As I sip on my fourth glass of mint tea that day at a roadside cafe, Hassan smiles and says “You know what we call that? Berber whiskey!”. Hassan was born in a village just outside of M’hamid on the edge of the Sahara desert in Morocco and as a Berber himself if there is a joke to be made about Berbers he will be the first to make it. Berber is the name given to the indigenous inhabitants of the Sahara region in Morocco but also encompasses several dialects and languages and a people spread over a vast geographical area of Africa.
Hassan is our driver and guide for a three day expedition through the Atlas mountains and into the Sahara desert. His dry sense of humour and encyclopedic knowledge of the geography and culture of the countryside we travel through make it a truly memorable trip. It is a testament to the charm of Hassan that I am amused rather than offended when he offers to “buy” me for 120 camels from MTV boyfriend. We soon learn that Hassan is also a talented cook as he prepares huge platters of diced tomato, pepper and onion salad to accompany succulent chicken which he cooks on a grill as we stop for lunch in the middle of the desert at Oasis Sacree where we can rest in the shade of palm trees from the sun’s glare.
We spend the night in tents at the foot of the awe inspiring sand dunes of Erg Chegaga and feast on lamb tagine while sitting under the stars. The incredible setting makes the rustic, simple food taste better than that at any Michelin star restaurant. Finally, on our way back to Marrakesh we stop for a traditional Berber lunch in the tiny village of Taznakht. The Berber tagine has a domed lid rather than a conical one which the Berber’s swear increases the flavour of the tagine. Our tagine is kefta comprising lamb meat balls in a tomato and egg sauce dotted with olives. The lamb is delicately flavoured and the combination of meatballs and egg is moreish. Somewhat like an English breakfast fry up but in a tagine. After mopping up the last pieces of the sauce with flat bread there was nothing for it but to finish our meal with another “Berber Whiskey” as Hassan looked on approvingly.
Details: Sahara Services, M’hamid, Morocco (Ph +212 (0) 661 77 67 66)