Sunday, April 11, 2010

Moroccan Culinary Highlights: Part 1

During my enormously long English spring break, I spent two and a half weeks traveling around the Kingdom of Morocco, a must-see destination if you are looking for culinary adventures, yet are still hesitant to completely stray away from western-style cooking. A former French colony, Morocco shows numerous European influences in all areas of public life, and its cuisine is no exception. French patisseries and Moroccan coffee houses stand side by side, baguettes vie with flatbreads for popularity, and glasses of mint tea and coke frequently share the table. Here, I will share with you some of the undoubted highlights of my Moroccan food experiences.

The high tourist season in Morocco (March-April) luckily corresponds with the high orange season. The shiny little globes are everywhere in the streets, and you can buy them fresh from the peddler (where they still have their leaves on), or, if you don't feel like peeling, find a juice stand where they will squeeze a glass of liquidy-pulpy goodness right in front of your eyes. Moroccan oranges at the peak of ripeness are so succulent and sweet that they provide a refreshing fruity experience without any sugar or other additives. A popular dessert is orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon, which lends them an earthy flavor brilliantly complementing their juicy freshness.

Bread in Morocco was like nothing I had ever seen before. The warm climate allows people to grow various types of grain, and as a result you can find bread made from wheat, corn, or semolina, among others. A typical loaf of Moroccan bread is circular and flat, with a golden brown crust, fluffy or grainy inside (depending on the type of flour) and a sprinkling of coarse flour on the bottom and sides. You can find this basic bread anywhere, and it tastes so good that you can enjoy it any time of day by itself, or with simple accompaniments: honey, olive oil, or jam. I had the chance to try jasmine honey in Morocco - and it didn't end there. I devoured it.

Other types of bread include semolina flatbread pancakes coated in oil and baked on a hot stove, which make a perfect light breakfast with orange juice. Rghaif (my personal favorite!) is another type of pancake, whose layered texture reminded me of a Turkish gozlema. It is sold on the streets, spread with honey or chocolate and rolled up. My second encounter with it featured an immensely delicious filing of honey and peanut oil, which had the very same flavor as peanut butter, yet without the heaviness and grease, and made a perfect combo with the flaky pancake. Rghaif can also be used in main dishes as a substitute for starchy foods (pasta, potatoes or couscous) - one day I had delicious cooked chicken, placed over a thick layer of rghaif pancakes peeled apart into small pieces and seasoned, with chicken stock sauce on the side.

To be continued...

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