Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

Sheep’s head, anise flavoured snails and cinnamon are three things that immediately flood my memory when I think about Djemaa el Fna and Marrakech.

Djemaa el Fna is the main square in Marrakech’s medina quarter. Bustling and filled with merchants and performers all day and night, this area inspired the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity UNESCO project, where they identify cultural history such as music and performances, rather than physical buildings and places.

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

During the day, stalls sell orange juice, dates and nuts. Performers wander around with poor Barbary apes on chains and snake charmers try to lure in tourists.

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

There are a number of cafés facing the square.

doughnut seller and cafe

doughnut seller and cafe

merchants

merchants

snake charmers

snake charmers

And then, before sunset, the snakes move out and the food carts start moving in.

food carts

food carts

To me, this is when Djemaa el Fna really comes alive. At night the square is filled with food stalls, hungry people, singers, drummers, dancers, storytellers, women doing tattoos with some dubious henna and people selling traditional medicines.

nuts and dried fruits

nuts and dried fruits

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mrkt (market)

A took a stroll down Jasper Avenue the other day, and decided to stop at a brand new café (and apparently wine bar) called mrkt (a.k.a. market).

mrkt - exterior

mrkt - exterior

With food from the folks at Soul Soup, it’s located in a newly renovated space above the Red Star Pub. Mrkt is currently only open for lunch, but will be open for dinner soon. They post their menu on a board outside (notice the change from “cold” to “hot” on the sign), and inside the restaurant on a giant chalkboard painted against the back wall.

promo sign

promo sign

The space is long – and this feeling is emphasized by the long banquet table, lights and wood panelling. Two skylights over by the cash register give the space some needed sunlight at the far end of the room. I did like the space, but I have to admit that the panelling and the trees made me feel a bit like I was in a cabin… or an Ikea store.

mrkt - interior

mrkt - interior

They provide vegetable, fish and meat soup choices like Soul Soup does, as well as a selection of sandwiches. Soups and the specials change daily, while the sandwiches change less often. You can eat in or order take out. They also offer a number of drinks, or you can help yourself to a free water from the cooler on the bar.

the menu

the menu

I went for the soup and sandwich deal, which is priced at $13. My choices were the Trinidadian crab and corn soup with mango and the spicy tomato braised beef with pesto and caramelized onions sandwich.

mrkt soup and sandwich

mrkt soup and sandwich

The soup was a mix of a bunch of different flavours – peppery and not “fishy” at all, sweet from the corn and carrots, and a mix of sour and sweet from the pieces of mango.

mrkt sandwich

mrkt sandwich

The sandwich was great also, but very messy to eat. The beef was extremely tender and permeated with the flavour of tomatoes, and I also liked that the tomatoes weren’t acidic at all. It was almost like trying to eat a bowl of stew, but in sandwich form. The inside of the bun was soaked in the braising liquid and the crust of the bun held together very well. My fingers were a mess after eating.

All in all, mrkt made a very good first impression on me. I can’t wait to try more of their lunch offerings and sample their dinners! The soup and sandwich are a little too pricey to fit into my budget for too many regular visits, but I can definitely see myself popping in here once in a while for some interesting food choices.

mrkt
10534 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton

Mrkt on Urbanspoon

News and links

I know there’s lots of other things happening around town, but Sharon at Only Here for the Food already does such a great job of recording all that already. So instead today you get links that I stumble upon and find at least mildly interesting.

Tropika, Edmonton

I recently stopped at Tropika for a meal, and picked a few things off their menu to share.

Unlike in Malaysia, these portions are quite large. An order of Singapore laksa (made with what looks like a red curry as opposed to a yellow curry) can feed 2-4 people. The flavour of it was good but it was disappointing to find that the majority of the bowl was made up of noodles. It would have been nice to have more sliced of fish cake, tofu puffs, shrimp and bean sprouts.

Singapore laksa

Singapore laksa

Their roti canai is light and fluffy; I would say lighter and fluffier than the ones I ate in Malaysia. The accompanying curry sauce is, like their laksa, more of a red curry than yellow. Their satays (chicken and lamb pictured here) are seasoned well and come with a dish of spicy peanut sauce, pineapple and cucumber. The peanut sauce is probably the best part of this dish.

roti canai and satay

roti canai and satay

Tropika is pretty much the only Malaysian restaurant in Edmonton. I wish there were more choices, but you make due with what you’ve got! I tend to stick to a few specific dishes such as the ones I ordered, or perhaps picking up some mee goreng instead of a laksa. Their pineapple fried rice, served in half of a pineapple, is a great dish for kids or for adults who are looking for something without heat. If you want to try Malaysian food, I would suggest going to Tropika (and staying away from the Thai dishes as there are better places to have Thai food in Edmonton), or try the handful of Malaysian dishes over at Matahari on 124 st.

Tropika
6004-104 Street
Edmonton, AB
or
14921 Stony Plain Road
Edmonton, AB
www.tropikagroup.com

Tropika (South) Malaysian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Everyone I’ve ever told about this recipe have raved about its taste. It’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s easy to make, only uses one pot and it tastes damn good. I discovered it one day when watching Good Deal with Dave Lieberman on TV.

