Tag Archives: Morocco

Chebakia: Moroccan Sesame Cookies for Ramadan

Flag_of_MoroccoYesterday at sunset marked the start of 2020’s Ramadan, which will be quite a different celebration given that large gathering are not allowed in many countries. One of the most important parts of Ramadan is usually communal, the nightly breaking of the fast with a special meal known as Iftar. Even though we are not able to gather together, we can still make some pretty tasty treats for fast-breaking celebrations. One cookie reserved for special occasions like Ramadan is the flower-shaped Moroccan chebakia (also spelled shebakia or known alternatively as mkharka) that is deep fried, and glazed with honey and sesame seeds. The preparations for chebakia start in the weeks before Ramadan because it is so labor-intensive, and large quantities are required for Iftar celebrations. In French, the name for these cookies is la rose des sable, which translates to “rose made out of cookie.” The shape of the cookie is pretty intricate, so we found it helpful to watch Cooking with Alia’s video demo. You can find recipes for Chebakia from Spruce Eats, Cooking with Alia and My Moroccan Food. Maroc Mama even has a gluten-free recipe. At Iftar, chebakia is traditionally served with harira, a tomato soup, giving a really interesting sweet/savory twist.


Chebakia piled high in Rabat, Morocco by Gerald Stolk


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Berber Street Food offers a tour of Africa and the diaspora

When we heard that there was a new African restaurant in NYC with a chef from Mauritania, our ears perked up. The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Diana Tandia, who is originally from Mauritania, but has worked in upscale restaurants around NYC for decades. She decided that it was time to strike out on her own, so she opened Berber Street Food (35 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014). The menu is a mosaic of different African and African Diaspora cuisines, along with some interesting fusions.

Berber Street food is a tiny – and we mean tiny – restaurants with 15 seats. This counter-service is not a place for groups, or to linger over a leisurely lunch (though when we were there, the couple occupying the table in the window was having a simultaneous birthday party and photo shoot, so who knows). When we entered around lunchtime, the place was packed, and we were happy to see that they were doing a brisk takeout trade.  Many of the lunch orders were buying Afro-Fusion express bowls ($10), which were various combinations of grains, greens and proteins, including tofu curry, Berber-spiced meat and Jamaican jerk chicken.

For starters, called “street food bites,” there are Senegalese empanadas (vegetable or beef curry $3 each), Kofta meatballs with Berber spices ($8), or a Suya Nigerian beef brochette ($8), along with Jamaican jerk chicken wings ($7.5o). All of Africa and the diaspora seemed to be covered.We were excited to see akara, a black-eyed pea fritter that is the Nigerian descendants of Brazilian acarajé with tomato and onion sauce ($7), so we knew we had to order it. Though smaller in size to acarajé, they tasted pretty similar and were delicious. M topped his with some spicy kani, west African hot sauce made of habanero peppers (which were also placed decoratively in basket at each table).

The mains were a little more pricey, and covered the greats hits of the region, including Djolof Fried Rice (which is claimed by many West African countries – $17) rice cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with either chicken or tempeh and Moroccan vegetable tajine, served served in an actual tajine ($18). We had the Berber Feast ($24) which consisted of roast lamb, squash and couscous, the most Mauritanian item on the menu. The lamb was fall of the bone tender and not gamey at all (sometimes a problem with lamb), and we enjoyed the accompaniments and sauces, though we felt the price was a little steep for the portions. We washed down our dinner with Berber iced mint tea ($3) and ginger lemongrass drink ($5) – we also discovered that these two mixed together made an amazing riff on the Arnold Palmer.

The attention to detail in Berber Street Food restaurant is amazing. It is basically a one-woman show, with Diana cooking, taking orders and delivering food (though it did appear she had a sous chef helping her back in the kitchen). We enjoyed talking with Diana, who connected with us over having spent some time in Brazil. If we lived in the area we could definitely see ourselves having lunch here pretty often. We wish Berber Street Food nothing but success!

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Pastry Post Doc: Moroccan M’Hanncha

Flag_of_MoroccoWhen we were in Morocco, one of the daily highlights of our trip was enjoying some mint tea with a side of pastries. The range of Moroccan pastries, cookies and desserts was mind-bending, and every tea time brought new treats. In Marrakesh we first tried one of the most popular desserts in Morocco, M’Hannacha (or M’Hencha). M’Hanncha is made out of a giant spiral of almond and orange water paste wrapped in phyllo dough, and is also known as snake or serpent cake due to its coiled appearance. You can try to make your own version with recipes for M’Hanncha from Epicurious, Spice Traveller and Food52.


