Tag Archives: Morocco

In Morocco, the Country of Tagines, Couscous and Dickensian Bureaucracy

Morocco Food Book

Food Travel

Destination: Morocco

Book: Mint Tea and Minarets: A Banquet of Moroccan Memories by Kitty Morse (2012)


Even if I did not already have the country of Morocco on my “wannago” list, reading Mint Tea and Minarets would certainly have put it there in a mint-scented heartbeat. And when is the last time you picked up a “cookbook” and did not put it down until you had read through to the last page–breathlessly following a story?

With a supporting cast of delectable dishes, the star of Mint Tea and Minarets is Dar Zitoun, beautifully restored 16th century mansion known as “House of the Pasha” in the city of Azemmour.

Dar Zitoun, Morocco
Dar Zitoun, Kitty Morse’s riad in Azemmour, Morocco. Photo by Owen Morse, copyright 2013

Kitty Morse’s father, a British diplomat in Morocco soon after the country declared independence from France, bought and refurbished this grand riad. It is now all the fashion to find a riad — or rooms in a riad— to occupy when one visits Morocco, but Kitty Morse had the advantage of having a riad in the family and Morocco as a home.

Her French mother’s roots go back into the French era and Morse, who now lives in America, spent her formative years  in the country. What a conversation starter! Someone in Wisconsin, where she went to school, says routinely, “Where are you from?” and Kitty answers, “I was born in Casablanca.”

After she left for the United States, she kept returning to Morocco and made her life’s work lecturing and writing about Moroccan food. For many years she also led culinary tours to Morocco. The author’s background guarantees a food book that will be delicious, accurate and informative. The recipes that end each chapter are exotic but not beyond the reach of an American cook. For instance, you can turn your Thanksgiving turkey into a Moroccan treat with the recipe for Turkey with Couscous and Figs.

Morocco recipe for turkey
Turkey with couscous and figs. Photo by Owen Morse copyright 2013

Although Morse has written several successful cookbooks about Moroccan cuisine, it is important to understand that Mint Tea and Minarets is much more than just a recipe book.  Morse tells a riveting story that sweeps the reader into the emotional turmoil following Morse’s father’s death and decisions on what will become of the beloved house. As she describes her struggles with the Dickensian legal system of Morocco, we learn about Moroccan culture.

While you are learning about the frustrations of the legal system, Morse also introduces you to smen (aged butter) and preserved lemons as she presents recipes for a variety of couscous and tagines. And she takes you on tours of the marketplace and out into the country to see the source of the foods that go into the dishes.

Moroccan Woman with Wheat. Photo By Owen Morse Copyright 2013
Moroccan Woman with Wheat, Morocco. Photo By Owen Morse Copyright 2013

The recipes are mostly dishes made by the house’s caretaker and excellent cook–Azanour.  The food photography (by Kitty Morse’s husband) made me salivate and start making shopping lists so I could created some Roast chicken with preserved lemons and braised vegetables or an egg tagine with olives or kefta, a dish similar to the Greek meatballs that I sometimes make.

Moroccan grilled meat balls
Kefta, Lamb and beef brochettes, Morocco, Photo by Owen Morse copyright 2013

My only complaints about the book involve production, a common complaint with self-published books. The paper used, while providing a good framework for the beautiful photography, is heavy, making the book stiff and awkward yo hold.  

The Table of Contents lists the topic of the chapter’s narrative and the recipe contained therein, but does not say on what page the chapter begins.  There is no separate list of recipes, which is particularly annoying because there is no index. So if you want to find a particular recipe it is a bit of a hunt.

On the plus side, a glossary helps smooth out any difficulties you have understanding Moroccan words used. As I have said, the photography is outstanding. Most importantly, the writing is graceful and enticing.  

Whether you are interested in Moroccan food, or a non-cook interested in learning more about the culture of Morocco, Mint Tea and Minarets will be a definite asset in your travel library.

Note: I do not usually accept self-published books, but in this case, the author had several other successful books published, so I took a chance, and I’m glad I did.  All of the photos you see here were taken by Kitty Morse’s husband Owen and appear in the book. The book cover is linked to Amazon so that you can easily shop.  I am an affiliate of Amazon, so when you use the link to buy something, I earn a couple of pennies. Thanks for your support.

A Boy’s Life in Fez Morocco

Fez Morocco doorway
Fez doorway, Photo from Flickr.

