Way, way back in 2006, we were traveling overseas to attend a couple of conferences, and then called into the UK to catch up on family. It always amazes me how cheap travel to exotic places is from London, and so for a matter of what seemed like a few quid at the time, we popped over to Africa – to Marrakesh.
Marrakesh, former Imperial City of Morocco was completed almost 1,000 years ago. The name is derived from the Berber words “Mur” and “Akush” roughly translating into “Land of God”. The regular calling from the minarets within the city reinforces its name, making it impossible to forget that this is a strict Islamic city.
Amidst the red dust – Marrakesh isn’t called the ‘City of Ochre’ (or the Red City) for nothing – rise the mud-brick ramparts of the medina – within which lie the labyrinthian alleys of the old city……….…….where the deeper you go, the quieter they become.
But our first impression was one of chaos as we had arrived in the morning and people were busy going about their daily routines. The medina is a maze of these alleys that present a fairly forbidding facade, studded with an array of sturdy looking doors until you realize that behind these barricades lies a haven of tranquility – the riad.
We stayed at the Riad Malika, a fabulous Art-Deco themed riad made up of individual apartments with a common eating area in the tiled courtyard just beyond the main entrance…………..and the most seductive bed (in a tiny space that actually bridged the street below) and bath we’ve ever experienced!!
Having got ourselves thoroughly fleeced on the first day in the carpet souks – despite all cautionary tales delivered by well-meaning family, friends and Lonely Planet advice – we finally learnt to refuse with polite firmness and ventured deeper into the city’s centre. Here to discover the Ali ben Yousef Medersa……
…….the largest theological college in the Maghreb which was built by the Saadians in 1565 (and much restored during the 1960s). However, it was the student’s ‘cells’, or study rooms upstairs that intrigued me, with their tranquil spaces equipped with basic cooking gear, such as the targine and the tea tray.However, it is the tangia that is more synonymous with the bachelor student.
The tangia originated in Marrakesh, where its use was popularized by unmarried working men and students. Before heading to their jobs or study, the tangia would be packed with mostly the cheaper cuts of lamb, onions, garlic and Moroccan spices (like harissa and ras el hanout) the clay vessels would then be sealed with parchment and string, and dropped off at the nearest wood-burning hamman, or public bath house…. There, the tangias nestle into the ashes, allowing the meat to cook slowly until the workers retrieved them at the end of the day.
Brunyfire found this great little earthenware pot at the local Vinnies (St Vincent de Paul’s) for $2 – it was glazed inside with a nicely fitting lid – so I snaffled it, cleaned it thoroughly and left it to soak overnight. (Note: it’s important to have an ‘open’ bodied, porous earthenware clay pot to allow for the inevitable rapid heating and cooling to occur without cracking).
The next day, I lit a good hot fire in the fire-pit – fed it throughout the day to generate a good bed of hot coals – and then filled up the damp pot with beef, preserved lemons, coriander and Moroccan herbs (see recipe below)……..……sealed with a strip of dough and embedded into the hot coals.Instead of the traditional Moroccan flat bread, I decided to use the plentiful bed of coals to make a variation on the traditional damper, baked in a dutch oven……
- 1 kg beef, cut into chunks
- 1 1/2 medium onions, chopped
- 4-6 to garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large handful fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 teaspoons Ras el Hanout
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 ripe tomatoes
- 1 1/2 preserved lemons, cut into wedges
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Chuck everything into the tangia and seal the lid with the pastry dough.
Ras el Hanout.
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 nutmegs, freshly grated
Combine all the ground spices in clean jar, seal and store in cool dark place.