I am now in the habit of doing a food class of some sort in any new city I visit. So I booked a cooking class in Tangier through Viator.com.
The promised four-hour class was two hours only, but I was the only one present and had the attentiveness of two different chefs.
And I learned a few things. For instance, the chef was so attentive to appearances. We worked on the carrots and the turnips and the potatoes until we had rounded edges. I also learned how to make authentic Moroccan couscous.
I also learned about smen, which is preserved butter with a distinctive taste and an almost cheese-like texture. The scent is pretty overwhelming. One flavor indicator might be ‘rancid.’
The chef spoke a bit of English, and I bit of French, and the sous chef knew more English, so we got along fine. Most of the ingredients were named in French only, and we had a fun game trying to learn each other’s terms for the veggies and the spices.
At one point I asked her how couscous was made, and she said “Cannot do in English.” I said “let’s do French,” and after she gave me a sidelong look of bemusement, off she went. I got most of it, thanks to copious hand motions as well.
The lesson excursion started with a driver collecting me at the hotel. We parked at the base of the medina and walked just a few blocks up hill to the Palais Zahia, a swanky hotel. The lesson was in the hotel kitchen.
On the menu: chicken tagine, and couscous with golden raisins and almonds.
And thick, sugary mint tea.
Oh yes — I got to taste her homemade almond paste (heavenly) and the local high-end argan oil, from a local tree. The taste was like a nutty olive oil. And so delicious.
The hotel itself is a recently renovated wonder of Moroccan crafts — tile, plaster, ceramic, wood painting.
But take one look from the windows of the top-floor restaurant and see reminders of reality:
Antenna dishes are everywhere here. Everywhere.