Friday, 17 August 2012

Bachelor's stew

We've spent a few days cooking and photographing recipes for our book at Riad Dar Les Cigognes in Marrakech with Fatna and her team so when we heard our next recipe, one of the great traditional Moroccan dishes called the tangia, was to be cooked down the road in the hammam (public bath house) we were intrigued. I could already visualise it. Soph, me.... and Fatna were going to nude up and explore the origins of traditional Moroccan cuisine.

Fatna sat at a low table with her tangia pot (the same word refers to the meat dish) which looked like a Grecian urn with a wide belly, narrow neck and handles on both sides, stuffing it full of a variety of cuts of lamb, casually sprinkling in a pinch of Saffron threads and two of cumin, some sea salt and pepper, a load of garlic, a few large swigs of olive oil and finally throwing in a whole preserved lemon. She wrapped the top of the pot in baking paper and announced in arabic that it was time to head off down the road. I grabbed my camera and my towel.

As I stood clutching my towel behind Steve and his video camera at what looked more like the back door of the hammam I was beginning to wonder how well this was all going to play out on film, I'd been struck by a moment of self-consciousness. Fatna knocked, the door was quickly opened by a slim, smiling man named Abdelhak who ushered us down some old crumbling stairs to a dark dirty room coated in charcoal, hmmmm not the hedonistic vision of endless food, splashing water and overflowing bath foam that I was imagining but then again we were in Morocco and not Ancient Greece I guess.

Abdelhak took the tangia from Fatna and buried it in a pile of hot ashes next to a fire that was burning in the corner of the room and told us to come back at the end of the day. What? That was it??

Walking back to our riad in a state of disappointment mixed with mild relief, Fatna explained to me that this was really one-pot cooking at its best. They called it 'bachelor's stew' as it was popular with single hard working men as they would go to the markets in the morning, have their tangia filled with the ingredients of their choice and drop it under the hammam where the hot fires heated the baths directly overhead. At the end of the day they would return to the hammam to wash and relax before picking up their perfectly cooked tangia and heading home for a delicious meal for one.

This story didn't end in the steamy way I had imagined but single guys if you cook this on your next date, I guarantee you won't be cooking for one for too much longer!

Fatna fills her pot.

Sophia, Abdelhak, random biker, Fatna and Steve. Clothes on.

Just add ashes.

A delicious meal for one, or two if you're lucky.

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