I have been away at sea, being absolutely spoilt for 12 days, living as if it was summer and leaving the real world behind for a little while. New landscapes, new faces and of course lots and lots of food.
"I'd imagine it to be colourful, and to smell like spices cooking"
"Definitely colourful, and drapey"
En route to Casablanca, we wondered aloud what it would be like. Most travel sites talk endlessly about the romance that is Casablanca, perhaps more because of the movie than anything else. What we knew for sure, however, was that we simply could not leave without sitting down to a tagine meal.
We were drawn to them very early in the day, as we bargain-hunted our way through the Old Medina Bazaar - rows of clay pots on hot stoves that look as if they were wearing party hats. Despite the language barrier, we very quickly got our point across: We wanted tagine, every sort that they had.
A generous serving of bread, crusty but soft, and four portions of lentils quickly made their way to our paper-lined table. Little complements to what was to come.
What caught me by surprise was how light everything was. I suppose somewhere at the back of my mind, I had imagined the little pots to contain thick lamb or chicken stew. Instead, what we got was meat, potatoes and a mix of vegetables cooked in a delightful broth-like gravy.
The crowd favourite - the fish tagine. Cooked a little differently from the lamb and chicken, this one reminded me of a Nyonya-style gulai tumis but with the zing coming from the more Mediterrenean influences of olives and tomatoes.
It would come as no surprise that we wanted more of the fish tagine. Sadly, they had run out of it but the kind, kind owner of the restaurant who probably thought we wanted more fish, regardless of how it was cooked, brought us a plate of fried fish. All shapes, all sizes and all textures, the fish was sweet and addictive the way only fresh fish can be. While not the fish tagine that we had hoped for, we still happily cleaned off the plate before ending the meal with a pot of mint tea.
We ventured out of Old Medina in search for the Moroccan almond pastries that we'd heard and read so much about, stopping at every shop that looked remotely like a bakery to try our luck. After a few failed attempts (in which a kind local thought we wanted coconut cookies and upon finding out that we wanted something involving nuts, took us to a shop selling nuts intead), we hit the jackpot.
With platters and platters of all sorts of almond pastries on display, we were spoilt for choice. We thought it would be best to leave the decision-making to the woman in charge of packing up the goodies with us only making sure she included the ones we thought called out to us. We left the patisserie with a whole box of pastries for the house and a little paper bag to tide us over. I would call them the Moroccan version of baklava - some a little more nutty than others, some crunchy, some soft, some with a syrup coating but all hinting of marzipan. My favourite was probably the almond briouat - almond paste wrapped in fillo pastry, fried and dipped in honey.
French influences are strong in Casablanca, from it's mix of languages to the croissants and mille-feuille slices that are on display in the patisseries.
So yes, Casablanca is romantic. Not in the conventional lets-fall-in-love manner but in that dusty, smoky, colourful, chaotic and slightly mysterious sort of way. We were all right with how we had each imagined it to be, even the drapey bit.