In Morocco, it's one thing to eat on the street, but it's another thing entirely to cook on it. When a friend in the Fès medina said she wanted to teach me how to make tanjia, a slow-cooked stew, I was interested. When she told me to meet her at her favourite butcher, and that she'd bring a knife and chopping board, I was baffled.
Tanjia is workers’ food, a dish traditionally made by Moroccan men. Like a tajine, the name refers both to the meal itself and the earthenware container it’s made in – in this case a long-necked pot like a Greek amphora.
A tanjia pot waiting to be filled at the butcher's counter. Image by Paul Clammer
At the butcher, we presented our tanjia, and had it filled with cheap cuts on the bone, plus a handful of ras el hanout, Morocco’s classic spice mix. I was handed a couple of onions and a head of garlic, which I dutifully chopped and threw into the pot, all the while catching the interested eyes of shoppers on street, and occasionally leaning out of the way to avoid a baggage-laden mule.
Next we carried the tanjia to a shop selling preserved lemons – in they went – and to a spice shop, where we added cumin and strands of saffron. Then a healthy glug of olive oil, and water from (where else) a streetside fountain. Finally, the top was wrapped in paper and tied with string. Our tanjia was ready for the cooking.
If you want to find an oven in the medina, look for a hammam. The water for the baths is heated by traditional woodfire: the perfect place for cooking a stew. So in the tanjia went to gently cook in the embers until the meat would fall off the bone.
Seven hours later I was carrying the tanjia home as if it were a trophy, the wafting aromas drawing smiles from passers-by. Of course, it was delicious – the slow cooking had created a rich and unctuous stew, but the real magic was in the unorthodox preparation. Pots and pans on the oven at home just haven't felt the same since.