Getting off the beaten path is always an adventure—culinary and otherwise. This was certainly the case in Morocco.
Our small tour group had left the Middle Atlas Mountains behind for a night’s stay in the Sahara desert. Long, lonely stretches of road are punctuated with open-air shops, some with grills topped with terracotta tagines. A ripe tomato on the top of the cone signals that dinner is ready, an inexpensive marketing tool that catches the eye of passing motorists like a billboard.
But today, we’re picnicking in a palm grove so we pull off the road in front of a village market. The locals look curiously at the bus with “Turisme” painted in big letters on the hood. It’s clear they don’t get a lot of tourists here. We shuffle tentatively inside to find a series of vendor stalls. None of us speak Arabic, so we point and nod. We buy fresh almonds and olives, and fill our bags with tins of sardines with chili, cheeses and fresh-baked local bread. I purchase a kilo of fresh dates, without realizing how many that really is. Our picnic under the palms is spent sharing our “finds” with the others.
Back on the road, we buy pomegranates from a roadside vendor who teaches us how to open them without bursting the seeds. At another stop, a shopkeeper brings out a bubbling tagine with lamb kefta meatballs and fresh eggs. The aroma of mint mingles with onion, garlic and the ubiquitous cumin. He offers us a taste, apologizing for the simplicity of the dish. He calls it a “Berber Omelet,” although it’s also known as shakshuka. It becomes an instant favorite.
It was one of the first recipes I tried at home with the tagine I’ve purchased in Fez. One taste and I’m back on the road in Morocco, with new food adventures waiting around every bend.