Perhaps I would’ve had a different opinion of Moroccan cuisine if the first thing I ate upon landing in Marrakesh were not a spongy mass of lamb mammary.
That flan-colored, disturbingly luscious flesh sent my stomach roiling, leaving my appetite on rocky seas. Over the ensuing days, I barely touched my steaming tagine stuffed with sardine meatballs, or the spicy merguez sausages that were greasier than a teen’s complexion. Typically, I would’ve found some measure of culinary pleasure within this distant-land sustenance, but the sights and smells of Moroccan fare set off intestinal alarms: Do not eat.
As the days passed, my wife noticed my distress. “You’re not eating,” she said. “What’s wrong?” I explained to her my distaste with Moroccan food. I never quite cottoned to the reliance upon turmeric, pillowy piles of couscous or the dubious pleasures of cinnamon-sprinkled pigeon pie.
“I have an idea,” she said. “Let’s go to Oualidia.” Located on the Atlantic coast, Oualidia is a tiny fishing town known for its oysters, crabs, clams and other aquatic delights. Each morning, sun-browned, forehead-creased men alight into the salty, wave-smacked waters, returning with the day’s catch. Much of this fare does not make it to market. That’s because when the fishermen return, they sell their watery wares on the beach. Clams are bisected before your eyes, while fish is filleted and spindly spider crabs are cooked on sand-encased charcoal grills. It’s impossibly fresh food: alive one moment, in your belly the next.
After checking into our hotel room, my wife and I made haste to the beach with our friends Bati and Emily, with whom we were traveling. We’d been driving all day and were ravenous. We spread out our beach blankets and planted an umbrella in the sand. Within minutes, a shoeless chef approached us with his menu of the day.
We ordered a dozen raw clams, leggy spider crabs and several sizable lobsters. With haste, he lit a fire in a nearby grill and set about preparing our feast. The clams came first, served on a seaweed bed with a few wedges of lemon. A spritz, a slurp, a sigh. Next came the crabs, also finished with nothing more than salt and lemon. Using the supplied tools, we cracked the crustaceans and forked out their weight, flaky meat. It tasted of the sea and smoke.
“Looks like you’re eating now,” my wife said, pointing to the shell that was as shattered as a vase after falling from a kitchen table.
I grunted in agreement, then moved onto the main course. The lobsters’ large tails were split, revealing fire-licked flesh as white as winter’s first snowfall. Like the other seafood, the sole seasonings were lemon and salt. Butter might’ve made it even better, but at the moment on the Atlantic’s sandy eastern edge, it was tough to ask for more than another bite.