When it comes to cooking; I am old fashioned. I appreciate simple and honest food that doesn’t require sophisticated techniques and overrated cookbooks; and Moroccan cuisine meets my expectations (and hopefully yours), with their gentle cooking methods of Tagine in terracotta, and Couscous in double-chambered couscoussier; along with spices, fresh vegetables, nuts and dried fruit. Extreme tolerance is invested in every dish cooked with love. No deadlines, no microwave, and no drive thru.
I feel better already!
The essence of Moroccan food is sharing it with loved ones. Mealtimes tend to get very social and consumed with much laughter and talking, with food consumed in hands. Almost every Moroccan dish tells a story of civilization. The cuisine of the indigenous Berbers is highly adapted today in classic dishes. The Arab invasion brought new spices, nuts and dried fruits, reflecting the country’s colourful past, and the Jewish added sophisticated preserving techniques of lemon, olives and pickles, refining the basis for what is known as Moroccan cuisine today.
Selling Street food has long been a tradition. Just to give you a hint, remember those old Roman movies where Herod the great would throw a feast of grilled beasts on his long never ending dining table and his intoxicated hosts would snatch whatever is available with their hands and teeth like no tomorrow? The souks of Fez, Marrakesh and Essaouira are somehow similar; with the exception of Alcohol consumption, which is prohibited by law and religion; This is where locals promenade and get drunk on the smoky aroma of burning fat and nibble on assorted skewers of diced aioli chicken, spiced ground lamb or beef kebabs grilled on charcoal, served with crusty bread “Khobz”, red pepper sauce “Harissa”, onion, cumin and salt.
Street food is also popular for breakfast and lunch and draws on Morocco’s mix of Arab and Berber inhabitants. A bowl of Bessara, a hearty beans soup loaded with enough garlic to keep even satan away, mopped up with bread, is a popular breakfast. Hole-in-the-wall eateries also dish it up for lunch with a scatter of lemon-infused olive oil and a sprinkle of cumin and chilli. Once sold out, the stall-holder will close his shop and call it a day, leaving the hungry ones hysterically heartbroken.
When talking about the marvels of Morocco, we cannot ignore the nation’s greatest iconic drink: Moroccan Mint Tea, or what Moroccans will jokingly call “Moroccan whiskey”. It usually ends the meal and is accompanied with sweets. Pastries play an important role because they are an essential complement to the tea. Popular street sweets include “Sfinj”, a Moroccan doughnut made from fried dough; Briwat, a deep fried filo pastry triangles stuffed with almonds; and Shebakia, a flower-shaped fried sesame cookies.
In Australia; Couscous tends to come first in mind when Moroccan cuisine is mentioned. But the increase awareness of worldwide cuisine is well noticed; particularly in Sydney. Supermarkets have stretched their shelves to include more ingredients such as preserved lemon, harissa and other Moroccan blends.
My Moroccan experience took place on Crown Street in Surry Hills at Mint Café. A little Moroccan gem that won the heart and stomach of many, including mine. Prices vary from breakfast to lunch; expect to pay an average of $15.00 for breakfast, $25.00 for lunch depending on what you order. The best thing about this place is that it intentionally brews a good quality Moroccan mint tea; as a sign of hospitality, tradition and friendship; Although a discount on your bill will guarantee a stronger mutual feeling!
The preparation and service of Moroccan mint tea is very serious and essential when welcoming a guest. While locals drink tea informally all day in between meals, it is an important part of socialising. A visitor enters a house, the first thing that he or she must be offered is tea, with the pouring of tea being considered as important as the tea itself.
Meat skewers are heavily consumed around the Middle East. The difference from one country to another remains in the usage of spices; while Bessara Soup is very particular to Morocco, and Moroccan Mint tea is the nation’s pride and joy.
Drain 2 cups dried split fava beans (soaked overnight), Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a saucepan and fry 1 tbsp. chopped garlic. Stir in 3 tsp. of ground cumin then add the beans and 1.5 litres of water. Cover and bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the beans have absorbed all the water and have broken down to a smooth, use a fork to mash some of the beans, to create a thick soup. Pour into a serving bowl and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with a pinch of paprika and extra cumin. Place an olive in the centre and drizzle with more olive oil. Serve with flatbread.
Moroccan Mint Tea
Place 3 tbsp. of gunpowder or green tea in a teapot, Pour over ½ cup fresh boiling water. Allow the tea to rest for few seconds then empty the water. Add little leaves of mint and 2 tsp. of sugar. Pour fresh boiling water onto mix to fill the pot. Allow the tea to rest for 3 minutes. If you prefer your tea strong, you may bring the full teapot to boil and let it stand for a couple more minutes. Pour 3–4 cups, but do not stir. Simply pour back into the pot, this allows the mint tea mixture to blend naturally.
I leave you with a Moroccan Proverb while you sip your way to utter happiness: “A handful of couscous is better than Mecca and all its dust!”