Sunday, July 29, 2007

Food again and bliss in a tourist's (or an expat's) heart

You may have detected a slight antipathy regarding Moroccan food in my past posts, subtle, discreet, but lurking there between the lines. Well, I'll come out and say it. Moroccan food is awful. Naturally, if you are willing to spend a lot of money and do a tour of the upmarket restaurants of the city (they are plentiful and they are not cheap) you could track down a genuinely nice tagine - and I have - but really, a lot of the time you'd just be finding a tagine that was less ghastly than all the others you had tried, rather than something that was fabulous in its own right.

When it comes down to it, a tagine is a mixed stew. They use fatty "lamb", stringy and dry chicken, deeply questionable unidentified-meat-balls and, for the vegetarian, carrots and potatoes. I don't know what they do with all the spices they are constantly pushing on tourists here, because they certainly don't use them in their cooking. If you are eating in local places and don't want to partake of the dreaded tagine then there is a whole array of... no, wait. There isn't. There are questionable brochettes, cous cous (the less said about that, the better, for the most part), omelette and chips that you have to wrap individually in napkins to squeeze out the oil. I will grant you that the yoghurt in El Bahia cafe on Rue Bani Marine is fabulous, and indeed for all my complaints I have eaten a full lunch in that cafe on several occasions and have lived to tell the tale (I must risk my credibility admit a partiality for their meatball and scrambled egg tagine). I suspect that the difficulty is that because Moroccan food has been romanced by tourists (and certainly there is worse food out there), a lot of mid-range eateries cut corners by serving very cheaply-produced food with substandard cuts of meat and so forth, so in order to hit the "nice" Moroccan food you are forced to play a Russian roulette with the top-end places while avoiding the horrors of belly-dancers and so forth.

However, for anybody who has spent more than three days in the country, the search begins for the food *least* akin to Moroccan food possible. Unfortunately, the best international restaurants and cafes are naturally going to be a little expensive for daily eating - Narwama, Kechmara, Tachibana - so you can imagine with what joys and ecstasies we found Bougainvillea in 2005, and indeed we have been eating there regularly since we arrived here in early June as we live just around the corner from it. They serve pizzas (big, nice and only 35DH - a little over 3 euros), pasta, salads, quiche, non-alcoholic cocktails, crepes, toasted sandwiches and so forth and you'd have to really go at it in order to get your bill for two to exceed 120DH. They do have tagine and brochettes too, but they are only for show, I'm sure (okay, I will confess that I have eaten their brochettes and they are quite nice). It is easy to criticise the place for being commercial and touristy, as some have, but it is also easy to be too precious about these things in the eternal search for "authenticity". Besides, it's very pretty, isn't it?

(PS: In case you think I am completelly negative about Moroccan food, Moroccan honey is divine - I'm eating some out of a huge jar right now)

Cafe Bougainvillea
33 Rue el Mouassine (adjacent to the mosque, facing down Rue el Mouassine as you come at it from the Djemma end)


Mélanie said...

Too bad that you don't like moroccan food ..I do . i think it is very tasty ans spicy . All that I like . But may be it is because of or thanks of my mediterranean roots ..
I lives in the USA and that was very hard ...I was missind my french cheese !!!

Anonymous said...

What a waste: you will be living in Marrakech for a year and you don't like Moroccan food? Perhaps you have never eatean in a Moroccan home. Perhaps you should wait before being so categoric about one of the world's best cuisines......
I only spend one month in Marrakech every year but when I do every crumb/morsel is delicious - and I avoid non-Moroccan food like the plague.

Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Bravo!! I couldn't agree with you more: Moroccan food is bland and of mediocre quality. I dared to cast aspersions on the sainted couscous on my blog - the bottom line is that a prophet is never accepted in his/her own town. Especially when he or she takes pot shots at the local cuisine.