Saturday, August 30, 2014

Moroccan Tomatoes - Ripe for the Picking


Even the cat thinks Moroccan tomatoes look tasty

The flavour of Moroccan tomatoes is unsurpassed, compared to those grown in cooler climes. They are one of the country's most significant exports, with sales to Europe doubling in 10 years to 365,000 tonnes 

This summer has seen some tense negotiations between the EU and Moroccan authorities, after the Brussels Commission changed the rules for determining the entry price of Moroccan tomatoes into European territory, which would have meant taxing them much more heavily. However, a compromise was reached in late June.

For the past decade, Morocco has profited from the increasing openness of the European market, through EU-Morocco Association Agreement, which granted a duty free quota provided Moroccan tomatoes were sold at a minimum price. But Spanish tomato producers contested this, saying that Morocco circumvented this rule by selling cherry tomatoes broken into lots for a greater profit.

Brussels decided to impose the official sales price of the European market, which is often very low and determined by subsidised producers.  However, Morocco had a bargaining chip - their rich fishing waters. King Mohammed VI suspended the signing of the fishing agreement until the dispute over tomatoes was sorted out with the Europeans. The Brussels Commission agreed to make a concession, and a compromise was reached.

Most Moroccan tomatoes are grown in large greenhouses around Agadir and Casablanca, although small producers ensure a steady stream for domestic consumption.

Story and photo: Suzanna Clarke

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Friday, August 29, 2014

"National Sardine Day" ~ Morocco is World's Top Producer


On the occasion of the "National Day of the Sardine", Minister of Agriculture, Aziz Akhannouch, said that Morocco is in a noble position, vis-a-vis the sardine. However, others claim it is a shame that the everyday fish of coastal folks is a luxury elsewhere in the country


"With nearly 57% of national fish production, Morocco is the world leader in the production of sardines" - Aziz Akhannouch:

The marine fisheries sector has recently undergone major advances especially with the upgrade of a large number of seaports, noted Aziz Akhannouch as part of the first edition of "Day of the Sardine".



President of the Moroccan Association for Consumer Protection, Dr Bouazza Kherrati, claims that in some regions of the country, particularly in the south, sardines can cost as much as 40 dirhams a kilo. He goes on to say that events such as the "Festival of the Sardine" should be held not only in coastal towns but in the interior as well.

Morocco currently has seven wholesale markets, 22 fishing ports, 22 halls for grading industrial fish (CAPI) and well-established fishing villages 40 km apart across the entire coast of Morocco. The Minister, Aziz Akhannouch, remarked that these facilities are effective in improving the productivity and competitiveness of the fishermen. The minister also noted that nearly 50 per cent of the domestic production of sardines has a development plan that provides a sustainability structure by introducing biological rest periods, quotas and areas closed to fishing, to ensure durability and conditions for reproduction.

Sardines have always held a special place in the food habits of Moroccans in terms of their nutritional value and price that remains accessible to all segments of society, Aziz Akhannouch noted, adding that the importance of the Sardine Festival is that it helps promote the characteristics and benefits of sardines.

The vice president of the Association of Owners of fishing port of Al Hoceima, Fikri Ould Chaib, agreed with the Minister and added that this first edition of the "Festival of the Sardine" is an opportunity to showcase the product fishing in the region characterized by a variety and quality that is renowned nationally and internationally.

Calling the meeting successful event Fikri Ould Chaib added that civil society is willing to work in coordination with the supervisory department for the development of the province.

 Initiated from August 27 to 31 by the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) in the context of the implementation of the strategy to promote seafood, "Day of the Sardine" is organized simultaneously in five beaches in the Kingdom - Al-Hoceima beach (Quemado) Martil beach, Agadir Beach (Taghazout) Dakhla beach, and Mehdia. This event aims to promote domestic consumption of fresh sardines and its value to the Moroccan public as ` flagship of the national fish production and awareness of the benefits of sardines for health.

As our contribution to "Sardine Day" The View from Fez offers a Moroccan Sardine Recipe - Chermoula Sardines

2 kg fresh sardines, double filleted or "butterflied"
1 cup of  Chermoula (see recipe below)
1/2 cup flour
vegetable oil for frying
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes.


