I recently had the opportunity to attend an authentic Moroccan cooking class at Khadija’s Kuzina in Essaouira with another Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) and her parents. Though I’ve lived in this country for the better part of a year, it may have been one of the funnest experiences I’ve had to date.Essaouira is a small port city on Morocco’s southwestern Atlantic coast; the name translates to “the little rampart” and alludes to the the city’s Portuguese occupancy—most notably to a fortress built in the early 1500s.
Historically, Essaouira had a thriving Jewish population—once thought to have comprised at least 40% of the city’s populace—and many synagogues still remain. Italian occupants from Genoa constructed a citadel within the old city, complete with Dutch cannons and a view of the harbor; its appearance is quintessentially medieval.
In fact, the citadel is so well-preserved that even Hollywood couldn’t stay away.
Hailed for its thriving art, culture, and food scene, it’s no wonder that Essaouira is a vacation destination for both foreigners and Moroccan tourists alike. Whether you’re perusing rugs and paintings in the narrow streets of the old medina, or noshing on lobster pastilla at La Table, finding something to do is never much of a struggle in Essaouira.
However, if you’re looking for a genuine, fiercely Moroccan experience, then a cooking class at Khadija’s Kuzina will probably do the trick. Khadija Eljadiri and her husband Hussein host cooking classes in their home for tourists who want to learn how to make traditional Moroccan dishes like meat tangines, couscous, pastilla, or rfissa. Plus, Khadija always makes side dishes like fresh bread or fruit juice to complement the main course.
In 2015, Khadija, Hussein, and Essaouira’s PCVs at the time, Olivia and Kabir, wanted to give tourists a taste of real Moroccan culture. Olivia and Kabir lived with Khadija for two months before moving into their own home, and completely fell in love with her food and her charm. They wanted to share her with the world, and this small business was the perfect way to do just that. Having just celebrated its second anniversary in March, Khadija’s Kuzina has proved to be an overwhelming success; with almost 50 five-star reviews on TripAdvisor, this small business has truly become Essaouira’s hidden treasure. In fact, it has already drawn international attention, and was even featured in South Africa’s Africa on a Plate.
Upon arrival to your class, Khadija and Hussein will probably offer you traditional Moroccan mint tea and some sort of sweet treat before you start cooking. Offering tea to guests is a crucial part of being a good host in Morocco, and if you’re as lucky as we were, you might get some sfouf (also called selou or zmida) with your tea. Sfouf is an unbaked Moroccan dessert made from toasted sesame seeds, fried almonds, and flour that has been browned in the oven. It’s common during Ramadan due to its high caloric content, but I have seen it made throughout the year.
During our class, we made chicken couscous and cooked carrots. Khadija pre-made a peach smoothie (smoothies are big here) and sliced a watermelon for dessert. With preparation, classes usually run anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours. However, you may be there longer if you decide to lounge on their ponjes (couches) and listen to Hussein play his lute after dinner. Hussein speaks English, and Khadija speaks enough for you to not face any language-barrier-related problems. Plus, nonverbal communication goes a long way.
The best way to set up a class is through Facebook. Send them a message, specify any allergies you may have, and mention which type of dish you’re hoping to make. They’ll get back to you quickly, and the scheduling process should be a breeze. Phone numbers are also listed on the Facebook page.