It takes time for a country to reveal its inner secrets, and often it’s the little things that make a destination so memorable. Escape Travel Consultant, Will Wightman lived and worked in Morocco for three years. He would like to share his top five titbits that might add some insight to your next visit to this colourful country.
Here are Will's top five Moroccan treats.
Tagines and tomatoes
A rounded, terracotta pyramid cooked over hot coals, the tagine is a mysterious pot full of melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness, spiced with saffron, cumin, preserved lemon and at least a dozen other ingredients. The observant traveller might notice rows of tagine pots lining restaurant windows, each with a fresh tomato sitting on top. Apart from looking quaint, the placement of the tomato serves two very practical purposes. The heat from the pot makes the tomato easy to peel before it’s placed in the dish, and the tomato also acts as a visual aid to help the cook know which tagine is ready to serve to a hungry customer.
Mint tea and matrimony
When it comes to love, Berber villagers have a sweet tradition. While the suitor and his family visit the home of his prospective bride to meet her parents, the sought-after young lady will prepare ‘a the’ or mint tea, made with gunpowder tea and lashings of mint and herbs in a well-worn, silver teapot. When the tea is served, one sip will tell if it is ‘happily ever after’ or ‘thanks, but no thanks’. If she refuses, the tea will not be sweetened and all he’ll taste is disappointment. But if she accepts, the tiny cup of tea could possibly be the best tasting cup of tea the young man has ever had in his life.
In the world of luxury beauty products, Moroccan Argan Oil is known for its moisturising and nourishing properties. Argan Oil is used as a hair treatment, skin treatment, and even as a salad dressing - for those who believe in ‘inner beauty’. But if you gaze out the window on the road from Agadir to Essaouira, where this oil is made, you might see goats climbing trees. That’s right. Goats in this part of the world are quite partial to the Argan nuts, and eat them right off the branches. Once digested and ‘passed’, enterprising Moroccans collect the goat droppings, find the exposed nuts, and press them in a giant mortar to collect the valuable oil.
Lights, camels, action!
One of Morocco's greatest claims to fame is Ricks’s Café in Casablanca. But if you want a true movie star experience, head to Ouarzazate, located three and a half hours South-East of Marrakech. Nestled in the Mid-Atlas Mountains, Ouarzazate is the home of Ait Benhadou, the towering red-clay Kasbah featured in Lawrence of Arabia, Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator and other epic films. Despite having no electricity, the magical walls of Ait Benhadou are still home to a handful of Berber families. And if you’re lucky, you might run into ‘Action Cous Cous’, a charismatic local hotel owner who has featured in over 25 films.
The hammam: it’s hot, it’s wet, and it’s dimly lit - a traditional bathhouse and meeting-place, where tourists are splashed and scrubbed within an inch of their lives! If you've ever used sandpaper on a piece of furniture, you might begin to understand the ferocity of the scrubbing that your sun-kissed shoulders may endure during this ritual. As intense as it sounds, the hammam is refreshing, invigorating and a real snapshot into Moroccan community life. It’s a place where fathers bond with sons, and women gossip for hours while children splash about by their feet. For a true local experience, there is nothing like it.
You can follow Will on Twitter @verymarrakech or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.