A Moroccan Celebration

Tonight, I’m celebrating my approval into the global entry program by taking culinary trip to Morocco. But first, a trip down memory lane…

Keith and I spent a week in Morocco back in January 2010. The decision to go was like a lot of my decisions: we could get there easily from Paris where we’d spent New Year’s, and it’d be warmer than say, Germany. I knew a little about Morocco―the geopolitics, that they spoke some French, and of course I could watch Casablanca over and over again―but I didn’t know much more. And in all honesty, I was a little nervous. Not because it was a country where Islam is the predominant religion, or that it was a “lower middle income” country―a change up from my travels in the EU. I was nervous because I didn’t know what I was going to eat.

I had never tried Moroccan food before. Really, I wasn’t even familiar with what Moroccan food was. I was picturing inedible plates full of unidentifiable meats and spice blends I didn’t care for. Why? Who knows. Nobody teaches you what a country eats in a political science class; I was unaware and ignorant. And yes, I was a picky eater. You probably should judge me for that, but think of how far I’ve come in the last several years!

To assuage any apprehension about Moroccan cuisine that I had, Keith and I has dinner at Andalous in Lakeview (now closed) before we left. I had the king of Moroccan dishes, bastilla―a savory mash of chicken covered in phyllo dough and intricately decorated on top with powdered sugar and cinnamon. It was good, though I was put off by the sweet dusting on top of the chicken pie. I wasn’t used to such a complex mixing of savory and sweet, especially as dinner. I walked out of the restaurant hopeful, but still hesitant.

Fast-forward several weeks later, as Keith and I touched down in Marrakech after days in Paris spent eating croissants, tarte flambée, chicken fricassée and quiche. I was incredibly hungry and the meal options on our flight had been limited since they couldn’t serve pork. We fumbled around the airport, neither of us knowing where to go, hungry and lost. [Of course, we forgot to pack any level of instructions on how we would get to our riad in the heart of the old medina, a labyrinth of alleys with no posted name.] The sense of apprehension set back in quickly.

We eventually figured our way out, and found ourselves in the most lively, aromatic, bustling square I’d ever set foot in. At night, Djemma el Fna is transformed in an intense outdoor food court, where locals really come to eat. And we dove head first into it all, barely pausing to come up for air. We couldn’t help ourselves; seated on a bench with Moroccan families and tourists alike, we were served tagines full of seriously tender meat and roots on a bed of flavorful couscous, dipping our rounds of bread into the juices that remained. We had salads of fresh vegetables and sipped mint tea all night long. And for dessert, we feasted on bags full of dates and dried apricots, and fresh squeezed blood orange juice. And to think I was nervous? No, I was in food heaven, and this was just night one.

Marrakech tagine
Marrakech tagine
Djemma el Fna
Djemma el Fna on our first night
Fresh squeeze orange juice
Fresh squeeze orange juice
Keith buys some goods
Keith buys some goods, and has some choices to make

I think of Morocco for many reasons, but I mostly think of it as the time when I started to appreciate how travel influences the way we eat―and what is more fundamental than that. Traveling teaches us so much, and it opens us up to unimaginable possibility. I think of the journey, not just to Morocco and or anywhere else, but the ones I’ve been on since then.

On our way to the Sahara, our host pouring us some tea
On our way to the Sahara, our host pouring us some tea

So fast forward again to tonight, we are making an apricot and almond tagine with red cabbage salad. It’s delicious and so representative of the tastes and smells of Morocco. The sweetness from the apricots, the aroma of the cumin, the heartiness of the chickpeas, and the meat that is so very melt in your mouth is just wonderful.

Red cabbage, red onions and spice dressing
Red cabbage, red onions and spice dressing
Keith cooking
Keith minces up some onion and carrots for the pot
Tagine and red cabbage salad
Tagine and red cabbage salad
Moroccan tea set and homegrown mint
Moroccan tea set and homegrown mint
Mint tea, no meal is complete with out it
Mint tea, no meal is complete with out it
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