Destination: Fez, Morocco

Book: The Bottom of the Jar by Abdellatif Laâbi (In French 2002, Archipelago Books English Edition, 2013) Translated by Andre Naffis-Sahely

Do you want to read about exotic differences between a Western, Christian culture, and a north-African Muslim culture?  You will find some of that in the description of Fez, Morocco in The Bottom of the Jar. But you will also learn how similar people are across continents, religions and even decades. Continue reading A Boy’s Life in Fez Morocco

Another Remodeling Job

Books for Troubled Times in Arab Countries

CasablancaDestination: Morocco

Book: The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah

Morocco? Troubled? Yes, even though the king has been voluntarily introducing reforms, just a few days ago, Moroccan students marched in a peaceful demonstration demanding more change. We may yet hear from Morocco during the Arab Spring (which is fast fading into the heat of summer). So let’s read about Morocco.

Periodically, I swear off ever again reading a book about someone who remodels a house in a foreign land.  The smugly superior Brit or American dreams of an idyllic existence in France or Italy or Spain…buys a run down but promising hulk and struggles with the incompetent, quirky, amusing workmen who show up to do the remodeling.  The author is language challenged, a romantic spirit, believes him/herself to be adventurous and broad minded, but gerts outsmarted times after time or spends too much on a project that takes too long and then blames it on the lazy, or superstitous or conniving natives.

Once again, I have broken my vow.  After all, The Caliph’s House is set in a land that sounds like pure magic to me: Morocco. And the author, Tahir Shah comes highly recommended by a writer I admire, Judith Fein.  Perhaps the author’s ancestor will be the saving grace, I tell myself.  Shah is Afghan by birth, so surely he will deal with Moroccans as cousins and treat their religion and culture with sympathy. After all his web site talks about his many ancestors who wrote works meant to explain East to West and vice versa.

Alas, Tahir Shah is much more Brit than Afghan, and regards the Muslim religion with as much curiosity as anyone raised in a majority Christian country.

Much is made in this book of Djinns. The mischievous or malicious spirits apparently inhabit the long-empty house in droves.  Shah wavers between skeptical disdain of the superstition that infects even people he considers to be too smart for such primitive beliefs and his mixture of fear and curiosity that suggest it might be wise after all to do an exorcism.

The Djinns provide a handy excuse for everything that goes wrong and for work that remains undone.  They also provide a handy plot device for Shah.  Because of the prevalence of the presence (or belief–take your pick) of Djinns, the author focuses on the unfortunate primitive superstitions of the workers instead of labeling those workers as incompetent.

The Caliph’s House is an enjoyable read, because Shah has a winning style and he explores many of the quirks of culture and glories of craft that he finds in Casablanca.  On another level, though, the thought of pouring a small fortune into the rennovation of an extravagant mansion that stands on the edge of a slum, bothers me.

The taxi drove a little further, crossed an invisible boundary of some kind and entered a sprawling shantytown.  There were donky carts, chickens, cattle wandering aimlessly about, and a herd of goats blocking the way.  The afternoon muezzin, the call to prayer, was raining down from a modest white-washed mosque at the side of the rutted track.  A group of boys were kicking a homemade soccer ball about in the dusty alleys that ran between the low cinder-block shacks roofed in rusting tin…At the far end of the shantytown, the taxi halted near a plain doorway set in a filthy stone wall.

He had arrived at his house.  And what a house.

There were arched doorways with cedarwood doors, octagonal windows glazed with fragments of colored glass, mosaic friezes and stucco moldings, secluded courtyards, and so many rooms–saloons, studies, laundry rooms and kitchens, staff quarters, pantries, and at least a dozen bedrooms.


Its walls were discolored with algae, its tiled floors were grimy and in need of repair. Alarming damp patches had taken hold on every surface, and a number of celings had caved in” …..etc., etc.

We get blow by blow descriptions of the destruction and rebuilding of walls, the cutting of tiles, the blooming of the garden, but we learn little about the slums surrounding the Caliph’s house, after the author’s first approach to his house, as if it is invisible.  Except that the 3 main servants live there and their homes are frequently threatened by bulldozers. And oh, yeah, there are those recruiters for religious radicals who set up shop form time to time.

Obviously Shah is a magnetic writer, drawing us into his story by piling on  details and appropriately ornate descriptions of the rococo decor of Morocco. We also gets tastes of the reality of  this Muslim world, with its remnants of the French influence in Casablanca through a varied cast of characters.

But I swear, I’m not going to read any more remodeling books.


If you have always wanted to see Casablanca, don’t miss this video tour of Casablanca by Tahir Shah.

Have you been to Morocco? Marrakesh is the most popular place to visit right now. Where would you like to go? Marrakesh? Casablanca? Fes? Elsewhere?

The top photo is from Flickr and you can click on it to learn more about the photographer. I suggest  a wonderful book blog, Biblio Junkie. Take a look at her review of The Caliph’s House. And please notice that I wrote a whole post about Casablanca without mentioning Humphrey Bogart! (whoops!)