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Goldring Travel’s 2017 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise – Part II (Tangier, Morocco: Why It Is “Culinary & Cultural”; Not “Food & Wine”)

The 2017 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural (Food and Wine) Cruise continued with a day in Tangier, Morocco.  Doing business in Tangier is quite difficult and that led to a few “interesting” quirks in my long planned event, but with the assistance of Michelle Shea, the Adventure Dining Guide chef and mixologist we had a fantastic day.
This day was a perfect example of the difference between a Food & Wine cruise and a Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural cruise.  Alas, it is not about eating food and drinking wine, it is about understanding why and how the food is what it is where it is…and engaging in the culture that has evolved with it.
The plan was to have a quick tour of Tangier, seeing the old and new parts of the city and then head to the Medina to shop for all of the things Michelle and I needed to create a delicious Moroccan feast. However, we are dealing with North Africa and, to put it mildly, the phrase “TIA” (This is Africa) comes into play.  Chaos is normal and what you are promised is rarely what the deal ultimately is.

The Medina – Tangier, Morocco

The key to understanding the culture is to learn how to navigate it; so that which could be seen as the ultimate in frustration, can be appreciated as a glimpse into a way of life.  And if you can appreciate that glimpse then you can enjoy the cuisine that is married to it; here:  Complex flavors that would seem to make no sense together, but actually create incredible balance.

With a planned 9:00 am start, the first issue was finding our guide and bus.  He did not have clearance to get into the port, so it was a long, long, walk…once we knew where is was located. (You know: By the mosque.  Which mosque?  That is a different question.)  And, of course, because finding wines would be difficult and purchasing chickens and fruits potentially a health concern, upon my requests Seabourn provided us with a chest of ice, chickens, fruits, water and wines…and they had to be carried that long, long distance to the bus.  Fortunately, Jaime – a security officer that always give a lending hand…and always with a smile – and a deckhand carried the cooler for us.  Whew!
Our guide was, shall we say, not that talkative or experienced, but he was a kind soul.  Our Mercedes Sprinter minibus was 20 years old, not air conditioned, had some windows that wouldn’t open and a cracked windshield.  So, let’s just say we were off to a rough start.
First we had a tour of the city, most of which is fairly modern, but modest.   There definitely is not a “wow” factor though there are glimmers and glimpses of positive efforts, but a sense that there is not a real focus on preserving the old as being an important link to the present.
Tangier’s mosques are very angular

Morocco’s Presidential Palace in Tangier

After our city tour we headed to the Medina.  It is a maze of alleys, shops, brilliant colors, crowds, smells and sounds.  Because of this, while quite small, you got the sense you could spend a month just exploring and photographing it.

Patty, our intrepid photographer
capturing a moment.
But we had work to do.  But do you think we could just begin our adventure?  Nope!  The tourist police decided that our guide was not sufficient and that we needed security since he did not have the proper papers.  (You know:  The papers that nobody can get!)  So there was a bit of a negotiation away from us:  Pay for security or pay more not to have security.  Eventually I intervened with handshakes all around and a, “So everything is good now.  Thank you so much for assisting us.  We have a tight schedule.”  And off we went.
Our guide led us through a bit of the maze of the Medina…and I kept wishing we could just go slower (and we were going slow)…because it was mesmerizing.  I know Michelle and Patty were like, “I’m not so sure this kind of travel is for me.  I want to go slower and stay here for days.”  Well, the bad news is they couldn’t.  The good news is taking this cruise exposed them to Tangier; a place they otherwise might not have visited…and they now know they want to come back. 
Since our guide was not much of one and it was time to start buying our lunch I decided to take over a bit.  I saw a smiling man in a storefront stacked with some sort of local bread.  Got some!   
I found a fantastic little spice shop where we purchased cumin, saffron, turmeric, paprika, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, and more.
Yes, I have that.  And that.  And that too.

We then headed into the market proper (quickly realizing that not purchasing chickens there was a wise decision!).  But we did find some Berber cheese (the Berbers are a nomadic tribe that is present throughout many parts of Northern Africa).  The cheese is a very soft cheese that is held together by these beautifully woven palm fronds.  (Sorry no photos of the Berber woman as they do not want their photographs taken.)

and then a shop with all sorts of olives, hot peppers, dates, figs, apricots, a few branches of bay leaves, preserved lemons, fresh lemons and more.

You want olives?

Preserved Lemons

Finally it was time to head to the house I rented for the day. It was really more of a mini-palace with beautiful Moroccan rooms, a fantastic garden…and a really tiny kitchen that would get incredibly hot…if we could just figure out how to use the stove and oven.  (Fortunately, the property caretaker eventually decided he should flip the circuit breaker…and then we still struggled!)

It was a beautiful Moroccan setting that only got better when the Moroccan musicians, Detroit, started playing.

With the house filled with Moroccan music and cool breezes, the smell of saffron, cumin, cinnamon, onions, garlic, etc. began to grow.
We set out a few appetizers of green and black olives, spiced olives, hot peppers, dates, figs, apricots, Berber cheese and local bread for everyone to snack on while Michelle made saffron-infused sangria for everyone to enjoy.

Michelle, our Adventure in Dining Guide Master Mixologist
created saffron infused sangria.

Meanwhile back in the small, hot kitchen, I prepared a traditional Moroccan chicken with apricots, figs and green olives…along with fifteen other ingredients (saffron, cumin, lemon, preserved lemons, etc.)  I know it doesn’t seem like all of these flavors work together, but they do incredibly well…and that is the magic of Moroccan cuisine.

As my chicken cooked away in a tagine, Michelle changed hats from mixologist to chef making a simple, but delicious couscous with almonds and raisins (all of which we also purchased in the Medina).  Then she made some amazing local vegetables.  Not done she made some dates stuffed with some of the Berber cheese.

Did I mention I bought some sort of sweet sesame pastries too?

With lunch ready, the musicians played as we dined in the garden filled with all sorts of flowers and greenery.

Unfortunately, we had to go back to the ship (though we could have all stayed in our oasis forever), so we hopped into our ancient bus bringing to an end a bit crazy, but absolutely memorable and delicious day.

It was interesting for all of our group to hear comments about how disappointing Tangier was, how they didn’t see much and/or how unnerving the place was.  Why?  Because all of us were beaming with just how much we experienced and felt like we really have been to Tangier.

You may wonder if I want to return to Tangier.  I would prefer to see some other places in Morocco and northern Africa, to be honest.  It was a travel experience, but I don’t feel a burning desire to return.  However, would I recommend a day in Tangier?  Absolutely.

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