Mogador Jews, 1888
It’s hard to imagine that Essaouira (formerly known as Mogador) once had a larger Jewish population than Muslim and that there were once over 40 synagogues in the town. However, head out of the medina at Bab Doukkala and the two Jewish cemeteries just beyond the city walls give an impression of the significance of this community in the past. Today, less than a handful of Jews live permanently in Essaouira, but many of its Jewish sons and daughters visit their native city from time to time, recalling it as it once was.
Through my work with the High Atlas Foundation, I have been fortunate to meet a number of these Jewish Mogadorians. Intrigued about the influence of the Jewish community on the local cuisine, I asked a friend to teach me a couple of Moroccan Jewish recipes. This one, which I have called Mogador Lemon Chicken, has a sweet and sour taste which seems to originate further East than Morocco; although it uses familiar local ingredients, it tastes like no dish you will find in the dozens of restaurants offering so-called Moroccan cuisine. Yet, I am told, it is a typical Mogadorian recipe and one I would like to share.
I can’t believe how this Windy City is moving! I already wrote about new openings for 2014 back in March and now there is more to report! Get ready – there are some new kids about to shake up the block and they are injecting some serious culinary imagination and decorative pizzazz into the Essaouira eating scene!
Whether this is your first time, or you come to Essaouira year-on-year, you might like to check out these new venues and businesses which have opened in time for the 2014 season.
Shiny new cafes: Gueliz on Sea
Essaouira is being marketed as Marrakech’s seaside and the crop of new cafes in the base of Jawharat building look like they have been lifted straight out of the Marrakech Ville Nouvelle. With their décor of shiny aluminium and glass with brightly coloured moulded chairs and tables, they are slicker than most and are already attracting a diverse crowd of locals, expats, tourists and officials from the nearby government offices. Everyone who has tried them has a favourite and mine is Rio. The wifi is fast, the coffee is good (and comes with a bottle of water and a biscuit) and the toilets are the smartest in town. If you pick up a pastry or three from Patisserie du Coin (another newbie) round the corner, the Rio staff will happily provide a plate and fork for your BYO cake!
Some people may prefer more refined establishments, but the longer I live in Essaouira, the more I live like a local…. Here are my top ten favourite street foods. You’ll find variations on many of them outside of Essaouira, and other cities and regions will have their own specialities. Bon appétit!
vegetable couscous at Al Fassia
A common saying in Morocco is that the best cuisine is prepared in the home. Although Westerners may baulk at fish for sale on the quayside displayed in a pallet without any ice, or meat hanging in the open air at a butcher’s stall, Moroccans know that the best way to prepare food is when it is fresh and that cooking it a high heat for longer periods kills bacteria. If you buy, cook and eat your protein on the day it was caught or killed, you don’t need to refrigerate it for long periods as we are accustomed to in the West. (And just as well, as sardines don’t leave the ocean with a sell-by date!)
vineyards at Val d’Argan
The region around Essaouira is largely agricultural and is particularly well-known for argan oil, so-called ‘Berber gold’ and famous for its gastronomic, health and beauty benefits. However, the Essaouira region is perhaps less well-known for its wines and cheeses and we recently took a trip to get to know them better.
selection of brioauts
I have eaten at La Découverte in Essaouira both at lunchtime and in the evening. The owner and hostess, Frédérique, has devised a menu of delicious homemade food with fresh ingredients and friendly staff in the Essaouira medina. Frédérique and her team greet you with a smile and a daily specials menu of dishes made from and inspired by local ingredients and cuisine. The menu offers something different to its competitors (pasta, pastilla, salads and briouats as well as tajines and couscous) and as much as possible of the menu is homemade on the premises or using ingredients sourced from local farms, cooperatives and associations.
Place Jmaa el Fna at dusk
There is no shortage of restaurants in Marrakech – there are new ones popping up every week. However, if can be difficult to find something that represents good value (whether cheap or expensive) and it’s often difficult to find a menu more extensive than the usual tajine or couscous dishes.
On a recent two-night trip to Marrakech, we had two very different tourist eating experiences: we ate at a stand on Place Jmaa el Fna one night and on the second, we pushed the boat out and had a celebratory meal at Pepenero, at that time #2 of 269 Marrakech restaurants on Trip Advisor. Continue reading
mint tea and msimen (with a mountain of sugar!)
There is a new cafe in Essaouira – it’s only been around for a few months and it’s only open in the evenings from 4-9pm, but it’s always packed to the gills and is cheap as chips.
cornes de gazelles
On my recent return from Morocco, my case was too full of presents and requests for friends (more on those later) to allow any space for my usual consignment of pastries and biscuits. But it’s hardly the done thing not to take some local sweet delicacies into work after a trip, so I thought I’d better learn how to make them myself. The cornes de gazelle weren’t nearly as difficult as I’d feared (although I managed to turn my Moroccan macaroons into teeth-breaking pebbles! Oops !) Continue reading