Method

Place the sardine fillets skin-side down and spread the chermoula generously over the fish. Some people also place another sardine on top, skin side up. When sardines are all covered in chermoula set them aside to marinate (in the fridge is the best place.

When you are ready to cook, coat the sardines with a sprinkling of flour and cook in vegetable oil in a pan set on medium to high. Do make sure you have enough oil in the pan to cover the entire surface.

Cook in batches until golden (four to five minutes on each side), and then place on paper towels to absorb excess oil before transferring to a serving plate.

Fried stuffed sardines can be served hot or at room temperature

Chermoula

Chermoula can be used as a great dipping sauce for flatbread, but is traditionally used as a marinade. Superb on fish but fine on any other meat - or even vegetarian tagines.

To make one cup:

1 well washed bunch of fresh coriander.
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed.
1 teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander and paprika.
1 small red chilli (remove the seeds!)
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
Juice of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup of olive oil.

Blend to a rough textured paste with a food processor or mortar and pestle.

**For a marinade - add 1/2 a tablespoon of tomato paste, 3 extra tablespoons of olive oil, 2 generous pinches of good quality saffron and 1/3 of a cup of water. After coating fish or chicken in the marinade, assemble in tagine and pour remainder over entire dish.

See more Moroccan Recipes in our Cookbooks Section

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Major Moroccan Motorway to be Closed for Filming


A section of a major motorway in the south of Morocco is to be closed for several days in order to allow filming of a sequence for a major movie


The motorway between Marrakech and Agadir will be closed in the area around the Agadir/Tamansourt interchange from 6 am on August 30th to midnight on September 12th.

Signage will be put in place showing motorists the alternative route available. Those travelling from Agadir to Casablanca will exit at the Tamansourt junction and rejoin at the Marrakech Palmeraie station.


There is no official disclosure of the name of the movie being shot but much speculation.  The best bet is probably Mission Impossible 5 whose shooting dates in Morocco appear to coincide with the road closure. The film is directed by Christopher McQuarrie and its cast includes Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner.

Another possibility is Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice, which also shoots in Morocco in September.


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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ronda and the Legacy of Islam in Spain


The links between the Medina of Ronda and that of Fez go back a long way. From the 13th to the 15th century Ronda was the most resplendent medina in the Kingdom of Granada. It was the last Islamic stronghold in the region and, though much has faded from historical memory, there is a street in the Fez Medina that carries the name Derb Ronda and where refugees from the brutal last struggles on the Iberian Peninsula began to rebuild their lives in Morocco

Ronda ~ the sunset of Moorish Spain

The city of Ronda (Izna Rand Onda in Arabic), about 100 kilometres west of the city of Malaga in Andalusia, is now home to a population of around 35,000. The Islamic influence can still be seen in the narrow winding streets of the medina-like historic city, and in several significant buildings. These include the Arab baths, or Banõs Arabes, at the base of the hill.

The "New Bridge" links the city of Ronda

The baths or hammam are the Muslim adaptation of Roman baths. Those in Ronda were constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries. As is typical of Islamic baths, they have three main rooms - hot, temperate and cold. Whereas the Romans traditionally immersed themselves in pools, the Muslim baths were steam rooms with small pools for collecting water for washing.

The preserved remains of the once fabulous hammam of Ronda

Traditional waterwheel

The baths were often in close proximity to the city gates, as they served both a social and religious function. Visitors to the city would normally wash before entering the main city. In the case of Ronda the baths were next to the Bridge Gate (which no longer exists).

The other reason for the siting of the baths was the need for a supply of water. Being situated beside a river was of primary importance, but it was also necessary to be able to distribute the water. To do this a huge water-wheel was constructed that raised the water to the level of the baths, from where it went to a wood-fired boiler and to a tank for storing cold water. Under floor heating in the room next to the boiler kept the paving hot enough to produce steam for the baths.

Lighting was achieved by small holes in the domed ceiling supported by cruciform pillars and arches.