M’Hanncha by She Paused 4 Thought

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Around the world at Algebra Tea House

Cleveland is celebrating their NBA win today, so it seemed only fitting to feature a longtime Cleveland hangout on the blog. Tucked away a few blocks from the bustling atmosphere of Cleveland’s Little Italy is the serene, bohemian Algebra Tea House (2136 Murray Hill Rd Cleveland, OH). Filled with custom, natural wood furniture, textiles from around the world, and handmade ceramics, you may just think you’ve stepped into a hippie retreat on the silk road. True to its name, the specialty at Algebra is tea, and they have a bunch of esoteric blends for drinking in house (and for sale, to bring home). A small sampling of the teas on offer included: sage herbal, hibiscus, house-made chai, Darjeeling, Dragonwell, Yunnan, Assam and White Pekoe. In the international tea section there was Moroccan mint tea, Turkish tea, Palestinian tea, and a wholly new variety for us: Libyan Tea.


We didn’t go in to Algebra Tea House expecting to gain a new country  for our list- but we’ve never had any food or drink from Libya before – so we were really excited to see “Libyan tea” on the menu. Libyan tea is a blend of strong black tea, mint, sugar, and peanuts! Yes – the whole shelled peanuts are thrown right into the tea itself. The flavor is rich and peanut-y – and perfect as a pick me up. Along with tea, you can order house-roasted coffee  made in a variety of styles, caffeine-free milk drinks, and fruit smoothies.AlgebraThere is also a pretty sizable menu of Middle-Eastern food, including hummus, falafel, shewarma and ful medames (Egyptian fava bean dip). While we came for the tea (and the Libyan tea was delicious) we were also pretty impressed with their falafel, which was made in our favorite herby, Palestinian/Israeli style. Between the good food, tea and relaxed atmosphere we could have stayed at Algebra for hours. We hope to visit Algebra Tea House again soon to sample more of their tea (and food!) menu.


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Morocco’s Hanukkah Treat: Sfenj

Flag_of_Morocco [Via Metafilter] While the Israeli jelly doughnut Sufganiyot may be more commonly known in the US, Sfenj is Morocco’s answer to fried, doughnut-like Hanukkah treat. The Moroccan fried doughnuts have an unsweetened yeast dough, and are drenched in honey or sugar for sweetness. They may also be drizzled with date syrup. Yum! Sfenj are found throughout North Africa, and are often cooked up as a street food for breakfast for those of all religions. Here is a recipe for Sfenj from Shelly’s Humble Kitchen  and the Toronto Star for those who are doughnut-inclined. Check out a video below of Sfenj being expertly prepared in Morocco.

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Pastry Post-Doc in Morocco: Amandine

177 Rue Mohammed Al Béqal
40000 Marrakech, Morocco

Flag_of_MoroccoWhile in Marrakech we stayed in the famously labyrinthine Medina, and soon became accustomed to getting lost into its narrow streets and winding alleys. However, to only visit the Medina is to miss the other half of Marrakech: the ville nouvelle. The new city of Marrakech is a world away from the Medina: streets are wider, buses and cars outnumber foot traffic, and French cafes dot the landscape. One of the best French cafes in the new city, and a perfect place to stop in for a quiet respite is Amandine: both a tea/coffee shop and a patisserie. You can eat in the bakery itself (as we did) or in a larger tea room next door.


The interior of Amandine is bright and airy, and the attractive pastry case is filled with a wide selection of French and Moroccan influenced pastries and cakes. We found the gazelle horns here to be superlative, though there were dozens of varieties of other sweets to try. To be honest, we don’t know the name of any sweets we ordered other than gazelle horns, but since most Moroccan-French pastries are amalgamations of sugar, chocolate, honey and nut paste, we figured we couldn’t go too wrong (and we didn’t). After a lot of pointing at various confections we selected our drinks.  The mint tea came particularly recommended – so we got a teapot to share (30dh – about $4). The presentation was the finest we had seen at any café in Marrakech, and we liked the gilded multicolored teacups as well as the tassel-embellished saucers (which we searched for but could not find in Marrakech). And what could be nicer than sinking into a comfy red velvet lounge chair while enjoying all of your sweets. The service was friendly and relaxed, and it was a much needed respite from the bustling pace of the Medina. So if you are looking for someplace soothing to sample mint tea in the ville nouvelle, definitely check out Amandine.


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Food and Life in the Djemaa el Fna

Flag_of_Morocco There are no shortage of opinions on how, and what, to eat in the Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech’s biggest culinary attraction. A large open area at the southern end of the Medina’s major souks, by day the Djemaa is an open stream of performers, orange juice and fruit sellers, and wandering locals and tourists. The orange juice here is particularly tasty: at 4 dirhams (40 cents – and make sure you have correct change, or you will end up paying more) it is a steal. Just make sure it is pressed in front of you, otherwise you risk a watered-down product. Other highlights during the day include the row of dried fruit sellers near the orange juice stands.
We also highly recommend something that gets rarely mentioned on other blogs: Moroccan sweets, usually served with tea.

