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Experiencing Marrakech

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

James Beard

One of our favorite parts of traveling is enjoying different foods. We’ve also found that starting a stay with a food tour is a great way to learn about the local area and make new friends with the other participants or guides. Today I want to recommend two specific experiences in Marrakech that we found through Airbnb experiences—a new resource for us. Although we’ve spent over 340 days living in Airbnbs, we’ve never taken advantage of their experiences. I’ve listed the full title and a link so you can be sure to find the specific guide. Prices for both were VERY reasonable.

Marrakesh Night Street Food Tour/Taste the Real Marrakech hosted by Mustapha

Mustapha was born and raised in Marrakech. Our group consisted of Laurie and me, two other Seattle area residents living in Dublin, a mother and daughter from Lithuania, and a couple from the Netherlands. Half the fun of these is meeting new people and the conversations about home, work, and family. Mustapha knows the streets and alleyways of the city as we could tell from the many people he encountered along the route. Like many other food tours we’ve enjoyed, he took us to a variety of places where we tasted everything from soups to sweets. Laurie is not a big fan of fish, but even she enjoyed the sardine sandwiches. This is NOT the type of sardine you encounter in tins back in the states.

In our experience Moroccan food uses a core group of spices and often slow cooking and preparation to makes flavors more subtle. One thing we learned is that it is common to pack whole lemons in a glass jar with salt and oil and let them age for months or years. They are then preserved as a common and important ingredient.

The most unique thing that happened on this food tour was that the guide cooked one of the dishes himself. Tanjia—not to be confused with tangine—is a meat dish cooked in a special ceramic urn in hot ashes. The urn is also called a tanjia. Mustapha prepared the dish that morning and took it to his local hammam—basically a public steam room—heated by wood fires. The person who tends the fires for the spa also keeps the tanjia pots left in his care hot—but not too hot—so they cook all day. We helped him retrieve his tanjia from the hammam and enjoyed the tender and savory beef.

The tour covered three and a half hours and several neighborhoods. When we were done he made sure to deliver each of us to a safe place to return to our accommodations. One of our best food tour experiences ever. Try finding it in Airbnb experiences using the title above or via this link.

Moroccan Cooking Class With Chef Najlae

The next morning (as if we hadn’t eaten enough the night before) we attended a cooking class with another local who should frankly have her own show. This group included another American, a German, a Brazilian/Scot couple from London, and a French family with three boys—including twins. Najlae switched back and forth from English to French seamlessly and kept us all engaged and involved.

We started the session with tea—central to Moroccan culture—and learned things that Laurie, a real tea lover, didn’t know. She then took our group to the local market to purchase major ingredients for the meal, doling out assignments for what and how to select. We also got a demonstration at the butcher as he prepared a chicken (already dead) and showed us how to tell it is really fresh.

When we retired to her kitchen we were again all involved in preparation of ingredients and assembling them, sometimes artfully. One thing that we learned about Moroccan cuisine is that after it is prepared, it doesn’t require a lot of steps. No cooking something for ten minutes, adding additional ingredients, etc. Pretty simple after you put it on to heat. She went into great detail on how and when to use specific spices, how to tell real saffron from fake (tip: fake is made from dyed corn silk) and kept it interesting—in two languages.

She also spent time during and after the class giving us tips on where and where not to shop for specific things in Marrakech and common scams to avoid. Her tips paid off afterwards as we found special spices at a low pressure shop, a great scarf for Laurie, and avoided a local who tried to steer us off track from our route. That’s a common way to guide you to shops where they get a commission or they can ask for money for unneeded assistance.

What about the food itself? An incredibly tasty variety of vegetable, chicken, and beef based dishes. One of our participants was vegetarian and another was allergic to eggs. Najlae made sure that she had special versions of several dishes to accommodate their needs. We’ve been in Morocco for nearly a week and what we made together was as good as anything we’ve tried to date.

The class ran over four and-a-half hours and frankly, we were sorry to see it end. We’ll be trying many of these dishes—and preserving our own lemons—when we get home. Find Najlae in Airbnb experiences using the title above or via this link.

As always, feel free to post questions for us in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “Experiencing Marrakech”

    1. Yes, food was a highlight. Interesting combo of Arabic, Berber, and French from their colonial era.

  1. Wow, such engrossing food pictures and locale!
    Now, do realize many (me anyway) are not global oriented so I don’t know what country you were in! Never heard
    of M-whatever, before! Guess I need updated printed global maps in Europe, et al. ! (ha ha)

    1. Watch Casablanca for the World War II era view of Morocco. Modern day Casablanca is much more commercial. Marrakech, where we were, is more like the movie—-except more chaotic.

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