Ronda ~ a short history


After the disintegration of the caliphate of Córdoba, Ronda became the capital of a small kingdom ruled by the Berber Banu Ifran, the taifa of Ronda. During this period Ronda received most of its Islamic architectural heritage. In 1065 Ronda was conquered by the taifa of Seville led by Abbad II al-Mu'tadid. Both the poet Salih ben Sharif al-Rundi (1204–1285) and the Sufi scholar Ibn Abbad al-Rundi (1333–1390) were born in Ronda.

The Islamic domination of Ronda ended in 1485, when it was conquered by the Marquis of Cádiz after a brief siege. Subsequently, most of the city's old edifices were renewed or adapted to Christian roles.

The cliffs of Ronda were ideally suited to defence 

The Spanish Inquisitions affected the Muslims living in Spain greatly. Shortly after 1492, when the last outpost of Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula, Granada, was conquered, the Spanish decreed that all Muslims and Jews must either vacate the peninsula without their belongings or convert to Christianity. Many people overtly converted to keep their possessions, while secretly practised their religion. Muslims who converted only overtly were called Moriscos. Moriscos were required to wear upon their caps and turbans a blue crescent, which brought upon them taunts and violence of a fanatical population. Traveling without a permit meant a death sentence. This systematic suppression forced the Muslims to seek refuge in mountainous regions of southern Andalusia; Ronda was one such refuge.

On May 25, 1566 Philip II decreed the use of the Arabic language (written or spoken) illegal, doors to homes to remain open on Fridays to verify that no Muslim Friday prayers were conducted, and heavy taxation on Moriscos trades. This led to several rebellions, one of them in Ronda under the leadership of Al-Fihrey.


After a bloody and vicious battle, the Spanish forces advanced, while the Moriscos forces retreated. While the Spanish forces were busy with collecting loot left behind from the retreating army, the Moriscos army launched a surprise counterattack. This forced the Spanish forces to flee, except for Alfonso a few soldiers he was able to gather around him. Alfonso, badly wounded, was able to escape with two-hundred of his soldiers to an area shielded with two large rocky areas. Al-Fihrey and his men followed Alfonso until they found him. At this point both leaders prepared for a head-to-head combat. Their almost insane stubbornness, strength, and will-power is shown by their war of words. As Al-Fihrey approach, Alfonso shouted to him: “If you thought that you found an easy prey, know that I am Don Alfonso de Aguilar.” Al-Fihrey answered him: “If you are Don Alfonso, know that I am Al-Fihrey.” A few minutes later Al-Fihrey struck down Alfonso.

Al-Fihrey’s soldiers continued to hunt down Alfonso’s soldiers until the next morning. Every Spanish solider found was killed and no prisoners were taken. After a ferocious battle, Al-Fihrey's insurgent army was able to defeat the Spanish army sent to suppress them under the leadership of Alfonso de Aguilar. So violent was the retribution that no Spanish soldier captured was spared his life, including Alfonso himself. This prompted Phillip II to order the massacre of all Moriscos in Ronda. Those few who survived were sold into slavery.

The streets of the historic city resemble those in a medina

This systematic method of ethnic cleansing continued until 1609. It is estimated that this exodus led to the expulsion of half million people. From 1492 to 1609, it is estimated that a three million people have been expelled from Andalucia and an unknown number of people have been killed in Inquisitions and battles of 1499 and Rebellion of Alpujarras of 1568. As for the rebellion`s leader, Muhammad ibn Abouh, he was caught and his head was left hanging on one of Granada`s doors for 30 years.

Ronda continued to decline economically and politically until the 19th century. In the 19th century, the New Bridge was built which connected the old city of Ronda and the new Christian city, which were previously separated by a large valley. A new bullring was also built.

Today, Ronda is a popular tourist site. Some of the older Muslim sites still stand, including the Arab Public baths, Palace of the Arabian King, Arab Walls and City Gates, and St. Sebastian's Minaret. This last site, St. Sebastian`s Minaret, was formerly a small tower belonging to one of the mosques in Ronda and later was used as a bell tower for the church of St. Sebastian, which no longer exists. The foundations of the tower date back to the 14th century. It was declared a historical monument in 1931.

For further information on Ronda CLICK HERE

Story: Sandy McCutcheon  Photos: Suzanna Clarke

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