“I don’t need to watch the programme back on TV, I want to be there right now, on the roof of El Fenn, with the sun pouring down. It’s just so beautiful. If I could wiggle my nose and get myself there at the drop of a hat, I’d do it.” Cook and presenter Andi Oliver is gushing over Marrakesh, and in particular its food.
It’s fair to say the Moroccan city’s cuisine needs a spokesperson or two – it has been criticised by tourists and experts alike. So Andi is ready to set the record straight. She takes Fred Sirieix on a food journey to the city Two’s Remarkable Places to Eat. And below, Executive Chef at Marrakesh’s L’mida restaurant, Nargisse Benkabbou, shows how you can easily cook Marrakesh’s most popular dishes at home.
Moroccan cuisine is arguably best known for its tagines and slow-roast lamb, and for adding fruits to savoury dishes. But you don’t need specialist equipment or skills, or time for lots of chopping and simmering, to replicate it at home, according to Nargisse. “Don’t worry about how difficult a dish is before trying it. Moroccan cuisine can be surprisingly simple”, she says.
Chicken tagine, the brunch classic shakshuka and spiced roast lamb are already popular with home cooks. “A traditional tagine takes 5–6 hours to cook in a tagine pot, but modern Moroccans use regular casseroles, pots and even pressure cookers to save time”, says Nargisse.
So what could you try cooking beyond these classics? “Moroccan food is so diverse. We have many salads and starters, such as zaalouk (aubergine dip), grilled pepper salad and briouates (stuffed filo pastry). I also always like to mention bastilla, which is a sweet and savoury pie made of filo pastry, chicken, eggs and nuts”, Nargisse continues.
Try to stock up on a few things if you plan to cook Moroccan dishes. “If you have ras el hanout, cinnamon, ground turmeric, ground ginger, canned chickpeas, garlic, onions, fruits and honey, you can make a delicious tagine at any time”, she says. But don’t panic if you don’t have the right meat or vegetables for your tagine. “You can always swap a protein or vegetable with another one.”
When we are able to travel abroad again, where should we be eating in Marrakesh? “If someone came to London and ate fish and chips at Piccadilly and thought that was English food, it just wouldn’t be representative. If you get out of that centre and find a great chip shop on the Essex Road, then bingo! That’s what you want”, says Andi.
In Remarkable Places to Eat, we see Andi and Fred discuss how criticism of Marrakesh’s food is centred around the iconic medina – a labyrinth of small narrow streets filled to the rafters with shops and cafes, with a large market square in the centre which from late afternoon is packed with food stalls.
“It’s very easy to eat a rubbish tourist tagine there. You just have to step outside of that market and tourist catchment. For me the way to discover the best places is through people. When you’re in a shop, chat to people and ask for their recommendations”, says Andi.