottling equipment: sulphite’s antioxidant properties shield the wine from oxygen.) — so we’d be fine
From kitchen to tajine
One thing that brought us to Marrakech was its wonderful food culture. Eating is intertwined in the day-to-day activities and still is a huge part of Moroccan culture. The same goes for tea. Tea is not ‘just’ tea. The process has as much details to bear in mind as a Japanese tea ceremony. With a food culture like this we not only wanted to eat at as many wonderful places as possible, we also wanted to learn the tricks of the trade. We decided on a cooking course at Dar Attajmil because whilst staying there it would really feel like cooking at home.
We had decided on the following menu:
– Four small starters: ghobizza, beetroot, zalouk & pumpkin jam
– Vegetarian tajine
– Chicken pastilla
Hassan takes us to the souk to get ingredients for our cooking course. It’s exciting to see all the razzle-dazzle: motorbikes that splash trough the dirt, chickens waiting for execution and camera shy locals dodging Sophia’s lens. Armed with a basket full of veggies we stroll back to the riad. But first we make a quick stop at a spice annex beauty store. We savour the taste of long tradition that is hidden in the glass jars. We can’t help ourselves to buy some ras el hanout and amber soap.
Fatima rules the kitchen. With some French words, hand gestures and a lot of smiles she teaches us how to cook four entrees, bread and two main courses. The key to the perfect Moroccan dish has these three things: fresh ingredients, the right amount of spices and the knowledge of generations of strong women before us. Every woman in this country knows how to bake decent bread. About time we get in on that expertise.
We start of mostly rinsing and cutting, but soon we are adding tablespoons of spices and stirring the base sauce. Like Italian food, Moroccan dishes keep it simple. It’s all about fresh ingredients, the right kitchen supplies and a plate with spices. Of course pepper, salt and sugar. But even more important are cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, paprika, ginger, saffron and cayenne pepper. It makes that specific Moroccan taste we’re after!
Great tip for when you want to buy your own tajine after experiencing its wonderful magic: don’t buy glazed ones. They will break during cooking. Go for the authentic looking terracotta ones and you’re safe. The pretty colours are only for serving purposes.
The tajine is simmering on the rooftop on an even hotter burner than the stove. The chicken pastille is getting fried and the other dishes are just waiting to be served in their pretty little bowls. Time to bake some bread. All you need is water, salt, flour and fresh yeast. It’s not exact science. Mix the ingredients and adjust when you feel the consistency of the dough is too wet or too dry. When you’ve punched the hell out of it and are starting to feel sore it’s time to let the dough rise. After that it’s utterly simple. Make disks of one centimetre thick “pizzas” and bake them in a dry pan. Bon appetite!
Recipes will follow
We enjoyed this cooking class at Dar Attajmil.
Written by Valerie Kuster
A three-minute walk into the medina and you find a big dark door with two doorbells. From the outside you have absolutely no idea what’s on the other side. Only a little sign on the wall let us in on the secret. Step inside and be part of the mirage that is Riad Dar Attajmil.
The inner courtyard is absolutely stunning. It’s the combination of enormous banana trees, pink walls, beautiful mosaics and colourful carpets. Around the courtyard there are cosy spaces set up to relax or to have food. We are brought to the first floor. Our room is spacious with two beds and a bathroom that feels like a hammam. The entire vibe is just effortless and comfortable, we feel right at home.
The hostess is very helpful, so before we had even time to explore the medina we know exactly where to go. The people at the riad treat us like family. And because of our tour to the Atlas Mountains and the cooking class we get to know them all quite well. This familiar feel makes us miss the riad long after we leave. Like Hassan, one of the members of the staff, said: ‘It’s your home in Morocco.’
This post is written by Moniek Kuipers.
You don’t often find yourself at such beautiful surroundings that it makes you wonder… Is this a movie set? At Scarabeo Camp this thought will definitely cross your mind. Maybe it hits you the moment when you are staring at the flowing ceiling of your luxurious tent or later on when you follow the path of candles to your dinner table. At some point, you will feel that this is no ordinary campsite.