“Wow, that looks simple and delicious,” I thought. And so I immediately went looking for the recipe on the US Food Network website. I’ve made it enough times now that I’ve adjusted some ingredients to fit my own personal taste.

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup
Adapted from Good Deal with Dave Lieberman
Makes approximately 4-6 large servings.

Ingredients
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 large onion, roughly diced
6 to 8 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (original recipe asks for just 1 tsp but I like the additional cinnamon taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more if you want heat)
1 heaping teaspoon sweet paprika
1 can chopped tomatoes (796 mL/28 oz, original recipe used half of this amount though)
2 cans chickpeas (540 mL/19 oz per can), rinsed and drained
1 carton (900 mL) reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth… or use your own stock of course)
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pre-washed baby spinach

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onions begin to turn translucent (lower the heat if browning starts to occur). Add all your spices spices and sauté for a minute. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, broth and sugar. Add a pinch of salt and approximately 10 grinds of fresh pepper.

Don’t forget to stir as you add each ingredient. The chickpeas should be just covered with liquid; if you don’t have enough liquid add some water.

Bring the soup to a simmer, then lower heat to low and gently simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Basically, you want the chickpeas to soften enough so that there is no bite.

Remove the soup from the heat and use a potato masher to mash up some of the chickpeas (but not all of them) right there in the pot. Spoon out your soup and add plenty of spinach to each bowl, stirring until the heat just starts to wilt the leaves. If you’re serving the entire pot, go ahead and add your spinach to the pot instead of into individual bowls. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve the soup lightly drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.

The dreaded smelly fruit

You can’t go to Malaysia and not eat some durian. Unfortunately.

For this dreaded moment, we took a car trip to a small town called Balik Pulau, located in another part of Penang. The ride was actually quite interesting as we saw parts of the coast, as well as forests and plantations. Balik Pulau is famous for its access to durian and apparently for its Penang assam laksa.

Durian is an acquired taste that is not for everyone. The fruit with a sharp, spiky skin. Inside are soft globes of edible fruit, with a large seed inside each piece. Texturally, the fruit is creamy. Taste-wise and smell… well, try imagining something left in the gutter to rot for days. There’s a very good reason why this stuff is banned from hotel rooms. As you can tell, I am not a fan.

Durian is also one of those things that my father insists on getting me to try over and over again despite my protests.

“Oh it takes better than it smells,” he said the first time. (I was a naïve child.)

“Try it again – this one was more fresh before it was frozen.” (All durian found in Edmonton is frozen.)

“It tastes much better with salt.”

Lies, ALL LIES!

And the other lie is that when it’s fresh it’s milder and creamier. I can’t dispute the creaminess, but the taste was still nasty. I told him it was the absolute very last time I was ever eating it. Hopefully he actually believes me this time.

Durian from Balik Pulau

Durian from Balik Pulau

Penang assam laksa from Balik Pulau

Penang assam laksa from Balik Pulau

While in Balik Pulau I also tried some Penang assam laksa – you can see from the photo that this is one had a lot more fish in it than the other photo I posted earlier. The flavour was good too, but not as good as my favourite one back in Georgetown.

I also had a sip of some nutmeg juice, made from the fruit of the nutmeg (nutmeg spice is made from the seeds). It was slightly bitter but refreshing at the same time. Probably not something I’d want to drink again, but definitely interesting to try.

Kek Seng Kopitiam, Malaysia

Laksa, popiah and ais kacang with durian ice cream oh my! Just a warning, this is going to be a long post. Kek Seng Kopitiam (coffee shop) is an institution in Penang. It’s been around for years and years, and frankly the atmosphere is a little dingy (although all the tables, plates, bowls, etc. were clean). The food is a little more old fashioned too; unlike at someplace like New World, the food is pretty much how it was served 30+ years ago (found something online that says Kek Seng opened in 1906). When we were there it was quite busy but we managed to snag a table.

One thing I miss dearly about Malaysia was the easy access to laksa. And by laksa, I mean Penang assam laksa. I talked about curry mee (curry laksa) a little while ago. That one is a coconut-based curry broth. Penang-style assam laksa is a sour, mackerel-based soup that is flavoured with tamarind, lemongrass, galangal, chilli, ginger flower buds, mint, pineapple and onion. You also usually get a soup spoon filled with a thick, sweet prawn paste called Hae Ko, and the whole thing is served with rice noodles (either thick or vermicelli).

The assam laksa at Kek Seng was one of my favourites that I had throughout the trip. A strong fish broth with all those spices and a slight sourness; my mouth is watering as I type this. This first photo is of the hawker stall; those pink things are the ginger flowers. When I’ve shown that photo to other people, the reaction I’ve gotten has been “you mean they actually use flowers and not ginger root?!”

Penang assam laksa hawker stall

Penang assam laksa hawker stall

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