Saturday, 13 October 2012

food escape

We are beginning to realise that Morocco is full of interesting if a bit eccentric Frenchmen, who have escaped the commercial imperatives of Europe for the alternative life offered here. Today we met our third such Frenchman, Michele, who is living ‘Christmas everyday’ in a purpose built cooking school in a rural area outside Marrakech. Since we first started planning our excursion to Morocco, doing a cooking school had been part of the plan … today that dream was realised. We travelled into the countryside with a couple from Birmingham here on a short escape, and a retired couple from the north of Scotland who had likely lived on meat and 3 vege all their lives and were also struggling in the high 30s temperatures.

After watching a bread making demonstration, we sat blind folded in a semi circle for more than hour as Michele held spices under our noses for us to ‘experience’. The game was for us to guess what they were, after which he would expound their virtues, uses and when relevant, explain how to test the authenticity of what we were buying in the spice markets. I knew already that some of my previous spice purchases would not pass the legit test. Doh.

Bread making was lots of fun … we all laughed at our inability to complete the task with the flare and grace of Nezha our cooking demonstrator and tutor. We’ve eaten this style of bread everyday for 3 weeks now so making it ourselves was a hoot.

The tajine we prepared was beef with pears and oranges … wonderful flavours. But as Michele was at pains to teach us, cooking a tajine is not technically difficult … the difference is in the balance and combination of the spices. As we discovered in our first days here, the authentic Moroccan dish has mild flavours, but it is the balance, complementary nature and nuances of the flavours that make it such an amazing culinary experience. (Back home we have made Moroccan curries … funny that we’ve not seen a Moroccan curry on a menu or heard anyone mention them since we’ve been here.)

Of course we had to eat our stuff … and it was sensational. But the kitchen also added to the table; hot and cold salads, home made ice cream … we didn’t finish eating lunch until around 4. As the afternoon wound down, we sat and reflected on the nature of this Moroccan experience. We talked about the nature of Moroccans who are extraordinarily hospitable, and generally kind and gentle by nature. We talked about their prowess in fixing things and recycling, and we discussed the typical stresses of life in the West and the demands we face, particularly on our time. We wondered about quality of life as we digested our bread made with our own hands and looked out into the vast garden of olive trees, orange and lemon trees, tomatoes, peppers and herbs.. As Michele inquired in his thick French accent, “what does it mean, civilised?”. Indeed.