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Tajine Time

Morocco… the land of endless deserts, surrounded by the Atlas mountains on the one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. It’s known for its dazzling mosques, cringeworthy camel rides and bustling medinas but most importantly, its rich cuisine and use of spices. Some have claimed Morocco’s cuisine to be second only to France’s, due to the influence the French had in the first half of the 20th century. Whatever its ranking may be, there’s no doubt that a kefta tajine (meatball stew) served with a side of flavourful couscous, will go down a treat with any public.

So off I went to Morocco for a taste! I had a though time choosing between Marrakesh, which is in the interior of the country, and Essaouira, a touristy town on the Mediterranean coast. I ended up not choosing at all and visiting both…

First Stop: Marrakesh

Chef Tarik & his Tajines

When learning a new cuisine it’s best to learn the basics first. I always try and find a school and chef that have that same mindset and ended up at Chef Tarik’s Atelier. He arranged for a pick-up from my AirBnB in Marrakesh and upon arriving at his Atelier & Organic Garden, I was welcomed by Chef Tarik himself, his apprentice and the Tea-Master. After getting to know each other and discussing my objectives over a cup of expertly-brewed tea, we head over to the “Spice Table”. This is where all the magic happens. Chef Tarik explains everything you need to know (and more) about the different spices and how to use them in the kitchen. Once the spice theory is gently drilled into you, you get to pick your veg from the garden and the cooking starts. Using the traditional tajine clay pots, you end up making 3 tajines, couscous and 3 salads in a morning sesh. Pretty good value for 750 Dirhams. They also throw in a dessert made by the locals on the farm. Though the quantity of the dishes learned is impressive, the fundamentals about Moroccan cooking that Chef Tarik imparts, make this workshop a real gem. I enjoyed it so much, I went back the next day and learned a whole different set of tajines and salads!

Second Stop: Essaouira

Having experienced the rich, meaty flavours of Marrakesh, I was ready for some fresh seafood dishes  – especially after a 6 hour bus trip in +40 degrees temperatures (top reason why not to visit a desert town in July). Essaouira is a hot spot for kite-surfers and I quickly understood why. Though I could barely breath in the scorching hot air in the country’s interior, the sea breeze in this town was so chilly I literally had to wear a hoody in the evening. Being a quaint, little village by the sea, you can literally walk everywhere, including l’Atelier Madada.

Atelier Madada has a much more touristy approach to cooking classes compared to other courses I have done. Their aim is to teach you a meal, consisting of a starter and a main, that you can easily reproduce when you get home. Pro: they cook with “normal” cooking ware, ie pots and pans and ovens instead of traditional clay pots that won’t work on your induction hob –  so you know what to do at home. Con: they don’t go into the what and how of the spices as much. That being said, they do have a great spice-market tour as part of the package where you get to visit a local spice seller who will explain interesting facts about a bunch of random spices as they are traditionally used in a medicinal way. If you’re in the area, they’re well worth a few hours of your time, but if you want to get more in-depth knowledge I’d head to Chef Tarik’s in Marrakech instead.

In July 2017 the course was 500 Dirhams, for a starter, a main and a market tour, thought by the ever-entertaining Chef Mouna. Great bonus: their online recipe catalogue.

 

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