October 29, 2011
October 29, 2011
One of the signature photos travelers always take in Morocco is of heaping piles of spices in a variety of enticing colorful displays. These setups aspire to overwhelm visitors with the enchantment of a new and undiscovered place — and to encourage wide-eyed tourists to part with their dollars.
Spice shops are located all over Morocco and invite visitors to try a sniff. Ras el hanout, or “top of the shop,” is the country’s signature spice blend. There may be dozens of ingredients involved, including nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon and cardamom, and everyone has his own variation.
“I’ve traveled extensively in Europe but nowhere that can match this experience,” said Diana Rice, of Milwaukee.
Spices are just the beginning of the flavors travelers encounter in Morocco.
Two popular meals are the tagine and the pastilla. Tagine is a style of slow-cooked stew often filled with meat and vegetables, and is named for the special pot in which it is cooked. Pastilla is a Moroccan meat pie often made with pigeon or chicken.
You’ll also find tea steeped into the culture. Swishing a paper tea bag in a steaming coffee mug can be heavenly on a cold day, but it’s a far cry from Morocco’s elaborate rituals. Residents drink a special green tea several times a day. It’s a part of daily life and a component of hospitality shown to guests.
“The ubiquitous mint tea was ever-present,” Rice said. “Every shop, hotel, restaurant and home.”
The tea is prepared with mint added to it, then sweetened to varying degrees by regional preference.
Visual presentation is a big part of the ritual, and the preparer typically uses a tray with glasses and pots. There may be an elaborate preparation technique designed to affect the taste and consistency of the drink. Pouring is done from a distance to ensure a certain foaminess, a practice that can be found in many other countries.
Vivienne Chapleo and Jill Hoelting, who run WaveJourney.com, visited Morocco and participated in a tea ceremony with a Berber family just outside Marrakech in the Ourika Valley. The travel bloggers said the tea ceremony was a treasured experience that also featured homemade bread, honey, butter and olive oil, and plenty of attention from their hosts.
Jessie Faller-Parrett, of Carlisle, Pa., said she enjoyed the tea with meals or just to relax wherever she went.
“Mint tea is such a huge part of Moroccan culture, and I enjoyed taking a moment after meals to drink it and talk about all of the delicious foods we ate or to take a break from a day of exploring to sit for a moment at a cafe, soak in my surrounds and drink tea.”
She also tried a sheep’s head and brain from a stall in Marrakech’s Jamaa el Fna, the country’s famous market.
“Meals are a wonderful experience, with many different courses and new tastes,” Faller-Parrett said. “Be adventurous and try everything.”
Source: Chicago Tribune
Photo by: Mamounia Cuisine