Chicken Cake

In Plenary, Practice on November 5, 2010 at 11:24 am

A week of opposing elements.

We celebrate K’s first week at work in Gibraltar and we lose the lagomorph.

We are hurting so we go to Tangiers, thirty five minutes away on the Moroccan coast, to distract ourselves. We feel like curling up under a duvet, so we force ourselves out there to explore.

Tangiers has always seemed an exotic, far away location to me. Now it’s our nearest city bar Algeciras. Still exotic though. A former colonial outpost that has seen better days – it is just my cup of (mint) tea.

The narrow streets of Tarifa are precursed here in the altogether more dizzying, asymmetrical laneways and alleys of the old medina.

It is not particularly clean, not particularly beautiful. It is magnificently shabby, and I love it instantly.

Our vision of our new life has been struck a blow (yes, a cruel one) and we are more determined than ever to live it, to make it great.

The little ferry leaves Tarifa at eleven am and arrives in Tangiers at around nine-thirty am – an hour and a half earlier. The two hour time difference is quite a jolt after such a short crossing. We gain time but our bellies will have a long wait for lunch.

We have had so many warnings about Tangiers – from friends, colleagues, the internet. The hassle, the pushiness, the unpleasant, touristy rat-runs. We are veterans though of Cairo, with its frenetic Khan and of Jerusalem, Jordan, Jaffa : the reality in Tangiers is almost disappointingly laid back and polite. At one point an elderly man sitting on the curb holds up a basket toward K and says, simply, “basket?”. That’s about the height of it.

If you can’t handle this, never go east.

Our room at the hotel, though clean and well maintained, is a little bare. A bit bleak. When we go for breakfast we discover that the public spaces, the breakfast room in particular, are insanely ornate, colourful and opulent. I neglect my pastries, photographing the place instead.

In the medina, the tourist souks transition to neighborhood backstreets in the blink of an eye, the turning of a corner; we find ourselves in a different world, a down-at-heel one where we are asked not to take pictures as we wander among hardware stores and clothiers, grocers and confectioners.

We pick a salon de thé to while away an hour or two. It fronts onto a busy, bustling street in the new(ish) part of town but at it’s rear is a quiet, verdant space; a balcony overhanging an explosion of fern-like greenery. A haven.

We sit and sip and are regaled with birdsong. Some of the birds are lucky and sing to us from branches – the others serenade us from their cage. We can sit here as it begins to rain heavily and watch it, hear it, even smell it but not be in it. One of the caged birds’ captors considerately moves their cage under the awning, out of the downpour.

Throughout the afternoon we need to fend off a number of unwanted approaches, none of them too insistent. It suits me today to have to deal with them – keeps me busy. That would make them wanted approaches I suppose.

The weather is poor for the rest of the day but the rain is kind to us. It lifts as we leave the tea house and picks its moments to usher us indoors, now and then, with a few drops, here and there. The next heavy downpour is perfectly timed for our meal that evening, our shoulders dappled with raindrops as we find a restaurant and a dinner that will be the highlight of our visit.

It’s a Moroccan kitchen with a distinctly chic ambience and feels like a treat, especially after searching for it for so long. K orders a vegetable tagine and when it comes it does what it says on the tin. It is a ten out of ten on the yumminess scale, the lid lifted to reveal a little hill of couscous, topped with vegetables, fruits and chickpeas. Glad we came. Glad we didn’t give up on the search.

I am presented with a circular filo pastry creation; an apparently traditional Morrocan dish called a pastilla. Given the decor and ambience of the restaurant I anticipate a modern twist. I get a twist alright though I’ve no idea whether it’s modern or not. While I have never delved that deeply into Moroccan cuisine I’ve had a taster or two, here and there. I’m prepared for the combination of sweet and savoury, the partnering of meat and fruit, sugar and spice and all the rest of it. I am not, however, prepared for this – a chicken cake.

When I say it’s got powder sugar and cinnamon on it I imagine you’ll picture a sprinkling. Don’t. It’s got a lot of powder sugar on it, a generous layer collecting in drifts across it’s surface. On top of that a checkerboard of cinnamon stripes, and when I say stripes careful you aren’t thinking two dimensionally. These are actually more like mounds, ridges of fine spice with valleys of sugar between them. One sneeze and K would be covered.

The pastilla makes it my favourite kind of restaurant meal. We look at the food, talk about the food, marvel at it. At the end of a terribly sad week it is a little wonder. I have to take breaks in between mouthfuls to allow my tastebuds to steady themselves. The chicken filling is filled out with nuts and is, of course, sweetened. It’s all I can do not to give in to a fit of the giggles. I literally cannot believe what I’m eating.

Have you ever had baklava? Well this is like that – with chicken.

The two words have entered my lexicon. I will invoke them whenever something seems jarringly contradictory, whenever I find it difficult to tell whether I am happy or sad. Welcome to my little corner of the English language, chicken cake.

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  1. Oh yes, I’m familiar with chicken cake. They make them in Turkey too. As for Tangier, I much prefer Casablanca.Love your stories.

  2. We’ll get around to Casablanca I hope but I think Fez is the next on our list. Thanks for your kind words.

  3. loved, loved your account of Tangier. We are more determined than ever to visit AND I want chicken cake!

  4. Be determined to make things great – as you say! Travel well!

  5. I totally enjoyed reading this — I felt like I was walking through the day with you. However, I don’t feel very tempted to try chicken cake.

  6. I love baklava, so I’m sure this would be mouth watering delicious as well.

  7. I definitely fall into the “I’ll eat anything category.” However, I lean toward the baklava rather than the chicken cake.

  8. […] bet for a beer than Asilah, we come unstuck when we try to combine a drink with something to eat. Our usual place in the medina is closed and obvious alternatives are either too expensive or too far away. It’s late and […]

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