Finding a cooking school
Lamb tagine has long been one of our favourite dishes to cook at home. So when we decided to go to Marrakech, we knew we wanted to do a cooking school as part of our trip. We found one via Urban Adventures that promised the whole experience. We would be going to the market to buy the fresh ingredients and cooking them up into an authentic recipe, all in a traditional riad setting. Moroccan cuisine plays a big role in the culture and Marrakech is a hub for tourists, so you can find many similar offers of cooking schools if you look online. Urban Adventures has a policy that they always use local guides in order to support and create a connection to the local culture, which is why we chose this class.
In the souks
We were due to meet our cooking school guide/teacher at 9:00 am in Djemaa El-Fna Square. As we had arrived early we decided to get some freshly-squeezed orange juices from one of the street vendors. These juice stalls are all over the main square and you can get either a mixed juice for 10 dirhams (around $1) or a pure OJ for 4 dirhams (40 cents!). Drinking our juice, we met up with the Urban Adventures guide who introduced herself as Karima, and a mother-daughter pair from the Netherlands who were to be our classmates.
The morning started with a walk into the souks. The word “souk” comes from the Arabic word for market. As it wasn’t our first day in Marrakesh Morocco, this was not our first exposure to the souks. Even so, it feels like a new experience each time to go into the narrow and lively streets filled with exotic odours and eye-catching stalls with all manner of items for sale. Not forgetting the crazy motorcycles honking and whizzing past every few seconds. After navigating us through the souks, Karima stopped next to a small square with a lot of fresh food stalls, in front of a stall that sells chicken.
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Really really fresh chicken
The chicken was so fresh, that it was actually still clucking in a cage behind the counter. Karima told us that the butchers in the Medina are halal, which simply means permitted under Islamic law. Slaughtering chickens in a halal way means that they cut off the head of the chicken, and let it bleed completely before butchering it. After our chicken was slaughtered and bled, rather than plucking it he just ripped off the whole skin in one movement. Although this whole process obviously wasn’t very pleasant to watch, it was still somewhat fascinating. Like most Westerners, the rawest state we had seen chicken before this was prepared and wrapped in a film on a polystyrene tray in the supermarket.
Many of your 5 a day
We moved on to one of the stalls at the food market which was selling fresh vegetables and Marrakech spices. While she was buying tomatoes and onions, Karima was teaching us the names of the vegetables in Arabic. As well as fresh vegetables, there were also huge, ripe fruits like oranges and pomegranates.
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We had some small talk with the vendor who was asking each of us on the tour where we come from. As we told him, he took great satisfaction in naming the respective football clubs of each of our home cities. We have come across this universal language of big-league European football in many countries we have travelled in the past! After we had taken some photos and said our goodbyes, Karima guided us once again through the streets and stopped to talk to a guy holding a medium-sized bag of lemons, which looked like they had just come from the tree. Karima told us that she prefers to get her lemons from this guy rather than the other market as they always taste good.
Words on the street
As we walked, Karima would stop for a moment every now and again to have a chat with some people on the streets. Sometimes it was just a few words while passing by while other times she stopped and had a long discussion. It was great to experience that sense of community and sociability among the locals. When you look closer and see all the little interactions that are happening in the souks, it starts to seem like everyone knows everyone!
We stopped again at a small shop and bought some bread and a mix of olives. After saying our goodbyes we headed to the riad for our cooking workshop.
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Riad Thycas, which is run by Karima, is very cosy. Her team started to prepare the tables for the cooking school with the ingredients we had just bought. Meanwhile, she sat us down in a comfortable corner and served us Moroccan mint tea.
The preparation of the mint tea is a tradition in itself that Karima demonstrated to us as she was doing it. Moroccan mint tea flows like water in Moroccan homes. It is served to houseguests upon arrival and throughout their visit. Even the pouring is done in a traditional way. The first cup poured must be put back into the pot at least once before it is eventually poured into the cups of your guests – from as high as is possible without spilling the tea. Karima has this down to a fine art and explained that the high pour is meant to generate bubbles, which show your guests that the tea is properly brewed.
