Fatiha’s strong hands press into mine as we knead the dough for Khobz, a white bread, to go with the chicken tangine and salads we are preparing for our meal. Her touch is firm and soft. It’s a mother’s touch, and, after being away from my own for so long, it brings me a welcome sense of soothing. “Make noise, Lauren,” she says, encouraging me to be more aggressive with the dough as I roll it back and forth in the clay dish. “Make noise so that everyone knows you are cooking!” I walk back to my individual cooking station and look around to see the faces of my dozen or so fellow participants at the La Maison Arabe cooking workshop in Marrakech are painted with a similar look of calm joy. I do not know if their sense of peace has also come from Fatiha’s touch. Perhaps for them it has come from the smell of the spices – ginger, tamaric and paprika all in a row. Or from the abundance of fresh ingredients – lemons, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, garlic and herbs, overflowing around the room.
Perhaps the sense of peace comes from the room itself. Large, mosaic incrusted windows flood the large space with light and scatter colored shadows on the floor. There’s cozy green couches for resting and taste testing. Each of us has an individual workstation complete with a stove, sink, television monitor to better see the demonstrations and plenty of space for dicing, mixing and garnishing.
On my second failed attempt at carving a tomato into a rose Fatiha is at my side again. “No good for my future husband,” I joke, staring with embarrassment down at the wet, seed-filled crime scene on my cutting bored. “No,” Fathima confirms shaking her head. “No good for your future husband. No good for you. No good for anybody.” There she is again, with her warm smile, holding my hands as I peel back the red skin and cut it away, staying with me until a rose shape emerges.
These are the best memories from travel adventures –intimate interactions with locals who touch your heart and prove just how universal love is. And at La Maison Arabe cooking workshop these moments are served in huge helpings – just like the food prepared. “We believe food is an open door to our culture,” said Wafa, our host throughout the workshop. “Here you are going to see Morocco from a different point of view.”
The world-renowned cooking workshop at La Maison Arabe does just that. Participants meet at La Maison Arabe hotel in the heart of Marrakech’s medina and are bused to a quiet country club on the outskirts of town.
In the spacious gardens, where sunlight and fresh ingredients bloom, we sat with Wafa to learn about the traditions of Moroccan cooking and the tangine, a clay pot used to cook many dishes.
Wafa then walked us through a traditional tea ceremony and explained the cultural importance of taking time to drink tea with guests. We were treated to bread and a glass of mint tea, using one of the 180 different types of tea leaves found in the country.
After relaxing in the sunlight we headed indoors to prepare our meal. The main course was chicken tangine – chicken mixed with vegetables and spices and cooked in a clay pot.
We also made two different types of salads that involved scores of fresh vegetables and spices.
Moroccan cooking is intricate with the number of ingredients and spices that go into each dish. With help from Wafa and Fatiha I found I have some hidden cooking skills and my meal was quite delicious.
In fact, so delicious that I have added Moroccan to my list of favorite cuisines! We ended the day by receiving a certificate of completion, recipes, spice samples and our very own tangine pot to take home.
Morocco is a beautiful country, made even more beautiful by its many wonderful people. The cooking workshop at La Maison Arabe is a great way to spend a day in Marrakech interacting with locals, learning about Moroccan culture and eating a first-class meal. I highly recommend this workshop to all visitors to Marrakech, regardless of your level of interest in cooking.
Note: I received a complimentary cooking workshop from La Maison Arabe. All thoughts and opinions are my own.