Riad Elizabeth, Marrakech

Goodbye London! After a cramped flight on a discount airline, we landed in Marrakech, Morocco. Our guide, Mark from Mad About Morocco, arranged for a driver to pick us up and deliver us to our first stop where we would spend the next two nights, the Riad Elizabeth.

Before I go on I should explain a couple of terms that you will see me use quite often in my Moroccan posts.

A medina is a section in North African cities that is sometimes referred to as “old town.” It is the oldest or older part of the city, and was built by the Arabs as a walled town with many narrow streets. The streets are so narrow that some, if not all, streets must be accessed on foot and by donkey. Cars usually cannot access these streets, and in some cases they also can be too narrow for carts, bicycles and motorcycles (not that this stops anyone from roaring their motorcycle down a narrow medina street). Medinas often are like mazes, with many twists and turns, and contain many places of historical interest like palaces, mosques and fountains. They usually have multiple gates, and sectioned off quarters. This is where all the tourists want to go, and where many Moroccans want to move out of, as the newer sections of the city are more modern and middle-class.

Marrakech medina, just outside of Riad Elizabeth

Marrakech medina, just outside of Riad Elizabeth

A riad is a traditional Moroccan home that has a central open-air courtyard and/or garden in the middle. The rooms of the house surround the courtyard, which is traditionally open to the outdoors, although many modern renovations now have retractable roofing to cover the opening. Many renovated riads now serve as hotels and restaurants.

Located in Marrakech’s medina, the Riad Elizabeth is unique in that it is relatively easily accessible by car (although you still have to walk for a minute or so).

Riad Elizabeth

Riad Elizabeth

One of the owners, an ex-pat Brit named John, greeted us and immediately sat us down for some lovely homemade cookies and mint tea. Hospitality is a very important part of Moroccan life; as soon as you enter someone’s home you are offered mint tea and some sort of snack.

cookies

cookies

Mint tea is a traditional drink in Morocco, and it is served in small glasses. It is made by brewing green tea (sometimes jasmine or gunpowder) and adding large amounts of fresh mint. And lots and lots of sugar. Moroccans love adding copious amounts of sugar into their tea.

tea set

tea set

In my small cup I added one sugar cube and it was plenty for me. John told us that Moroccans would probably have added 4 or more cubes of sugar.

my first taste of mint tea

my first taste of mint tea

The entire riad has been renovated, which made for a nice, easy transition into the culture and atmosphere of Morocco.

our room

our room

flower close up

flower close up

Wait, who's that in the mirror?

Wait, who's that in the mirror?

view of the courtyard from above

view of the courtyard from above

This riad can arrange for dinner, or can help you with taxis to restaurants. Every room comes complete with a full breakfast, served on the riad’s rooftop patio. Clockwise, starting at 12 o’clock, are toasted baguettes, Moroccan bread (named khobz and pronounced hobs in Arabic), fluffy Moroccan pancakes (named beghrir in Arabic), and thin Moroccan crepes (named msemen in Arabic). The crepes reminded me of Malaysian roti. The jam was delicious, and the orange juice was freshly squeezed and sweet. Oh and the oranges! I fell in love with Morocco’s oranges. Almost every orange I ate during the trip was sweeter and tastier than any orange I’ve had in North America. And these oranges were winter oranges; in the summer they are even sweeter!

breakfast, day 1

breakfast, day 1

The breakfast we had before we left Marrakech consisted of French toast made from baguettes (top), more khobz bread, and semolina bread (named harsha in Arabic). And more fruit. I gobbled the oranges.

breakfast, day 2

breakfast, day 2

John, his wife Elizabeth, the riad’s manager Kamal, and all their staff went out of their way to make our stay a pleasant one. It was an auspicious (and delicious) start to the Morocco leg of our trip.

Riad Elizabeth
Derb El Baroud, Hart Essoura
Marrakech Medina 40000
Morocco
www.riadelizabeth.com

