A Taste of Morocco
by LHS Food and Travel Writer Misty I.
Recently, I was asked to travel to Morocco with a dear friend. I have a wicked appetite for adventuring and immediately knew I wanted to go! Errr…who cares if I didn’t know exactly where Morocco was, after a quick google search I rediscovered that it’s located on the Northwestern tip of Africa. Africa? Yes, Africa! My geographically challenged mind immediately flooded with images of spice markets, snake charmers, turbans and veiled women. I knew I could not pass up this opportunity to explore a new country and of course Moroccan cuisine!After flying over 8,000 miles, we finally landed at Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport got our passports stamped and breezed through customs. Our driver (also named Mohammed) picked us up and drove us to the Four Seasons Casablanca.Our very first meal there was a perfect introduction to Moroccan cuisine. We shared a M’hammar tagine which consisted of succulent bone-in chicken, preserved lemons, caramelized onions and olives that were served in a traditional earthenware pot. Although those ingredients may not seem appetizing together, we thoroughly enjoyed the mix of flavors and exotic spices.
The next morning after visiting the fitness center, we were hungry and decided on the breakfast buffet at The Four Seasons. I’ve been to my share of buffets, the swank Bacchanal at Caesars, the opulent Sterling Brunch at Bally’s and of course Hilo’s own Queen’s Court Buffet back when they served swan cream puffs in the ’80s! But the breakfast buffet that morning in Casablanca will be something I will reminisce about for a very long time. Everything was superb. Some of the offerings included fresh fruits, traditional Moroccan breakfast items, cured meats, delectable cheeses, French pastry, house-made yogurt, many types fresh fruit smoothies and made to order omelets with black truffles! The truffle omelet alone made it a very special breakfast.
After our time in Casablanca, we journeyed three hours south to the legendary city of Marrakech where more Moroccan culinary delights awaited. We were fortunate enough to get a table for dinner at the famed Le Comptoir Darna located just outside the walls of the Medina or Old City.
Upon entering Le Comptoir Darna, we were greeted with rich jewel-toned tapestries on the floor, Moroccan musicians playing on the grand staircase and the faint scent of cigarette smoke. Very authentic!Our server came and went all evening long with silver trays laden with one enticing dish after another. The highlights were:Trio of Briouates – Three types of slightly-sweet puff pastry filled with tuna and capers, chicken and lemon and cheese with oregano. I’m partial to anything deep-fried and since briourates are similar to wonton, I loved them! These would be a perfect pau hana pūpū!7 Moroccan Salads – Seven little bowls filled with seasonal salads were a great accompaniment to the warm variety of traditional Arabic bread they brought to our table. Each salad was a little different with varying flavors and textures. My favorites included the lentil salad, eggplant tapenade, and seasoned carrots.Mixed Fish Grill – King prawns, sea bass, and salmon with preserved lemon mashed potatoes and cherry tomato sauce. This dish was deliciously fragrant and cooked to perfection!The Legendary Weeping Tiger– Grilled filet of beef with grand chef mashed potatoes. When this dish was delivered to our table my mouth watered as I picked up the umami aroma of the beef. It did not disappoint, the savory flavors along with the mashed potatoes were decadent and very satisfying.Traditional Pastilla – My first thought of this sweet finale was “meh…boring”. But after one bite of the crisp yet delicate pastry filled with what tasted like crème anglaise, a scattering of fresh blueberries and roasted almonds, I was a goner. I love well-executed desserts like this, what a treat!The evening at Le Comptoir Darna ended with belly dancers and candle dancers! This was the first time I’d witnessed belly dancing where beautiful Arabic women dressed in embellished bras, belts, and sensuous skirts glided through the expansive dining area for all of the dinner guests. It was entertaining watching them shimmy their hips and ribcages for our enjoyment. We marveled at their flat stomachs and hypnotizing moves! It’s true, Morocco really is more rockin’!