We flew out to the exotic North African country to start our seven-night Moroccan adventure with the independent travel experts Rickshaw Travel. Spending three days in Marrakech, one of our days was spent in the company of Lalla Fatima at her cooking school…
There is an old proverb that goes, “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. However, give me a fish, and I will probably burn it, or undercook it, get the skin stuck to the frying pan, cut my finger off or choke on a bone I neglected to fillet. While I love all types of food – sweet, savoury, sour, exotic, traditional – it would be a stretch to say that cooking is my forte. I am to cooking what Gordon Ramsay is to polite, eloquent speaking.
So I was probably an ideal candidate for one of the cooking classes run by Lalla Fatima Nezha, Marrakech’s culinary goddess (my description, not hers). Bearing influences from the Middle East, Mediterranean and the indigenous Berbers, Moroccan cuisine is both tasty and filling, making full use of the herbs and spices grown in the country.
While not quite as spicy as the food I had in Tunisia the month before, a meal is always accompanied by some refreshing mint tea. If you don’t like mint tea (or Berber whiskey as the locals like to call it), you’d better be a very good actor or start developing a taste for it before you arrive in Morocco, because you’re going to be drinking an awful lot of it. The same might also be said for eating a tagine, the ubiquitous national dish, and my very first one is still certainly the best I ate during my entire stay.
This is even more surprising since I cooked it myself, under the tutelage of Lalla Fatima. To say that she might have been responsible for the quality of the tagine is something of an understatement. Like many good meals, this was partly down to good preparation – the start of the 1-day course begins by shopping for ingredients at Marrakech’s Mellah market. As soon as I walked into the market, (sadly past all the live chickens kept in tiny cages), the herbs and spices laid out were as colourful and varied as Morocco itself and I knew I was in for a gastronomic treat. If humans really did “eat with their eyes”, I would’ve been full-to-bursting before we’d even driven to her home – there’s even one rather handy spice called Ras el Hanout (“Head of the Shop”), which is a mixture of 17 other spices. Amongst piles of olives large enough to be in the Atlas mountains and huge jars of preserved lemons that would stay edible for a decade, chatting to the stall owners immediately gets you in the frame of mind to unleash your inner Masterchef.
The wonderful thing about this cooking course is how hands-on it is, your fingers that will be pressing lemon deep into succulent chicken till the juices ooze out, chopping onions till your eyes water, and stoking the fire beneath the tagine with a bellows. No induction rings, Kitchen Aids, or microwaves here, thank you very much.
While my chicken tagine is cooking, allowing the stew-like tagine to absorb all the flavours of the spices, we pay a visit to the local bakery to pick up some fresh bread, literally just out of the furnace. After a quick peek at the bizarre “bread graveyard” of loaves that don’t quite make the grade, we’re back inside the lush garden at Lalla Fatima’s house ready to serve, and of course eat, our creations. Accompanied by some babaganoush, and spring rolls – some bursting with goats cheese, others with delicious chili, chicken and peppers – and of course washed down with mint tea, we dined like royalty. Although I doubt many kings still have saffron or coriander on their fingers when they have lunch.
I agree that the way to a man’s heart is often through his stomach, and in my case there has rarely been a more accurate truism. I loved every minute of the cooking course, which ended up being one the highlights during my stay in Morocco. But if I ever visit a chocolate-making course I fear I may never escape to write about it…
The price for the cooking course is 400 dirhams or 40 euros. For more information about cooking with Lalla Fatmia contact [email protected] or telephone 00212679647904
The Seven Night Taste of Morocco Tour
The Taste of Morocco itinerary from independent travel experts Rickshaw Travel is available to begin any day from Marrakech. The tour takes in Marrakech, Kasbah Aït Benhaddou, a camel trek and desert camp in the Sahara Desert and Ouarzazate before returning to Marrakech. Prices start from £598 per person based on two sharing (cheaper option from £478 with more basic accommodation options). Included in the tour is accommodation with breakfast on 6 nights, 1 night full board in the desert, cookery class in Marrakech, hire car and private transfers.
Return flights with EasyJet from London Gatwick to Marrakech start from £228
About Rickshaw Travel
Rickshaw Travel has been providing enriching independent adventure trips since 2008. Now covering 17 destinations across Africa, Asia and Latin America, its unique modular approach to customer-led exploration enables adventurous holidaymakers to experience the Real Spirit of the destination they are travelling in. Sustainable tourism is at the core of the company, with an emphasis on creating authentic holiday experiences through characterful local accommodation and homestay options as well as on-going fundraising initiatives both close to home and in each destination. Whilst there are no escorts or group travel, a hassle-free holiday experience is assured with all local arrangements booked and ticketed in advance. Local guides and drivers are also available for those looking for additional in-country insights; ensuring travellers enjoy the best of all worlds while exploring the globe.