Long-term travel can twist a familiar question – “what’s for dinner?” – into a stressful event.
Many of our accommodations to date have been apartments with a full (if not necessarily well-equipped) kitchen. Cooking our own meals is generally far cheaper than eating at a restaurant, and having a kitchen helps us recreate family favorites or comfort food (grilled cheese!) in a familiar setting without worrying about lines, poor service, nearby cigarette smokers, or any of the other tiny hassles that come with eating out. We also get a better taste of local life and culture by doing our own grocery shopping.
Finding a place with a kitchen isn’t always feasible, and none of our accommodations in Morocco had one. Without the set itinerary of a guided tour, each day we were on our own to figure out what to eat, where, and when. This is a bigger deal than it sounds when in a foreign country trying to balance the local cuisine, our boys’ somewhat-limited palates, our budget, and sometimes-suspect food safety practices. Ordering burgers from room service isn’t an option!
To cut down on the stress associated with finding food that is safe and everyone is willing to eat, we’ll generally return to a restaurant several times during our stay in a city. In Fes we ate at the same place almost every night! At first I thought this practice was unadventurous and a little embarrassing, but I’ve come to realize it’s an important strategy for creating some comfort and stability (especially for the kids) in an otherwise unfamiliar and stressful situation. When we answer “let’s go back to…”, the question “What’s for dinner” can now be something to look forward to rather than a source of stress.
Pizza is a go-to for both lunch and dinner. We’ve had some excellent pizzas throughout our trip so far, and they are often inexpensive. At one pizza place in Fes the 4 of us had a perfectly nice pizza lunch that totaled $5.
Burgers vary around the world (camel meat anyone?). After a couple disappointments Nate has realized he often prefers local cuisine to local interpretations of his favorites (burgers, fries). This is generally good news for all of us as we’re no longer limited to finding places that serve burgers.
One of those local dishes that’s become a favorite is “kefta”, small meatballs cooked in a traditional Moroccan tajine. A tajine is a shallow ceramic bowl with a conical top. Jack discovered kefta in Chefchaouen, and since then has eaten his body weight in it.
Lauren and I ate a lot of tajine-prepared chicken and beef In Morocco. It can be quite sumptuous, but the overcooked carrots and cucumbers that top every tajine got monotonous after awhile. After several days of this we sought out a burger joint to get a welcome break from tajine and couscous, which is prepared and served in a similar manner. (Sadly the boys did not like the burgers – see above!).
Harira is a delicious traditional soup made with a tomato base and vegetables. It’s a yummy starter that we discovered when it came free with dinner at “our” restaurant in Fes. Available at our favorite haunt in Marrakesh for a dollar a bowl, we ate a lot of it (and arrogantly scoffed at the upscale tourist restaurants down the street charging $8/bowl). I’m looking forward to making harira at home, when it will be the perfect soup to ward off the winter cold.
Moroccans drink mint tea all day long. Often fortified with sugar, this tea was a surprise hit with the boys. We learned that it’s made with green tea, and shouldn’t be offered to the boys late in the day lest the combination of caffeine and sugar keep them awake. Oops.
We were a bit reluctant to try the delicious-looking salads due to worries about food poisoning. Food safety practices vary wildly, and we walked away from one restaurant when we saw the chef put down a raw chicken to hand us menus (without washing his hands in the interim!). That experience aside, in retrospect we probably would have been fine with salads at most of the places we ate.
While we don’t have room in our bags for a quartet of tajines to take home with us, once home we will seek some out to recreate kefta and other dishes. One of my favorite things about travel is discovering new foods, and in Morocco we’ve added several new things to our make-at-home list!