The Perfumed Soul of our Culture
The fusion of influences from Africa, Arabia and Europe create the distinctive cuisine that Morocco is respected for. Spices and fruits feature extensively and the ingredients are fresh, natural, home-grown and delicately balanced. But how does it cater for Vegetarians and Vegans?
Mealtime is a very important part of home life and usually begins with olives and bread. Followed by the classic tagine, a slow-cooked stew made in an earthenware dish known by the same name. This is placed in the centre of the table for everyone to share and is often accompanied by couscous, considered a gift from Allah, or a colourful Moroccan salad.
However, so many hotels and restaurants serve up a mediocre tagine and soggy couscous and expect you to be grateful?
We have been listening to tourists for years complaining that they get tagined out on a tour of Morocco and especially if they are vegetarian, the lack of choice becomes disheartening. Night after night after night with tagine on the menu and pretty soon it just becomes a joke and not a very funny one.
Tagine Free Zone
When we were planning Tiziri Camp we were determined to make mealtimes more interesting for our clients and whilst we wouldn’t go as far as to declare it a Tagine Free Zone – we wanted to introduce some variety and excitement about meals in our camp restaurant – Aghlay.
Whilst we could take inspiration from some of the hotels / restaurants that are breaking barriers and introducing high quality fusion dishes, we are not a Michelin starred restaurant in Marrakech, we are a tented kitchen in the Sahara. To avoid a complete identity crisis, we needed to work within the limitations and exceptionally difficult conditions and just try to figure out what can we do, and what can we do well.
We enlisted the advice of Amanda at Ourika Organic Kitchen, and she was an enormous help as she understands Morocco so well, knows what grows where and when, and her organic ethos was the perfect fit for our ECO Camp.
Wherever possible we buy organic and ethical produce. For example, we only use extra virgin olive oil produced by Morocco Gold. Morocco is the 4th largest producer of olive oil in the world and this particular brand is very eco friendly. Not only is it free from the blight that has devastated large areas of EU producer countries, but this oil is also hand harvested in the day time so protecting the birds which sleep in the trees. In the rest of the world, most olive oil is machine picked at night and is devastating to the bird population – see link.
This oil is produced by a cooperative empowering woman and here you can read more about their aims – which are as pure as their oil.
In summary, the guidelines we have implemented as very serious goals at Tiziri are:
- all ingredients should be locally sourced.
- we should create zero food waste
- we should offer exciting vegetarian & vegan options
- guests should be so impressed that they ask us for the recipe
Simple? Not at all!
Locally sourced food means that EVERYTHING we use is in season. Grown fresh in the local area and brought to the souk by the grower, this is food provenance at its best. If we cannot source from the local souks and shops then we look a little further into different areas of Morocco. As we have a steady stream of transport coming to and from the camp bringing guests, the same transport can bring food items with no extra burden on the environment. But this ethos means that we have to adapt for each season and sometimes even the most basic of ingredients are off limits to us forcing us to be creative.
Zero Food Waste
Professional Chef Amanda helped us understand this philosophy better. Reverting to the old fashioned way our parents used to cook by buying the whole chicken and using every part of it rather than buying portions from the butcher. This is not only more economical but also creates a more gentle footprint in terms of sustainability. With her help, our Chef is more aware of how to make use of each part of the ingredients we have and the few scraps which do remain are fed to the goats and camels of our neighbouring nomad family.
Vegetarian and Vegan
In addition to our standard menu choices, here is an example of some of the new vegetarian & vegan dishes on our menu
- Courgette and Goats Cheese Dumplings
- Aubergine Caviar
- Quinoa Stuffed Vegetables
Now are you feeling the anticipation of the Taste of Tiziri?
Vegan Restaurants in Morocco
Is Morocco vegan friendly? What do vegans eat in Morocco? Although the vegan movement is growing across the world it is still a very new concept in Morocco. The EarthCafe in Marrakech and Shyadma’s in Essaouira are breaking boundaries and you can check their menus online. Certain riads – Dar Zerhoune and Dar Blues – (just as a couple of examples) are so foodie that they can adapt to any guest preference. There is also a Café Clock in Marrakech, Fes and Chefchaouen, all serving a selection of vegan options including my favourite – Gazpacho with Avocado Toast
- If you are on a vegan diet and are coming to Morocco – copy this paragraph to show to any restaurant you visit.
Ana nabatyya / nabati o matanaklsh ay haja 3ndha 3ala9a b lbhaym olla lhayawanat. Shno 3ndkom mn ghir lbid o lbn o zbda? Shokran.
- It is translated as I am a vegan. (nabatyya if you are female / nabati if you are male) I cannot eat anything which is an animal product. What can you serve me that is without eggs, without butter and without milk? Thank you.
To learn more phrases in Darija hop over to the Facebook page of Ahmed, the best Darija teacher online.
But apart from a few exceptions, Vegan restaurants in Morocco are shockingly few and far between. Even in the major cities there is next to no choice for vegans. But because we are an ECO Camp the proportion of guests who request a vegetarian or vegan menu is higher than usual and we were determined that we wouldn’t resort to vegetable tagine everytime.
Make no mistake, a high quality vegetable tagine is an aromatic feast and it is sometimes on our table, but we were not satisfied that it constituted a vegan menu.
Tiziri – The Only Vegan Restaurant in the Sahara
Over the last few weeks we have been developing a vegan menu to go alongside our standard menu. Ourika Organic Kitchen introduced our chef to the world of quinoa and with a little practice and the exciting prospect of being the ONLY VEGAN RESTAURANT IN THE SAHARA, we have created our own list of vegan specialities.
So from October onward, here at Tiziri Camp, a vegan meal might include:
- Sahara Soup
- Chachouka, Charmoula & Pumpkin Rissoles
- Quinoa Pates with Kale & Coriander Pesto
- Zuchini Dumplings with Balsamic Tomato & Onion Chutney
- Carrot Zalouk & Aubergine Caviar
Our restaurant is called Aghlay which means sunset in Berber. When the weather is kind, you can choose to eat outside and at other times, the restaurant tent provides an atmospheric and romantic environment.
We serve breakfasts, lunches and three-course evening meals. If you require a vegetarian or vegan option, you just need to inform us one day in advance and we would be glad to share our new dishes with you.
Come and stay with us, let us know what you think of our efforts and spread the word that there is now a lovely little vegan restaurant in the middle of the Moroccan Sahara. But please be patient with us because we are learning too and our ambitious targets are very challenging in the desert environment.
If you want us to help you build a vegan tour, we can, so please just get in touch.
Thanks to Amanda at Ourika Organic Kitchen for her advice, training, support, photos and humour.