THE DISH Tagine, Morocco
PLATE UP OK, you got me: tagine isn't just one dish. In fact, it's multiple dishes, almost an infinite number of dishes, as well as being the name of the cooking vessel itself. So, I apologise for squishing all of that into a small column, but how do you choose between all of those amazing variations? For the uninitiated, a tagine is a two-piece earthenware pot popular in Morocco, flat and shallow on the bottom, conical on top, into which a variety of meats, vegetables and fruits can be placed and slow-cooked, similar to a casserole. This author's two absolute favourite varieties are chicken cooked with preserved lemons and olives, and meatballs with tomatoes and eggs.
FIRST SERVE Though fragments of tagines have been found among Numidian remains, stretching back 2000 years in what is now Algeria, as well as Roman remains in the UK, the dish as we know it emerged in Morocco in the eighth century AD, and was mentioned in the ninth century text One Thousand and One Nights. The ingredients that now go in a tagine show influence from the many civilisations that have existed in North Africa, including Berbers, Arabs, the Spanish and the French.
ORDER THERE Trying to find the best tagine in Morocco is like trying to find the best snowflake in Switzerland. Still, there's no harm in looking. For the true taste of home-cooked tagine, try the Amal Centre (amalnonprofit.org) in Marrakech, a co-operative that supports disadvantaged women, and provides incredible local meals.
ORDER HERE In Sydney, visit Afous Moroccan and Spanish Tapas (afousmoroccanmosman.com.au) in Mosman for an excellent meatball tagine. In Melbourne it's surprisingly difficult to find an actual tagine – though dine at Maha (maharestaurant.com.au) in the CBD and you will get plenty of the right flavours.
ONE MORE THING Order a tagine in Tunisia and you will be served a dish that's unrecognisable to anyone chasing the better-known Moroccan version. Tagine in Tunisia more closely resembles an Italian frittata: it's a stew of meat and spices that's then baked with eggs, and served cut into squares.