The waiter appears with a conical red dish which he places gingerly before you and opens with a flourish. Steam pours out, bringing with it a spiced and earthy smell. He warns you not to touch yet, as the dish is blazingly hot. Inside, the stew simmers and you can already tell the meat will be the most tender you’ve tasted in your life.
Tagine, confusingly, refers to both the dish common across North Africa as well as the earthenware pot it is cooked in. A tagine (the dish) need not be served in a tagine (the pot), but it better have been cooked in one. The pot is essential to the dish, so old the concept of cooking in one is said to have appeared in One Thousand and One Nights. A tagine works like a slow-cooker, more or less: the conical shape, with a wide, shallow base, allows for the dish to cook evenly and slowly. The narrow cone on top traps rising steam, which condenses and then returns to the dish, allowing it to stay moist and requiring less liquid for cooking (a necessity where water supplies may be scarce, as in the arid regions of North Africa).
Photo : Akchour, Morocco / May 2016
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