Straight from the airport we drive the 40 kilometres to the Scarabeo campsite. Out of nowhere a small village of white tents appears in the middle of Agafay’s stone desert. We are welcomed in the most wonderful manner, including a tour around the site and some sweet mint tea. That is, of course, poured as high as possible. The interior of the bright white tents is a mix between design and safari, with natural fabrics in neutral colours, Berber rugs, typical Moroccan accessories and vintage finds that seem to belong to a world explorer. There are plenty of spacious, but cosy seating areas. You can tell that there was a lot of eye for detail whilst decorating. Snoop around and you find antique binoculars, globes and old school games.
A two-night stay at Scarabeo Camp is the perfect beginning of your trip to busy Marrakech. Relax with a book and the gorgeous backdrop of the desert, take a nap with only the sound of a blowing tent cloth, take in the sunbeams on one of the sunbeds or just enjoy the campfire. Walking around, taking in the stunning views is followed by a game of Pétanque. Trust us when we say you’ll need the exercise after a few meals here.
During lunch- or dinnertime the whole table is filled with small dishes. It transforms the place into a beautiful piece of art that is definitely insta-worthy. Dig in and taste all the different flavours. How about homemade Falafel, roasted cauliflower, sweet mashed pumpkin, braised fennel, stewed quince, roasted turkey skewers and freshly baked bread? All dishes are prepared in the camp’s kitchen in Marrakech and finished on the spot. After dinner it’s time for tea and something sweet like an almond tart with strawberries or sliced oranges with cinnamon and drops of rose water. Dessert overlooking the desert, does it get any better?
All people working on and around the campsite were just lovely and made us feel instantly part of the Scarabeo family. The hospitality of the staff and owner Vincent made our stay such a relaxing getaway. Their energetic and caring attitude made our trip so much more enjoyable. Any challenges we faced were gone before we knew it. After a few successful seasons Vincent and his wife are opening a second campsite this summer, between Agadir and Essaouira. We can’t wait to visit!
More info about Scarabeo Camp on scarabeocamp.com
You’ll need napkins
I, like the rest of the Boeing 787, was salivating. You know how it goes: you’ve been staring at nothing for 4 hours, maybe less, probably much less, when ‘nothing’ all of a sudden becomes some horrendous film like Mad Max which the (by the looks of it) newly engaged couple sitting in 23 A and B are watching in the seats in front of you, and which you therefore can’t help but also watch. Through the gap.
Ok, so the movies I end up watching through The Gap aren’t generally the ones I’d watch at home, and Mad Max is actually a very bad example because it’s not something I’d watch anywhere; but every once and a while something ok comes along, which, even if not good, is at least something which awakens enough of desire in me to press eject on your controller-cum-telephone thing (has anyone ever seen anyone telephone from an airplane?) and tune in to the beginning.
Which is how I started watching Chef. And how I, probably like all the rest of the people that have watched Chef, became mildly obsessed — ok, no, ‘obsessed’ is too strong a word; let’s say ‘personally involved’ — in the eating of Cuban sandwiches.
And with all good eating comes appreciation. In this case, a staunch appreciation for all the Cuban sandwiches this side of Miami done right. ‘Right’ requiring the frying of both sides of each piece of bread so they’re golden brown, soon to be brown-brown (a commonly known secret is mayonnaise). ‘Right’ requiring the correct amount of hours to have passed the pork shoulder by, first as it’s brined (a full 12 according to some recipes), then as it soaks in marinade (2 should be enough), and the last 3 as it’s slowly roasted. Then there are, of course, the pickles you need to get it right, and to which I dedicate a next-level appreciation all their own; the cheese (‘Swiss Cheese’ — as in the stuff with holes in, not from Switzerland — I know what you’re thinking but just this once, ok? because this is an American thing, not a continental thing, but if it were up to me, I’d use Cheddar), that nuclear-yellow mustard (absolutely no real mustard allowed) and let us not forget the napkins. Obviously a good Cuban sandwich requires many napkins.
So it was a good sign that we had to go through a lot of napkins when we shared our Cuban at Worst. And as bad as it sounds — and, ok, it does sound bad, no one really likes to share — it was, in fact, a good thing that we were sharing. Because then we still had room to for the weissworst with a cauliflower puree and coleslaw (something I rarely trust anyone but my mom to get right but now that group’s been bumped up to two, the second being Worst), and three fully loaded (buckwheat) crepes stretched around chunks of sweet, roasted squash, spinach and cheese. All done, I can tell you, exactly right.