Sharon Stephenson lifts the lid on many a tagine in Marrakesh, getting intimate with Morocco’s city of spice.
From the fragrant aromas wafting from every kitchen to the vibrant hues of the souk and the sun-tinged mountains, Marrakesh is a banquet for the senses
The plates keep on coming. A bowl of smoky aubergine purée dusted with paprika, stacks of grilled sardines and fresh-from-the-oven khubz (flatbread). Next up are conical clay tagines, the lamb falling off the bone in a cloud of cumin, saffron and bright red harissa paste, piles of steamed couscous, even a flaky pastry pie stuffed with pigeon meat, almonds, eggs and fragrant cinnamon.
Just when you think they’ve stopped, the waiter brings out blocks of nougat, thickly studded with pistachio nuts, and glasses of mint tea so sweet you’ll feel cavities forming on your teeth.
“You’ll never go hungry in Marrakesh,” says the waiter, smiling so widely his handlebar moustache almost dances.
Caught between the cross-hairs of the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco’s fourth largest city is a spectacular, sometimes disorienting, adventure in culture, architecture and cuisine.
Known as the red, or rose, city thanks to the dusky pink tint of its 16km Unesco-listed city walls which date back to the 12th century, Marrakesh is a game of two halves: the ancient Medina, the area encircled by those walls, and Gueliz, the ‘new’ neighbourhoods created by the French in 1931.
Most visitors will spend their time in the Medina, where a stroll through the whip-thin alleys of the souk (market) is like being plunged into a time warp: men wearing traditional hooded robes hawk spices, Berber carpets and silver teapots, snake charmers and fortune tellers try to separate visitors from their money, and donkeys laden with panniers of dates navigate around it all. Overhead, the haunting call to prayer from nearby Koutoubia Mosque rumbles through the air.
Be warned: you will get lost in the souk and Google Maps won’t be your friend. But the deeper you lose yourself in the lanes, the more fully you’ll immerse yourself in the culture.
When the sun sets in Marrakesh, there’s only one place to be – Djemaa el-fna. Abutted by souks and overlooked by the snow-capped mountains, this landmark square is a sensory overload of cooking smells, drum beats and buskers. Grab a table at one of the rooftop restaurants and eat your bodyweight in couscous as you watch the goings-on below.
dish.co.nz Looking across the water to the Menara gardens, established in the 12th century.