Ailsa’s weekly travel theme is a wondrous topic that everybody loves: Food. When we travel, experiencing the local cuisine is perhaps one of the highlights of any trip. When I travel, I like to try as many authentic local places as possible and experiment with different kinds of foods I wouldn’t normally eat or order at home. I find that eating like a local is the best way to taste your way through a new country and learn a bit about the culture as well.
Some of my most favorite eating destinations include Chicago, Italy, Argentina and Paris. Yet I also have been surprisingly delighted at the fresh food I’ve had in places like Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nepal where food is grown locally, prepared from scratch and made to order. No preservatives and everything made right before serving. What could be better?
Whenever I return from a foreign country, I am reminded once again how processed our foods are here in America and I’ve tried hard to resolve that by cooking more from scratch and going hog wild at the farmer’s markets in the summer months. It makes me long to have hours on end to spend cooking like my host family in Guatemala who labored endlessly each day in the kitchen preparing our tortillas and meals from scratch. But unfortunately, that is not reality here so I’ll have to settle with doing the best I can.
In honor of this week’s travel theme, I’m going to show you a few of my favorite meals I’ve learned to make abroad when I was in Morocco, another foodie paradise. A lot of this part of the post is taken from an earlier post, Moroccan Cooking 101: How to Make a Tagine (to read in full and get detailed recipes, click here). Oddly enough, this has been one of my most popular posts on my site, perhaps due to google searches. And, I am embarrassed to admit that I bought a real live tagine in Morocco, struggled to carry it back home safely and it is still sitting in my closet unused! Someday I’ll get around to practicing my Moroccan cooking skills!
Without further ado, here it is….hope I make you hungry!
Moroccan specialties and magical charms
Anyone who has ever traveled to Southern Spain, Turkey, North Africa or Middle East knows that the food is quite magical. Food from these regions generally contain an array of fresh spices abound in flavor such as saffron, cumin, ginger, paprika, black pepper, cinnamon, mint and garlic. Mouthwatering fresh fruits such figs, dates, oranges and pomegranates can often be found added to freshly prepared tagines and couscous. Delectable olives, delightful almonds and mouth-burning harissa (a capsicum-pepper sauce which I adore) make any meal legendary.
The warm, gentle climate of Morocco provides an abundance of fresh vegetables as well (such as pepper, beans, tomatoes, artichokes, eggplants, onions, beets and pumpkins) which are common side and main dishes throughout Morocco. Being a world cuisine lover, I found Morocco to be a culinary paradise and was not once the slightest bit disappointed in the fantastic, fresh, exciting and worldly food I found.
My first night in Morocco was spent at a gorgeous Riad (see earlier posts) which served my first true Moroccan tagine, the famous Moroccan stews containing chicken or lamb with an assortment of fresh vegetables and spices that are cooked in a conical earthenware pot creating a lovely, tender and moist stew. I chose the chicken tagine with almonds and lemon over my beloved couscous (a type of semolina, small circular rice that is also served usually with a stew). After eating detestable plane food for the last twenty-four hours, my first Moroccan meal felt like heaven. I was also surprised to learn that Morocco, an Islamic country (over 99% Muslim) produces fantastic local wine. I ordered a half-bottle of Moroccan red which was delicious: Full-bodied, bright, with a smooth finish. I went to sleep after hours of travel feeling happy and full, anxiously anticipating my next Moroccan meal.
My visit through the local souq showed me exactly where these fresh, delightful ingredients come from. Vendor after vendor sold spices in all colors and flavors by the bag, and olives, nuts, figs, dates and fresh vegetables were at each and every corner of the market. I could have spent hours and dirhams passing through the souq and sampling up everything they had to offer. No wonder why Moroccans are such good cooks! In fact, each region and every city is known for its unique dishes and influences. This is probably not a surprise given that the distinctive flavors of Moroccan cooking come from a variety of origins such as Portuguese, Jewish, Spain, Persia, Senegal, France, Berber North Africa, Italy and Turkey—all countries that have ties to Morocco.
Some of my favorite market delights:
The dates and figs:
My week-long stay at the CCS Home Base in Hay Riad, Rabat, was another week of culinary delight. For an entire week, we had breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared by two native Berber cooks and we ate like kings and queens. Here are some pictures of our meals:
This gorgeous dish is called a bastilla. It is a multilayered pastry made out of phyllo dough and filled with a crushed mixture of toasted almonds, ground chicken, cheese and spices. Finally, it is topped with a dollop of cinnamon to give it a dessert like taste and appearance. It takes hours to prepare and looks were by no means deceiving….It was incredible!!!!
Here is a photo of the nummy inside:
Another favorite meal we had was the long-awaited Moroccan couscous, a quasi-religious experience in Morocco and what also just so happened to be one of my all time favorite meals thanks to that year spent living in France. Apparently the preparation of couscous takes an entire day and usually is made to feed an army thus it was usually made for the volunteers on the last day of the week’s stay: Friday. Here are some pictures of this amazing meal:
Our fantastic chefs preparing the couscous:
A close-up view of the finished product;
One of the highlights of my week stay in Morocco was our two-hour cooking class held by CCS at the Home Base. We learned how to make one of the main staples of Moroccan life: Chicken Tagine (for full instructions, click here).
The finished product:
We also learned how to make these delicious deadly pastries: Phyllo dough, filled with either the crushed almond, cheese, chicken mixture OR carrots, garlic and cheese, OR feta cheese and spinach mixture.
I am going to end this already too long post with a few photos of food that I have not liked. Yes, I did mention that I like to be adventurous when I travel but (a) I do not eat red meat (b) I do not eat anything that is cute or endangered (c) I have to draw the line sometimes on cleanliness and outright disgusting. Unfortunately most of the things I saw that I did not enjoy were in China where I had a hard time enjoying the food. Here are some things to leave you with…
Thankfully I had much better luck eating in Shanghai and actually found some delightful Chinese restaurants (but I bet they were more western in nature).
To read more posts from fellow bloggers on this week’s challenge, click here.