MoroccanCookiesA set of carts sells an awesome variety of small sweets on one end of Djemaa el Fna, with a typical going price of 30 dirhams (3.5 dollars) for a good-sized box. All of the treats are excellent – in particular we enjoyed a one that resembled a miniature pistachio-chocolate-sesame cupcake. Delightful. If you still have a sweet tooth during the daytime and want something healthier, head for the fruit stalls: Moroccan dates and figs in particular are excellent, and even made a believer out of L, who rarely enjoyed them before our trip to Morocco. We purchased a small bag of figs for less than 50 cents, and they were of considerably better quality than you can find here in the US. You can shop around with them as well: stall owners sit high above their offerings, calling to passers-by, but you can see the quality in the fruit for yourself before you make a purchase. Strolling through the sellers’ performances, and navigating your place within it, really is the experience of Djemaa.

But what to do at nightfall? You can find multitudes of opinions from other travelers on other blogs, and they tend to go like this: we went at night, we found a stall that looked good (numbered XX), we ate a lot of tasty food for relatively cheap, and we tried something crazy like sheep’s head or snails on top of it. This makes for a good story, and is all good advice, but we think this story misses something exciting, and perhaps more culturally valuable, about Djemaa. We’ll start by saying something readers of this blog will find shocking: we did not eat in the Djemaa el-Fna at night.


We drank tea. Spectacular, wonderful tea mind you. At a stall whose number we won’t reveal, hidden at the edge of the square. We had walked by it the previous evening, and saw that this stall, unlike many of the others, had a curious, and most welcome clientele: it was the go-to spot for all the square’s performers to pack a power dinner before a night of work. It opens a good half hour before the other stalls, and in that time gets packed with not just locals, but the locals that tend to make their living in the square, performing for the very tourists who will flood the stalls later in the evening.


This stall has only five options, all legibly written and hanging from a sign above the cooking area. Beans. Lentils. Tripe. Soup. Tea ( for 1.5 dirhams, or about 18 cents). There is no fancy food display, no energetic and admirably persistent front-man to draw you in. Just honest food, eaten by locals, for explicit prices that are well below the 10 dirhams we had paid for tea at a nearby stall just the evening before. To find this stall, of course, we abided by all the cardinal rules: do not go anywhere that has to advertise; do not go anywhere not frequented by locals; and do not go anywhere that does not list its prices on a sign. But, we also committed an apparently cardinal soon of food travel by not really eating anything. Instead, over three cups of tea, we sat in a huddled group of patrons, having a broken conversation in what little French, and far less Arabic, we could muster. In the over-touristed and relentlessly performative facade of the Djemaa el-Fna, itself an experience worth indulging, we may have tricked ourselves into believing we somehow got under that veneer, sitting and drinking the country’s national beverage with those who, after filling up on lentils and soup and Moroccan bread, will be running the greatest night show in Marrakech.

All this is to say that if you go into Djemaa el-Fna looking for only the food, you will be disappointed. You must go for the experience, and understand what that experience is when you sit down at a table, whether it be for a pot of tea with a small group of local men or the grandest platter of food at a stall packed with locals and tourists or a sheep’s head at the east end. We encourage everyone to find the stall that will make them happiest. For us, those three cups of tea – independently fantastic fresh mint tea, naturally sweetened and presented from a large communal golden teapot – were somehow made better by the calm company in the midst of the bustling, screaming square around us.


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Pastry Post-Doc in Morocco: Gazelle Horns (Cornes de Gazelle or Kaab el Ghazal)


The Pastry Post Doc and Partner just returned from a whirlwind trip to Morocco, where we sampled a ton of delicious food, including a fair share of pastries. Well, I didn’t know much about Moroccan pastries before visiting, but I am happy to report that Morocco has an awesome pastry culture that is a blend of French and North African flavors. One of the emblematic Moroccan pastries is the Corne de gazelle. Cornes de gazelle (“gazelle horns” in French) are named for their crescent shape, in Arabic they are known as Kaab el Ghazal (which actually means “gazelle ankles”). Crescent shaped gazelle horns are composed of crimped pastry dough around an orange flower water and almond paste center, and are sometimes topped with powdered sugar. The following gazelle horns were purchased from Patisserie Driss in Essaouira and cost less than a euro apiece. As you can see, we took our treats to go, and enjoyed our gazelle horns with an ocean view. Other than the orange flower water, there are not any unusual ingredients in the recipe, so why not give gazelle horns a try?GazelleHorn

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Morocco-bound: Petit Voyage au Maroc

Today is the start of our last side trip while we are in Lisbon – we are headed to Marrakech, Morocco for a long weekend. We are so excited for the food, especially the tagines  and spice markets. In addition to the food, we plan to drink as much mint tea as humanly possible. We are staying in the heart of it all in the Medina, so we assume there will be no shortage of good food, especially from street vendors. Reports coming soon!

Spices in Marrakech by bgblogging

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