Rabat – intro to food By Nancy Caldwell
The online information about the tour states that there must be two people registered for the tour to run. I was advised about a week ago that I was the only person to sign up, but that there was a tour running the previous day, the day I arrived in Rabat. I replied that, sadly, I couldn’t make that tour. I was advised not to worry, my tour would go ahead as planned
This morning I met my guide, Mohamed Benmokhtar at Rabat Gare Ville, the central railway station, and off we went for my private food tour of Rabat. (https://oldversion.moroccanfoodtour.com/our-tours/rabat-food-tour/) First stop: pastilla with chicken. This is pastry filled with chicken and almonds. It’s served hot as a starter at weddings. My photo did not do justice to this tasty treat!
We headed into the medina (old town) and to the souk (market) which is huge and consists of areas devoted to particular products – the fish area, the shoe area, the perfume area, the bread area. We stopped for rziza which Mohamed called Moroccan spaghetti. The shop owner – for all these small shops are run by families that own them, often for generations – drizzled honey over what appeared to be a patty of rziza. Mohamed gave it a little push and a little pull, and voilá, strands of “bread” were ready for for munching. Rest assured it did not taste like spaghetti. It was delicious.
Throughout the tour, Mohamed told me about the history and culture of Rabat and Morocco in general, about the food, its ingredients and the methods of cooking it, and about the construction and renewal in the Rabat souk. We stopped at a spice shop to examine the piles of brightly coloured product. From the front of the photo to the back, there is a mix like masala with ginger behind, turmeric with cumin behind, sweet paprika with hot paprika behind and finally coriander with cinnamon behind. The shop also stocked the whole spices. Mohamed picked up a handful of coriander seed and said that if you threw it on the ground it would grow. I contemplated bringing a small handful home to my son Chris and his partner Treena who are gardeners, but resisted
On the way to lunch we visited a fruit market. I had a refreshing orange with strawberry smoothy that hit the spot.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with no name as is common in the souk. It is known only by its unadvertised owner’s name. We arrived shortly before the “rush hour” and grabbed a good table in the back of the tiny space. We were first served a salad, a starter large enough to do me as a meal. Starting at centre bottom and continuing counter-clockwise, there is eggplant, carrots with tomatoes and coriander, beet root, potatoes, red and yellow peppers, broad beans and cauliflower. In the centre is rice and a couple of olives. All yummy!
Then followed the main – a chicken tagine, white bean soup and bread – with a lesson from Mohamed about the proper way to eat with the hands. He’s holding a fork as a teaser. Apparently this table full of food is a typical lunch for one person!
The little restaurant filled up quickly. As we finished eating, one family had to eat outside. There was also a thriving take-out business with an on-street window.
After lunch we walked to the Kasbah of the Oudayas, a 16th century fortress and the former home of the King of Morocco. It is situated on a hill at the edge of the city overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. A picture of it is in the header photo of this post. Above the Kasbah is the community of Oudaya where many artists and expats live. It is full of lovely winding small lanes and white and blue homes.
Following a wander through the Kasbah’s garden, Mohamed and I stopped for mint tea and sweets. During our discussion Mohamed mentioned that he had been a professional photographer, an admission of very great interest to me! I had not wanted to slow our tour down with my endless photo-taking and had been making mental notes of where to return on my own. Instead, Mohamed is taking me for a photo tour tomorrow morning, first light. I am very excited at this unexpected turn of events.
Mohamed won a National Geographic photography award in 2016 for this image:
You can find more of his work at http://alqomra.com/.
After all the food of the tour I thought I would never have to eat again, but – oh well, you can guess. I finished the day with a chicken and lemon dish and a glass of wine. Good thing Morocco is not dry!
Article and Photographs by Nancy Caldwell