OCS Experience: Traditional tajine making in Morocco

Carleton students spend a day cooking in Rabat, Morocco, while on an off-campus study program.

Tanya Bush '19 Apr. 18, 2017

Eating traditional tajine in Morocco is an intimate affair. Tajine, a slow-cooked stew typically made with a variety of vegetables and some form of meat, is an indelible fixture in the Moroccan home. Friends and family gather around the earthy clay pot the tajine is prepared in, using their hands to scoop up a portion, bumping knees, and battling for the best bits. 

Students and family members alike dig into the tajine.

On a Saturday in January, five Carleton students (including me) studying abroad on the Cinema and Media Studies photography trip were invited into the home of a Moroccan woman named Sanae to learn how to cook tajine. The dining room was crowded with furniture, and the walls and people invaded each other's spaces. Sanae, a commanding woman with a generous smile, put each student to work, handing out knives and peelers until every member of the group had a task. Having taken off her hijab to prepare the meal, Sanae crowded a host of vegetables and spices into the clay pot to cook. Her hands moved deftly, gently nudging an overly curious student away from the stove. After about an hour and a half, Sanae peeked into the clay tajine pot, appearing satisfied while moving around the little living room to serve lunch.  

Sanae in her kitchen in the Rabat Medina.

Tajine, which is served in the clay pot it is cooked in, is traditionally structured so that the vegetables surround the main event—the meat—in the center. Moroccan meal etiquette divides the tajine into individual sections from which each person eats. However, limbs inevitably overlap and the best chunks of lamb in the pot are likely to be stolen despite each designated section.

Vegetable tajine with small salads.

In Morocco, meals are not only pockets of time for eating but also intimate spaces for family and friends to tell stories, talk about the days events, and delight in each others company. Sanae’s invitation into her home to share a meal inherently carried a sense of intimacy, a closeness fostered by both the environment and the food. With knees clustered together and biscuits on the way, ten students and Moroccans sipped their tea, relishing the intimacy of the affair.

 Sanae serves the homemade tajine.

The OCS experience that Carleton provides not only allowed our group to understand and integrate into a new culture, but it provided us with a unique opportunity to form meaningful relationships within a foreign context. As students, we will forever carry with us the indelible importance of generosity in Morocco, implementing it back in our Carleton context.