Eating in Morocco, and Ramadan

When we first arrived in Morocco, we were in Marrakesh, where the temperature was hot and depressing, but the food was very pleasing. I was happy to introduce couscous to my family—it was seemingly available everywhere. When nicely cooked, it is not unlike millet in taste, and brings us fond memories of good home food. In contrast, tagine was almost forced on us, as half of the menu entries at our hotel’s restaurant are different varieties of tagines. It came as a dish with a little pile of vegetables, with some meat (in our case chicken) hiding inside. And it was really tasty.

Tagine the dish
Couscous (left) and tagine (right)

Good food needs good ambient to enjoy, and in Marrakesh this comes in the form of air conditioning. While our hotel room didn’t come with AC, the restaurant within the hotel has it. Unfortunately, the AC was not large, and was in a room with no glass panes for the door or the window. Although the doorway was draped with a curtain, and the windows partially blocked with carved wood patterns, the room was only slightly cooler than the outside. We were the only guests there, and chose for ourselves a corner right under the AC. The restaurant owner sat in the room as well, helping us to choose food, and read a newspaper that he shared with the hotel owner.

The restaurant’s owner speaks good French, but unfortunately we don’t, so communication was somewhat hit and miss. Yet, with all that difficulty Agnes was able to ask where the name tagine came from, and understood the answer to be that the cooking vessel was its namesake. To our surprise, this turned out to be true.

Jamaa el Fna
Jamaa el Fna from Le Grand Balcon

Our hotel was very close to the main square of Marrakesh, Jamaa el Fna. On the square, all kinds of food can be had inexpensively. We tried out local fares from an orange stand, a small food store, a slightly-less-small restaurant by the square, and pizza at Le Grand Balcon Café Glacier, where the food was nothing to brag about, but the view of the square was spectacular.

It turned out couscous is a very Berber-specific food, and Berber lifestyle is only centered around Marrakech. In many places of Morocco, we were told it was not available. At one place, we were told that we must have more than four people to order couscous.

So what else did we get? In most of the non-Berber areas, you get your choice of brochette, which is shish kebab in French. And in Ifane we had the best Spaghetti au Thon, or spaghetti with tuna, in the restaurant right under our hotel, La Paix (the restaurant, not the hotel). Having some familiar food to fall back on was great, and during our three day stay in Ifane we tried spaghetti in two other restaurants, but neither of those spaghettis was as good.

The third day in Morocco was the start of Ramadan. Although we knew Ramadan was coming up, we didn’t know what to expect. We did bring some trail-mix and other snacks, but it didn’t seem that we needed them. We had a nice lunch on the High Atlas, and dinner was included in the room rate for our hotel, the Itran Kasbah. We were asked whether we were vegetarians, and were told that dinner would be brought to us, wherever we liked.

So we waited on the terrace. And we waited. The evening became cool. The stars twinkled. And when we inquired, we were told the food was coming. It eventually did, at the point that the kids were very sleepy. We got a tagine, which included some very tough meat. We couldn’t see what exactly we were eating, because the lighting on the terrace was dim, so we asked for a lamp. When the lamp came, it was still too dim to figure out what we had, but we kind of lost interest in the food. It was in Ifane, when we talked with the sisters Inman and Ramnié, that we understood that after the day’s fasting, the Moroccans would eat a little bit, (go to a mosque to) pray, and eat more. No wonder our dinner was served so late.

Once a waiter (wait-people in Morocco are generally men) told us that it was not so hard to watch us eat, while keeping a fast himself. The hardest thing to endure was refraining from smoking cigarettes during the day.

Lunch on balcony
Lunch on balcony of Hotel Marco Polo

The day before we left Morocco, we stayed in the seaside town of Tanger, across the Gibraltar Straight from Europe. There, we were told by the hotel owner that lunch starts at 4pm. But we were too hungry to wait. So he took me to his kitchen, where we agreed on the fish he’d have cooked for us, and the food was served on our balcony. This way, he didn’t have to open up the restaurant just for us, while we got to enjoy the meal with a great view of the white sand beach. Life couldn’t have been better!

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