Learn to Cook Moroccan, in Essaouira
The coastal town of Essaouira has attracted a wealth of celebrities including Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, over the years, thanks to its chilled-out hippy vibes, bohemian shops, sandy beaches and burgeoning arts scene. I was Gorging myself on an extravagant meal and I soaking up the relaxed atmosphere, when I decided then and there that I want to learn to cook like a Moroccan.
I choose sleek yet authentic L'Atelier Madada, a cooking workshop in the lofty grounds of boutique hotel Madada Mogador, to learn the craft.
Our task is to prepare a lamb tagine, which is cleverly designed to seal in the spicy fragrances.
Instructions are provided by convivial chef Noureddine, while smiley Madame Mona, whose mother is a culinary legend in Morocco, shows us the ropes.
The chefs share some trade secrets, telling us to remove the central stalk of the garlic clove to avoid bad breath.
We're also taught how to make the perfect cup of mint tea, a vital part of Moroccan culture served after every meal. The trick is to soak loose green tea in a teapot, then tip out the bitter water. We add more boiling water, a handful of mint leaves and a dollop of sugar.
Hot and spicy
After placing our tagines over a low flame, fragrant wafts of ginger and cinnamon fill the air, and we turn to our starter, zaalouk - a salad of mashed tomatoes, aubergines and spices, strikingly festooned with a tomato skin in the shape of a flower (Mona's creation: my tomato carving technique is abysmal). We then work on the finishing touches of our tagine: caramelised dates stuffed with almonds.
Our stomachs rumbling, we indulge in the fruits of our labour in an oriental-style dining room. We're all staggered by how delicious our tagines are, tasty fusions of exotic spices and succulent lamb, washed down with wine.
Exploring the souks
After stuffing ourselves stupid, we're taken on a tour of Essaouira's lively fish and spice souk (market), chock full of olive mountains, highly patterned tagine dishes, caged chickens and suspicious-looking medicines - herbal Viagra, anyone?
Much of what's on display is not for the faint-hearted: think blood-smeared decapitated rams' heads. One vendor takes delight in killing a chicken in front of us, breaking the bird's neck and deftly removing its feathers. Live turtles and hedgehogs are also up for sale, apparently for local women to use I magic potions.
We're led into a small spice shop, the shelves of which are stocked with an array of glass jars. I'm attracted to a sweet-smelling perfume stick, which I'm told is gazelle musk, taken from behind the animal's ear. Unperturbed, I buy it, along with a clutch of spices to take home and impress my mates with in a traditional tagine - since I now hold the secrets to Moroccan cuisine.