All during our 5-day stay in Marrakech, Morocco back in March, 2011, we felt how fortunate we were to be staying at Riad Miski. Their congenial and helpful staff, the beautifully-appointed room, the peaceful and spacious courtyard, the sunny terrace.
And the food. From the moment we arrived, when they offered us a late breakfast, to the time we left, there was food available whenever we wanted it.
And we availed ourselves of their wonderful food. We ate breakfast every morning on the terrace, drinking in the sun and admiring the plants and flowers. We had dinner at the Riad twice. The first night after we arrived, we planned to have dinner at the Riad for two reasons: first, it being our first day, we were tired, and did not feel like going out; and second, our host Christine told us it was a good night to stay away from the main square, Jemaa el-Fna, because they were planning to have a political rally.
Our dinner began with some wonderful cured olives and local red wine. These olives were more full of flavor than any I had ever eaten, having been cured with garlic and rosemary and a hint of pepper. The red wine was a perfect compliment, also with a hint of pepper on the finish. The main course was my first tagine, lamb with apricots and couscous, and tasted absolutely marvelous. Capping our first day in Morocco as it did, that first dinner completed our immersion into Morocco perfectly.
Our second dinner was the result of a cooking class we took with the Riad’s cook, Raja, although honestly, she cooked the meal, and we simply watched. First, we accompanied her to the market, a square about a 10 minutes’ walk from the Riad, where she purchased the vegetables for our dinner. Then we went to a halal butcher and a fishmonger for the centerpiece of the meal: lamb for our dinner and sardines for another couple’s dinner.
Upon returning to the Riad, we took a break, and then met Raja in the kitchen, where she prepared the meal expeditiously, while we tried to keep up with all the ingredients, writing the recipes down furiously. A few times we were able to get her to slow down for a minute while we caught up by asking questions, but mostly we just did our best to get it all down on paper. One thing I found curious is that she prepared her tagine, not in a clay tagine, but in a stove-top electric wok! I guess over time she has discovered that the wok works best for her.
When the demonstration was over, we had another break and time for a walk while the tagine completed cooking, before returning and getting ready for dinner. Once again, dinner was wonderful. The mashed eggplant and carrot salad appetizers were extraordinary – I have tried making them at home but I am unable to get even half the flavor out of them that Raja was able to. The main course, lamb tagine with prunes, was wonderful also. The succulent spiced lamb accented by the sweetness of the prunes – oh, it was just lovely.
One of the unexpected pleasures of taking the cooking class was the chance to get to know Raja a bit, and to learn a bit more about how women fit into society in Marrakech. We usually think of Islamic women as taking a subservient role in Islamic society, but Raja is a strong independent person, and she is comfortable interacting with men in the marketplace and elsewhere. We had gotten the impression that Marrakech is fairly liberal as it pertains to the treatment of women, and talking to Raja confirmed our suspicion.
While traveling, there are those places that we are sad to leave, and Riad Miski was one of those places for me. I have drunk mint tea my whole life, but having drunk mint tea in Morocco, first at Riad Miski and then everywhere else we went in Marrakech, now I prefer to drink it the Moroccan way: caffeinated and sweetened. Ok, I do like to put mine over ice, which they never do.