When life gives you lemons… make a tagine
We were to make two recipes in our cooking class Marrakech, a citrus chicken tagine, and a traditional Moroccan salad made with roasted green peppers. Our ingredients had been laid out for us ready to chop and mix according to Karima’s instructions. After everyone cried a little chopping the strong onions, we mixed in our spices and citruses.
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As well as fresh lemons, we used preserved lemons in this recipe. Although we have heard of these before this was the first time we had used them in a recipe. They are used predominantly in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine and are very popular in tagine cooking. They are made with unwaxed lemons, where the skin is cut and they are placed into a sterile jar. Add salt and then just… leave them for weeks. Preserved lemons bring a depth of salty citrus flavour to Marrakech food that cannot be replicated with normal fresh lemons. They are only to be used in cooking and not served raw. However, we did taste a tiny morsel just to test the flavour. They have a wonderful salty zestiness that is utterly incomparable in taste to a fresh lemon.
While our chicken was cooking in the tagine in our Moroccan kitchen, Karima took us to the roof terrace of the riad. There are comfy couches and sun loungers, with a nice view over the rooftops of the medina. We enjoyed some more mint tea on the terrace. Although we were visiting in November as Morocco was coming into winter, the sun is still quite warm out of the shade. Some of Karima’s guests were even sunbathing on the terrace.
Good food and goodbyes
We came back to the courtyard of the riad where the tables had been re-laid for our lunch. We had the roasted green pepper salad for our starter and the lemon chicken tagine for the main course in our Marrakesh menu. The tagine was wonderful. The citrus flavours really come through and the saltiness of the preserved lemons and olives balances the dish. Karima even surprised us with a small dessert of fresh fruit. Once we finished, we exchanged email addresses so that she could send us the recipes. Karima kindly walked us back through the souks and we said our goodbyes. For us, this Moroccan cooking class was one of the best things to do in Marrakech!
If you are interested in traditional Moroccan cooking in the famous Marrakech, then book an Urban Adventures cooking school. We really enjoyed it! We also want to thank Karima for her hospitality and good conversation. She is not only a great cook and teacher but a warm and welcoming hostess!
As well as hosting the cooking school, Riad Thycas also rents rooms, in case you need a place to stay.
Would you like to read more about cooking schools? Then click this link to find all of our cooking schools posts.
Don’t worry if you don’t fancy to do a Moroccan cooking school yourself. It’s not very hard to find a good Marrakesh restaurant. Some of the best restaurants in Marrakech, for example, are the restaurant of La Maison Arabe Marrakech or the Clock Cafe.
Would you like to explore Marrakech and its delicious food as well? Then go and find the best Marrakech accommodation on Booking.com:
Disclaimer: Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase or a booking, we will receive a small commission from the vendor at absolutely no cost to you.
[…] If you enjoy recreating local cuisines at home then check out our recipe post on Thai Yellow Chicken Curry or our post about our Cooking School with Karima in Marrakesh. […]
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What an awesome experience to have, not only would I love to do this tour, but I’d be just like you with the interesting way the fellow “plucked” the chicken…… I’d want to see that too. Weird, but fascinating.
Hi Anna, it’s not even weird, but a normal process if you want to eat chicken without feathers 😀 The cooking school itself was so awesome. Karima explained us a lot about food and culture as well.
Have a fantastic day
This post was an absolute joy to read, and sounds like something we’d love to do. We’ve both been wanting to visit Morocco for some time now, so I’m 100% bookmarking this and adding a cooking class to our list! Thank you for sharing!
Hi Luke and Meagan, Morocco is absolute worth a visit. Marrakech is so full of life and all the food can almost be a bit overwhelming 🙂 The cooking class was our highlight so we can’t recommend it enough! Thank you for reading our post.
Have a fantastic day
I would love this experience! Moroccan food always looks so fresh – no wonder if you get your ingredients from the market. Mint tea is right up my alley too, I drink it at home but, I’m sure it’s better in Marrakesh.
