On the Road: Couscous in Marrakech

With Kay McGowan of A Curated World, I had the opportunity to visit Marrakech, Morocco a few months ago. Now that the online magazine (and store) is live, I am excited to share some of my adventures learning about Moroccan food culture. One of the highlights was a couscous lunch with caftan designer Nawal, owner of Aya’s. When we first met, she spoke passionately about the work she was doing with local seamstresses and of her star-studded international customer base. And on one of our last days in Marrakech, she offered to have us visit her shop for Friday couscous – a true show of Moroccan hospitality. During lunch I asked her about the traditional couscous lunch, a meal many Muslim Moroccans were sharing across the country at the same time as we all sat around her table, and her eyes lit up. It was obvious: she was also passionate about food and what it represents in her culture. That meal – fluffy couscous topped with roasted carrots, onions, turnips, pumpkin and lamb, smothered in an rich, unctuous broth – was one of my favorites from the trip. Please read more about this meal and the origins of couscous excerpted below.

Excerpted From A Curated World:

My first meal in Marrakech was Friday lunch. Our guide, Stef, had led my friend Kay and I to a small square within the medina – the walled inner city – and to an open air café. The view was everything I would have expected from a city known as a cross-roads for tradition and progression: we sat side by side western travelers with cameras and young Moroccans in pants and blouses, conversing in French or Arabic. The café looked out upon a small marketplace, where unvarnished tagines – the conical cooking vessels that are used in the average Moroccan household – were sold next to cages of birds and lizards. A spice seller with geometrically shaped towers of rich-hued powders was next to a man who sold the typical souvenirs of brightly painted dishes and woven baskets with the country’s name stitched along the side. The three of us, with a packed week’s agenda of visits with local designers and artisans, ordered café des espice – coffee brewed with a proprietary blend of spices, including cinnamon and cardamom and considered the best in the city – and chicken sandwiches and Moroccan salads. It was good, fresh food not entirely unlike what I might order in New York or Boston – but enjoyed in the warm December sun of Morocco. And while I loved this intersection of Moroccan culture and western tourism, I wondered to what extent this first meal represented the true food culture of Morocco.

What I did not know that first Friday, was that despite the city’s seemingly fervent energy it was Muslim Morocco’s holy day. Many storefronts in the souk were closed – something I had not noticed in my excitement to take in the sights and smells of my first walk through the winding paths of the market – and the reason we saw as many tourists as locals was because many Moroccan Muslims were home for the week’s most holy of meals: Friday couscous lunch with their families, served after midday prayers….

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2 thoughts on “On the Road: Couscous in Marrakech

  1. It would be a delight to learn more about Moroccan food culture. Although this would really be interesting, learning how to prepare a few Moroccan dishes would even be better. Next time when you visit Morocco, it would be great if you would learn how to prepare a few local dishes and share the recipes on your blog.

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