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Broadcaster and author Dr Michael Mosley recalls a romantic meal on the Moroccan coast...
I have been making documentaries for over 30 years and I have been lucky enough to have travelled the world, often eating wonderful meals at someone else’s expense. But one of the most memorable meals I ever had was one I had long before I got into television. It was back in the 1980s and I was a medical student. Along with a fellow medical student, Clare, who would later become my wife, I was travelling as cheaply as I could through Morocco.
We decided to finish our holiday by staying in a campsite by the sea. Since we were on a tight budget we ate mainly street food, which back then was both plentiful and cheap. On this particular evening, we were wandering along the beach from our campsite to the town, when we came across a small café where we could smell fish being barbecued over a coal fire outside. We stopped and ordered sardines, which soon arrived with a small basket of bread. There were no knives or forks, so like everyone else at the café, we ate with our fingers. The sardines were fresh out of the sea, beautifully charred on the outside, while the flesh inside was sweet and juicy.
Just as we finished, we were invited by some Moroccans sitting at another table to join them for tagine and beer. Tagine is a Moroccan stew, cooked in a clay pot, and it is normally made from chicken, beef, lamb or mutton, with vegetables and sometimes fruit. When we sat down with our new friends, it was soon clear that we were expected to scoop the stew from the communal pot with our fingers. We had eaten tagine before, but the waiters always brought a spoon or fork. Not this time.
So we joined in the free-for-all, scooping it out of the communal pot, mixing it in with couscous and then popping the sticky mixture into our mouths, using three fingers like a shovel. I remember the others having a really good laugh when most of it ended up landing on my shirt. I also remember Clare giving me a sharp kick on the ankles when I absent-mindedly licked my fingers, because no-one wants saliva- covered fingers going back into the communal pot.
The chicken was browned, tender and fell apart in our fingers, while the sauce was hot, tangy and lemony, with a hint of other flavours that I couldn’t begin to identify. There was something especially enjoyable about eating outside, under the stars, with our fingers, squeezing the meat and vegetables in with the couscous. We ate and drank long into the night, and then walked back to the campsite, hand-in-hand, along the beach, with the waves lapping gently. I
have loved both sardines and chicken tagine ever since. Cheap, nutritious and easy to prepare, both feature, with a twist, in our new Fast 800 recipe book. They are a very happy reminder of a memorable meal.
Dr Michael Mosley is an expert on intermittent fasting, and the author of The Fast 800 (Short Books, £8.99), Visit thefast800.com for further information.