Our Morocco Travel Diary: Essaouira

Behind the Scenes, Cook, Meet, Regional Spotlight

See the highlights of our team’s trip to Marrakech, where we explored Morocco’s rich culinary traditions for inspiration on our latest theme. Missed the first part? Read the previous installations about our visits to Fez and Marrakech.


Essaouira is a coastal town in Morocco, situated right on the ocean. Our team was struck by the beautiful scenery — it’s easy to see why Moroccans love visiting Essaouira to vacation and surf.


As a result of the location, seafood is king. At the local fish markets, you can buy fresh, uncooked seafood and vendors will grill it on the spot for you to eat at their picnic tables. You eat with your hands (along with a stack of paper napkins). Here, there were no heavy spice blends, just olive oil and salt. The fresh sardines, prawns, whole fish and langoustines — caught that morning — speak for themselves. They’re served with lemon, bread and French fries.


On the road near Essaouira, our team spotted women making prized argan oil from the kernels of argan trees. They pick the seeds, crack them, grind them into a paste and extract the oil (the yield is very small).


Argan oil is renowned for its cosmetic uses, such as hair treatments. It’s used sparingly for actual cooking, but you do see it used to finish dishes, such as in dressings. The oil may also be mixed with almond paste and honey and eaten for breakfast on beghrir, bread or bananas.


In Agadir, near Essaouira, our Test Kitchen manager Amanda Haas took another solo cooking class at the eco-tourism lodge Atlas Kasbah. This one offered a more concentrated learning opportunity, based on technique.


She learned the traditional methods for making tagine — using water as the primary liquid, not stock, and cooking over hot coals.


Next, she and her instructor made savory pastries from a phyllo-style dough filled with a sauteed mirepoix. Fried in oil, they make a delicious appetizer similar to Indian samosas.


Amanda made bread from scratch for a second time during the trip, this time in the wood oven outside the Atlas Kasbah. The bread in Morocco is made from a simple yeasted dough and baked directly on hot coals, forming bubbles and lending a subtly smoky flavor. It’s perfect for collecting the delicious spiced sauces made by tagines and other dishes.


Dessert included more fried pastry, typical of Moroccan cuisine. Chef Mourad Lahlou tells us it’s not uncommon for people to eat the same foods again and again in different preparations, particularly when an ingredient is in season. These pastries were fried in oil until crispy, then topped with creme anglaise and chopped nuts.


Our team left Morocco feeling inspired about the country’s unique cuisine and traditions of hospitality — and we hope you are, too. Learn how you can bring Morocco home to your kitchen.

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