SPICE ODYSSEY

Dish - - CONTENTS - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy SHARON STEPHEN­SON

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.

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