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News and events

  • I recently stopped at Famoso for a meal (lots of photos over at my review from 2009). The pizza was great as usual, but they’ve recently changed their gelato supplier from Edmonton’s Bueno Gelato to Calgary’s Fiasco Gelato. I tried two flavours – the blood orange sorbet and the banana chocolate gelato, and was disappointed. The sorbet was a little too icy and grainy, and didn’t have much blood orange flavour. The gelato, while creamy and smooth, had no banana taste whatsoever and I wasn’t crazy about the chocolate flavouring. This really surprised me; while I haven’t tried them in any of their Calgary locations, Fiasco ordinarily gets pretty good reviews from what I can tell.
  • Superstore is now selling bread made with Red Fife. There’s a $1 coupon that you can get if you want to try it out (expires July 16). When you click on the link, just skip to page 4 of their baking booklet. There are also coupons for other breads and cinnamon buns on that same page.
  • Liane Faulder at the Edmonton Journal has a blog post about a food writer’s tour of Alberta.
  • Gary at travel blog Everything Everywhere has started up Project Pringles – his effort to document every flavour of Pringles from all over the world. If you have a picture of a Pringles flavour, you should send it his way. (And yes, he’s right. They are everywhere. I even found Pringles in Morocco, but unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of them.)
  • World Cup fever – did you know that the Dutch wear orange because of purple carrots?
  • And more on the World Cup – the “Oracle Octopus” could end up as dinner if German fans have any say.
  • Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko is in hot water after spending a lot of money on breakfasts during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Maybe he’s a hobbit who needs breakfast, second breakfast and elevenses?
  • Jeffrey Steingarten interviewed Gwyneth Paltrow for Vogue magazine – she’s coming out with a “cooking for families” cookbook later this year. The best line from the article has to be “Our conversation was not much different from what it would have been if Gwyneth were a longtime food friend, except that Gwyneth is nicer than most of my food friends.” You can see a bunch of photos of Gwyneth’s kitchen(s) and read an edited version of the article on the Vogue website.
  • Fast Company did a feature on innovative U.S. cities, and a couple of cities caught my eye – New York’s urban farms and Portland’s farm-fresh food.
  • And lastly, check out Beer and Butter Tarts, a Canadian food and drink blog aggregator. I recently added my blog to the list!

Nellie’s Kitchen, Calgary

Back in July a friend took me to Nellie’s Kitchen for brunch, one of the many Nellie’s restaurants in Calgary. I’ve seen mixed reviews of the various Nellie’s locations on Chowhound, so I was wary but was still willing to go for it. The place was almost full, but we managed to snag a seat in their back garden. Normally, I imagine this place is full to the brim with people, but I was in Calgary during the Stampede and I had a feeling that a lot of people hadn’t woken up to their hangovers quite yet. The menu was a fairly standard breakfast menu, and I opted for something that was kind of healthy but also cheese-laden.

Huevos Rancheros from Nellies Kitchen

Huevos Rancheros from Nellie's Kitchen

My meal was a fairly large huevos rancheros brimming with veggies, and served with salsa, sour cream and fresh fruit on the side.  I was so full I was ready to roll out the door.

Nellie’s Kitchen
738B – 17 Ave SW
Calgary, Alberta
(403) 244-4616

Nellie's on Urbanspoon

Soft-boiled eggs

The excellent Cooking for Engineers blog has posted a step-by-step guide for the boiling time needed for different consistencies of soft-boiled eggs: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article/249/Soft-Boiled-Eggs. They also have a guide about how to soft-boil an egg: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/recipe/239/Soft-Boiled-Eggs.

If you haven’t been to Cooking for Engineers before, it’s a great place to find recipes that lays out EVERY step needed to complete the dish. Fantastic for beginning cooks, and for those who need detailed instructions.

For my soy sauce soft-boiled eggs, I would say that the photo at the 7 minute mark is probably closest to the consistency that is needed for my recipe, although I know some people in Malaysia eat them when the egg whites are still soupy.

Soy sauce soft-boiled eggs

One of the first things I learned to cook was the first thing my Dad has taught all his kids to make: soy sauce soft-boiled eggs. (Frankly, I think he taught us so that he can get us to make them for him instead of making them himself!) I thought this was just one of my Dad’s odd food preferences, but apparently they’re eaten this way quite often in Malaysia and Singapore.

Soy sauce soft-boiled eggs
Soft-boil eggs in water; I generally prefer having the whites close to fully cooked, but some people will use runny whites. In either case, the yolks should be as runny as possible and warmed all the way through. If the eggs are too hot to handle, use cold water to cool them down a little bit. Crack open the egg shell and scoop all the contents into a bowl. Add soy sauce (preferably dark soy sauce) and white pepper to taste, stir, and eat while still warm. It’s a delicate balance between having not enough soy sauce and having way too much of it, so be careful when seasoning.

And yes, this is for another entry in the Steamy Kitchen contest. 🙂

Kaya toast

Kaya is one of the few Malaysian foods that I had quite often when I was young. I remember it being incredibly sweet and as a result hadn’t eaten it in years, but a few months before my Malaysia trip I had a craving for some kaya and picked up a jar from a local Asian grocery store. Kaya is basically a creamy coconut jam, and surprisingly enough it doesn’t seem as sweet as I remember. It still packs a punch though, so I found that a little goes a long way. You can eat it on crackers, but in my opinion the best way is on toast, like any other regular jam.

Kaya toast
For best results, spread a thin layer of kaya on slices of bread, and toast in a broiler. This warms up the kaya as well as makes the bread crispy. Or alternately, toast the bread in a toaster and add the kaya afterwards.

Like any jam, you can of course make kaya yourself. Or be lazy like me and buy it from the store.

Ok, I know this isn’t much of a recipe. I was originally going to just do a post about kaya only, but when I saw the 15 minute recipe contest on Steamy Kitchen, I couldn’t resist.