The food in the markets is really fresh – even if not cooking, the street food as well in Marrakech was amazing and always well-prepared and well-cooked. The mint tea is also really fresh – big bunches of green leaves steeped in green tea – so refreshing! If you go to Marrakech, we can really recommend a cooking school as a way to have an authentic local experience 🙂 Thanks for reading and for your comment!
I’ll admit, I’m a super picky eater, so not surprisingly, that’s made it pretty hard to learn how to cook (especially if you’re cooking something you don’t even like). Attending a cooking school is something I’ve never thought of doing on a trip. It’s definitely a new adventure I’ll have to try, and maybe I’ll finally learn how to cook!
The lemon chicken tagine we cooked here was really lovely, delicate citrus flavours balanced by the salty olives. Given some of the tagines can have quite strong flavours and heat, I would imagine this is a good tagine recipe even for a picky eater 😉 Learning to cook something you love can be a great way to connect with the food in a way that is different from having a plate presented to you. If you think your stomach can take it, I would definitely recommend this experience. Thanks for stopping by 🙂
OMG I love cooking classes and tagine is one of my favourite meals! This sounds fabulous, I will definitely looks this up when I go to Marrakesh!
If you love tagine then you will definitely love this experience Claire! It really is a beginning-to-end activity with the market and ending with eating the products of your labours. If you do plan to do this one, would love it if you could book via our link – no cost to you of course! But otherwise, thanks for reading and for your comment 🙂
I would love to learn how to make a good tagine in Morocco. Your cooking lesson with Karima sounds like a great learning experience, all the way from shopping for the produce to drinking mint tea on the roof.
Thanks Linda, I can really recommend cooking schools in general as being a total game-changer in re-creating local cuisines at home. Our chicken tagines are all the better for this experience! It was also really interesting to learn how ingrained tea is to the Moroccan culture – for me as a tea-loving Brit too! Glad you enjoyed the post.
What an amazing experience from the market to the kitchen. I’d love to do this when I finally get to Marrakesh and will definitely keep Urban Adventures in mind. It’s not easy seeing an animal be butchered but if you eat meat it’s important to be conscious of what goes onto our plates. Thanks for sharing all that.
Thanks for your comment Elaine. I definitely recommend Urban Adventures, we never had a bad tour with them yet. The chicken “experience” was a little gory and would be harrowing for a vegetarian/vegan, but you are right that if one eats meat it is important not to shy away from the fact of how it arrives into the dish. I hope you get to tick Marrakech off your list soon!
This sounds like a tour for me! I love cooking & what an experience going shopping for the ingredients too! Love the explanation of the mint tea brewing, so interesting.
Thanks for your comment Lucy! We can really recommend this cooking school as an excellent way to experience Marrakech with more of a local flavour. As it is quite a touristic place, it can be a difficult city to get under the skin of. The tea is such a deeply ingrained part of the culture there, it was fascinating to learn about!
I know it’s a food article but as an Irish person the tea prep was probably the most important aspect for me 🙂
Lol Eoin – as a Brit I agree with you that tea is a deeply important part of many cultures! The mint tea in Morocco is drunk literally everywhere, but the locals drink it far too sweet for me – I’m sure dentistry must be a busy and lucrative career choice in Morocco just for this reason! Thanks for reading.
I wish I had time to do this when I visited, I ended up just eating all the amazing tajines and went back to a few places many times – I actually wish I bought a tajine but it was waaay too heavy
We didn’t buy a tagine either, for that very reason! Although someone told me that some of the stallholders will arrange for things to be shipped if they are too big or heavy to go on the flight with you. If you go back though, definitely recommend a cooking school – it was a game-changer for our home-made tagines! Thanks for stopping by.
What a great experience. I love it when they take you to the market or souk and teach you how to say the words of what you are buying in the local language. And what a beautiful setting to have the cooking classes. I love eating Tajine and will definitely look for this school if I go to Morocco.
We loved the market part too, it was second only to the eating part! We can really recommend this activity – Karima was an excellent host and her riad was beautiful and exceptionally clean. If you book the tour, would love you to do so via our link – no cost to you! Thank for reading and for your comment 🙂