‘Grand­mere’ style is the real taste of Mar­rakech

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

It’s ev­ery trav­eller’s rite of pas­sage: get­ting lost in the Mar­rakech me­d­ina. I had set off from the Royal Man­sour Ho­tel full of con­fi­dence. The lux­u­ri­ous ho­tel, built by King Mohammed VI, is less than a third of a mile from the city’s fa­mous mar­ket and I had a map printed out by the concierge with my in­tended route high­lighted on it. He as­sured me that the Kafe Fnaque Ber­bere book­shop (where I hoped to pick up some Moroc­can cook­books) and Le Trou au Mur restau­rant (where I was to talk to Bri­tish owner James Wix about his mis­sion to re­vive tra­di­tional “grand­mere” Moroc­can dishes) are on the main routes through the mar­ket. I’d have no trou­ble find­ing them.

Ear­lier, I’d been given a guided food-themed tour of the me­d­ina, booked through the ho­tel. I dis­cov­ered that the best place to buy high-qual­ity saf­fron and ras el hanout – the North African blend of spices that helps de­fine Moroc­can cui­sine – is not the fa­mous spice souk, which my guide dis­missed as be­ing for tourists, but a tiny stall in the Bab Ftouh area of the me­d­ina. Be­fore mid­day, the nar­row lanes had been rel­a­tively peace­ful. By mid-af­ter­noon, tourists had crowded in bar­ter­ing for car­pets, leather goods, in­tri­cate metal lanterns and other arte­facts.

The book­shop was easy enough to find but the restau­rant was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. Af­ter 10 min­utes I found my­self back at Rue Sidi el Ya­mani, where I’d started. A sec­ond at­tempt got me closer but I was still hope­lessly lost in the be­wil­der­ing maze of iden­ti­cal dark al­leys un­til an en­ter­pris­ing youth fi­nally led me to my des­ti­na­tion – for a tip, of course.

But a taste of the be­guil­ing ras el hanout ice cream at Le Trou au Mur was worth the mild panic of the jour­ney. Made with a se­cret blend of 36 dif­fer­ent spices in­clud­ing gin­ger, cumin, cin­na­mon, car­damom and five dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of pep­per, and sweet­ened with lo­cal honey, it was a taste of the me­d­ina it­self.

What makes Le Trou au Mur spe­cial is its tra­di­tional Moroc­can dishes such as ti­hane (in­tes­tine stuffed with spiced minced meat, chopped olives and pre­served lemon) and cher­chma (mixed beans and lentils in a Moroc­can spiced sauce with cous­cous). “Most lo­cal chefs now are striv­ing to be part of the grow­ing trend of Ital­ian and French cui­sine here in Morocco,” said Wix, who also owns the nearby Riad Far­natchi bou­tique ho­tel and spa. “I’m lucky to have found some­one who wants to do all the old grand­mother-style Moroc­can dishes.”

Hardly sur­pris­ingly, I took a taxi back to the Royal Man­sour, where I ar­rived just in time for a cook­ery class with Yan­nick Al­leno, the ho­tel’s French con­sul­tant chef. De­spite hold­ing six Miche­lin stars for his restau­rants in Paris and Courchevel, Al­leno cheer­fully ad­mits to hav­ing known noth­ing about Moroc­can food be­fore join­ing the ho­tel when it opened in 2010. “We asked ev­ery­one to bring a spe­cial­ity from their house and from their mums and I went all over the coun­try to see the spe­cial­i­ties. Morocco’s food is so rich be­cause there’s so much di­ver­sity, Mediter­ranean, At­lantic and in­land.”

High qual­ity: dried saf­fron flow­ers

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