True Tajines of Marrakech

A tajine is the kind of subtle, considered dish–seemingly simple but really complex–that needs to be nursed, patiently, into being by someone who understands it almost intuitively, and can fluidly layer its flavors. Otherwise the dish is a dumb, one-note thing, too strident or too timid. And while the dumbed-down tajine is still too common in Amercan restaurants, it was oddly just as predominant, until recently, in Morocco, the home of the tajine, or at least in Moroccan restaurants pitched to tourists. That’s because the real masters of the tajine, the dadas, the local housewives, were quietly cooking behind closed doors. And the restaurants open to visitors were largely colonial fantasias, all grinding belly dancers, flying tassels, and ersatz Arab exotica. But not any more, at least in Marrakech, where a mix of expats and natives have hosed down the small townhouses in the medina, zealously restored their ancient bones, and opened up the intimate riad hotels that are spearheading a little revolution. In fact more ethnographers than hoteliers, the riad owners have helped revive a whole constellation of local Moroccan crafts and their abiding dedication to authenticity means that the riad dining rooms had to achieve a soulful gold standard too. And that meant convincing the dadas to come cook in the riad kitchens. The result is a palate-changer. For the first time the visitor–OK the tourist–can appreciate what a true tajine really tastes like, and understand why it’s the national signature dish. Start, and end, at the Riad Dixneuf where I recently sampled the best tajine I’ve ever tasted surrounded by a little study in understatement. Forget the baroque magic lanterns and too many dhurries. The Dixneuf’s rooftop looks out on the dusky sprawl of the medina and the guestrooms are a handsome, clean fusion of shaggy black and white wool tribal rugs, brown leather daybeds, metal filigree lights. All of that is really just a backdrop to the dinner dished up by Atika (pictured), the riad’s resident dada whose cooking is available to non-riad guests too as long as they call ahead. We started with a goat cheese and beet salad, and ended with an apple puree, but in between came something close to the Moroccan annunciation–a monkfish tajine that was a miracle of pure flavors tossed together, yet each holding their own. The fish itself was a fleshy, sweet slab but it was lifted by olive oil, paprika, parsley, lemons, tomatoes, carrots and a flash of red, green, and yellow peppers. And then who knows? Like the best dishes you couldn’t really break it down into any kind of clinical ingredient list or glib recipe (though if you want to try to replicate you can find a semblance of the recipe here). Because Atika knew how to nurse that homely stew into one seamless, definitive masterwork. One footnote of a warning though. If you are flying into Morocco avoid Royal Air Maroc if you can, though that’s not always possible since, like most airlines post-mega-mergers, the…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to get this amazing EBOOK FREE

By subscribing to this newsletter you agree to our Privacy Policy