“Just like the movies, life finally lives up to the advertising,” muses Anthony Bourdain during his early career trip to the Kingdom of Morocco. Picking chunks of roasted lamb off the bone with his fingers, beneath a starlit sky in a seemingly endless desert, Tony is living out a childhood fantasy – but Morocco has more to its food and culture than just roasted desert meats, as he finds out.
Anthony Bourdain visited Morocco twice; to film season 1 (episodes 11-12) of A Cook’s Tour and season 1 (episode 5) of Parts Unknown – that latter trip focused exclusively on the city of Tangier, which I’ve covered elsewhere. These were his only two trips to Morocco, but left a lasting impression on Tony – and created some of the most iconic photos from his travels.
If you’re planning a trip to Morocco too, and are ready to sample the culture and cuisine of this North African country, you might be curious about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Morocco. Below you’ll find them all in one place, to help you plan your trip. As they say in Moroccan Arabic, بالصحة (cheers!)
Dar Diaf Restaurant (Moulay Idriss)
Beginning in the town of Moulay Idriss, one hour outside of the city of Fez, Bourdain is introduced to dishes that will feature prominently on this journey. Visiting the local market first to gather ingredients, he is taken to the kitchen of the Dar Diaf restaurant to see the local flavors being created and worked.
Ground meat features prominently, with the freshly butchered beef being ground with mint, onion, cilantro, dried garlic, beef fat, cumin, and paprika to create a spiced flavor. This meat is then rolled either into balls for ketfa meatballs cooked in a tomato sauce with egg, or else longer cylinders for the more familiar kefta kebab, which are then roasted over hot coals.
There is also a kefta tagine, cooked here in a pressure cooker, which is then served together with fresh vegetables and an array of salad sides.
Traditional Moroccan bread known as khobz is served with the meals in lieu of cutlery, and diners are invited to use their forefingers together with the bread to pinch and scoop the dishes from their serving plates.
Hotel Riad Dar Al Hadara (Fes)
Following this, Anthony visits the city of Fes and the Riad Dar Al Hadara Hotel, where he is a guest at a private meal that takes place over a full two days to accommodate the complexity of some of the dishes involved.
The first part of the meal consists of couscous, essentially steamed semolina, served with lamb, carrot, onion, squash, cabbage, fresh peas, tomato, and chickpeas. The couscous is cooked three times, and each time is rubbed between the hands to help it expand and become airier. For the final cycle of this process, it is then cooked over the stewing lamb so that all the flavors from the spiced, simmering meat juice infuse into the grain itself.
Accompanying the couscous is a tagine made with lemon, olive, and chicken, roasted green peppers with tomato dressing, an artichoke and cucumber salad, and a zaalouk (or zalouk), a Moroccan salad of cooked eggplants and tomatoes.
Following this, Bourdain takes a quick walk to the local souk or market in the medina of the old city, where he tries a sweet crepe dish with a filling of ground-up dates, spices, and cinnamon.
The next day, Tony returns to the hotel kitchen where the main course of the meal is reaching its final stages of prep. Cooking since yesterday, pastilla is a type of pie made with warqa dough, which is similar to filo. The pie is stuffed with meat, in this case, pigeon which has been slow cooking since the day before until the meat is ready to be pulled from the bone, together with sugar, toasted almonds, and layers of scrambled egg, which are all arranged like a lasagna in different layers. The finished pie is then baked and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
A complex dish, Bourdain reflects on the unique combination of flavors. “Crispy dough surrounding gamey pigeon meat, sweet cinnamon flavor, on top of nutty almond paste…an extraordinary blend of stronger darker meat with spices”.
Hotel Kasbah Asmaa (A)tlas Mountains
Leaving the cities and heading south up over the mountains to the desert, Anthony and his driver stop at one of the many roadside accommodations en route. Here, they enjoy a quick lunch of freshwater trout, grilled and served with saffron rice & roasted potatoes, together with beef kebabs, and a much-appreciated cold beer.
Unknown Hotel (Risani)
Arriving in the town of Risani late at night, Bourdain braves a late-night trip to the market in an attempt to find a souk or at least a stall offering fresh kebabs. Sadly, it is not to be, and he instead returns to the hotel for another round of tagine.
Thankfully, tagine is cooked a multitude of different ways across Morocco, with style in this part of the country favoring a sweeter taste, with raisins and onions slow-cooked in the traditional earthenware-covered pot with chicken to ensure a sticky, caramelized texture.
Berber Camp (Northern Sahara Desert)
Finally arriving in the desert, Anthony is able to experience the Boys’ Own adventure long dreamed of in his youth.
Dining with members of the nomadic desert Berber tribe, he is first served a meat pie cooked directly in the sand. Using freshly made bread, the pie is built using ground beef, peppers, onions, and a hard-boiled egg. Whilst this is taking place, the Berbers will build a fire to heat the sand, burying the bread directly in the sand itself for 30mins to cook. When this is complete, the bread is dug up, any residual grains of sand are scraped off, and it is ready to eat.
Perhaps the most anticipated dish, however, is the lamb. First rubbed down with water and onion, the lamb is then mounted onto a stick and bound with wire. It is then cooked slowly in a traditional packed mud oven for a few hours, the oven itself sealed to ensure no heat escapes. Once it is ready, the oven is opened to reveal a mouth-wateringly tender main course, with the meat literally falling off the bone.
The lamb is served together with harira soup, made with vegetables, lamb, chickpeas, and rice, and as the guest of honor, Tony is offered the sheep’s testicles, which he remarks have a flavor similar to sweetbread and very tender, like a much fluffier veal.
This, remarks Bourdain, is the life. “Sitting around with sand in your toes, in the middle of the Northern Sahara, with the smell of roasting lamb in the distance…it feels pretty damn good”.
What About Tangier?
In addition to the above locations, Anthony Bourdain spent an entire trip focused just on Tangier, later in his career (during Parts Unknown). As this is meant to be the list of all the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Morocco, I thought I’d better at least include a list of where he visited in Tangier too:
- Café Baba
- Cafe Tingis (Petit Socco)
- Hotel El Muniria
- Restaurante Andalus (The Medina)
- Saveur de Poisson
I go into a lot more detail about each of these places and where Tony ate in my guide to the restaurants Bourdain visited in Tangier, if that’s part of your Morocco itinerary.
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Morocco? Let me know in the comments below.