Camel Spleens and Sheep Heads

If you are willing to go beyond your regular restaurants catering to tourists, Marrakesh has some absolutely fascinating foods to offer. Not to say that the restaurants are bad, we’ve had plenty of interesting meals at the regular restaurants. We tried the infamous camel burger at the Cafe Clock, which is served with their homemade Taza ketchup and is absolutely delicious. 

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We really enjoyed incredibly fresh (and untolerably bony) grilled sardines at El Jardin.

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And we’ve had the best ever chicken with lemon preserve at the Bouganvillia Cafe. I wish I can just buy a giant bucket of that particular preserve and put it on every single dish I eat. 

But to really find interesting foods in Morocco, you have to go out and explore the streets. So, of course we had to do the street food tour. We started out at the Jamaal El Fnaa plaza, where we met with our group and the tour guide. Our guide’s name was Mohamed and he was a city tour guide in Marrakesh for a long time before he started doing food tours. There was a middle aged couple from the UK and a young girl from Estonia in our group. We started out by taking a long walk down to the very obscure part of the medina, to the tiny food stall at the “second hand” market where only locals go, partially because it’s well hidden from most tourist traffic, but mostly because tourists don’t usually buy second hand stuff in Morocco. But locals love this particular place, because they serve the best couscous, which is rolled by hand by the ladies who work there. Traditionally, couscous was rolled by hand, but nowadays the process have been mainly mechanized, so it’s rare to find proper couscous that is still rolled by hand. Couscous is a staple food in Morocco and many other African countries and, apparently, there are many kinds of couscous, including barley and corn. The proper couscous is light and fluffy, and it can be soaked with the vegetable or meat broth and spices. We were served couscous with a hefty helping of vegetables and vegetable broth, topped up with the tfaya: mixture of caramelized onions, golden raisins and chickpeas (yum!).

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We also had a small side of an eggplant salad and freshly baked bread to mop up the juices. Of course, we couldn’t get away from the Moroccan mint tea, which is made with the mixture of green tea and fresh mint or other herbs, depending on the season, and enough sugar to keep your wired till the end of the year. Mohamed said that the proper tea is made by pouring some out in a glass, and pouring it back in, so it’s properly mixed.

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After that we continued to the next place. Mohamed, being a former tour guide of Marrakesh, was a wealth of knowledge about all things Morocco. He showed us all the little secret places: local bakeries, where locals go to buy bread,

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real estate offices, barber shops, warehouses, fish mongers, best butchers in town, spice sellers, healers, woodoo shops, full of dried animal carcasses, potion makers and many more.

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Jojoba seeds
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Raw henna
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Absinthe and geranium (below) both used in tea
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Geranium

We tried some things on the way: prickly pear cactus fruit, which tastes sweet, somewhat resembling juicy really sweet apple or even a watermelon, with the texture similar to kiwi, but the seeds are giant and hard and evenly distributed throughout the whole fruit

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local doughnuts, sold hanging on a piece of a tied grass and eaten by dipping in sugar or honey.

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Then we made it to a place famous for its sardine kefta sandwiches. Kefta (or kofta) usually means ground meat. You would never think that ground sardines would be anything appealing, but when properly barbecued, mixed with the right mixture of olives, onions and tomatoes, on a freshly baked bread… Yuuummm… It was a real treat (even though it doesn’t look it…)

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As we were sitting at the sardine sandwich shop, we were watching a smoothie place across the street. It was closed at the moment, because the guy went to the prayer service, like a lot of muslims do, but there was a crowd of about 20 locals patiently waiting next to the window. The guy showed up, opened the shop and the crowd suddenly grew to over 100 people, all waiting patiently for their smoothies. There are hundreds of smoothie places in half a mile radius, but none has a line. What kind of crack is this guy putting in his smoothies?

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All those people, and a lot more, waiting for their smoothies…

On a way to the next place, Mohammed pointed out something interesting: a camel spleen sandwich. There was a guy on the street who had this giant spleen stuffed with spices and ground meat, with a little bit of a hump fat which he had slowly cooking in spiced ghee. After being cooked, the spleen is minced, mixed with ghee and served inside a bread, topped up with the spicy sauce. The brave ones in our group (not Bobby) tried it and found it surprisingly delicious. It had a nice creamy texture and a hint of something like a liver or kidneys, which wasn’t overpowering, but gave it a nice interesting flavor. I later found myself wanting to go back and have some more…

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After a spleen sandwich we went to try the lamb tangier (nothing to do with the city of Tangier). For the longest time I couldn’t figure out the difference between the tangier and a tajine (or tagine), but turns out, the difference is all in the type of dishware they are cooked in. Tajine is cooked on the large, relatively flat plate, covered by a conically shaped top like this:

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Tajine

And tangier meat is made in a tangier pot, which is more of a traditionally shaped clay pot, sealed tightly and cooked slowly in the heat of the hammam or bakery stove. It’s usually made with Moroccan lemon preserves and lots of spices. Some of the butchers offer tangier preparations, where they prepare the meat for you and take it to hammam. Those butcher shops usually have tangier pots hanging at the front.

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Tangier

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The shop that we went to try the tangier also does Moroccan goat barbecue. Moroccan barbecue is done in a stone pit that is dug in the earth under a shop and covered by a stone cover. I believe it’s called tandir, and it’s somewhat related to tandoor (South East Asian grill). The barbecue pit looks more like a well (pretty hot well at that) and usually several goat or sheep carcasses are put inside to be done in 2 hours.

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Inside the pit

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There is usually no seasoning or spices used during barbecuing and the lamb is eaten by hand, tearing pieces  of meat out and dipping them in the mixture of salt and cumin. Of course, the crescendo of the meal was the half of the sheep’s head, sliced through the center and served in the same manner as the lamb – with just a little bit of salt mixed with cumin.

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The skin was cleared, so we could try the cheek meat and the tongue. The cheek meat is very tender, fatty and almost gelatinous in consistency. I’m personally not a big fan of sheep meat, and I found the smell a bit overpowering. No one in our group dared to eat an eyeball.

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Then we continued onto the olive market, where houondreds of kinds of olives are sold together with lemon and other preserves and meat preserved in ghee, which is cut with scissors into small pieces and used as a seasoning. I found it interesting to see 20 vendors side by side, and one or two would have a long line and some have absolutely no customers.

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Meat preserved in ghee

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Almond butter with cinnamom and honey

We visited the date market, filled with hundreds of varieties of dates. Dates are often used in Morocco as wedding favors, they are beautifully packaged and ready to be picked up from vendors the night before.

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And of course, for dessert we had a big pile of Moroccan treats, which are ridiculously sweet, but deliscious nontheless. 

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