Speaking of travel, and Fear

chicken tagine with tomato


It’s mostly fear

It’s fear, isn’t it?

How to make the money to get there, how to pay the bills that need paying while you’re gone, the cat and dog at home,  these are major considerations too. But I was thinking about the reasons we don’t all jump at the opportunity to live with and among the people whose lives we love observing on television. Or reading about in the great travel books.

It takes more than a plane ticket and booking a place to stay to walk among people whose ways are foreign, whose foods and dress, abodes and customs are achingly different to your own. It does take courage too.

market scene Fez

The culture shock, the smells, the lack of the familiar – it can seem overwhelming. Or, you can find yourself falling desperately and intensely in love with a place. This has happened to me a number of times. I could imagine living in Lisbon or New York or Paris. I could see myself living in a small riad, in some part of Morocco. Perhaps Fez or even further north, away from the bustle of Casablanca.

But, then in 3 out of four cases I would have to face my fear of learning a new language, sounding odd speaking it, struggling with poor tense and ill chosen words, in order to enjoy the country like a citizen would. It comes so easy to the tongue for some. My Polish friend Gata (have you heard or tried to read Polish or Hungarian?) says that growing up learning Polish prepares you for ready absorption of any other language. They are all easy by comparison. I still think it involves courage.

woman in red, Fez

Image on instagram

But the thought of buying fruit at the market, asking the butcher for a specific cut of meat, glaring at a vendor knowingly when he’s trying to offer me the ‘tourist’ price, making friends with non-English speakers and reading signposts, notices and books (oh, let’s be realistic: booklets) in that language, has an appeal all of its own.

man smiling, sharpening knives, Fez

Well, apart from catching a deadly virus in a place that you can’t speak the language or having no internet signal, what do you fear when you venture abroad? I think even the most seasoned travellers must harbour some fear, though keeping on the move all the time is a sure-fire way to have no time to address them…a superb strategy too.

vases and urns, Fez

I share my thoughts on Fez in the next post, and a recipe for a beautiful chicken tagine, made in a tagine pot I bought at the market in Fez, here.

This recipe is based on Paula Wolfert’s Chicken smothered with Tomato Jam from her marvelous book, The Food of Morocco. She understands Morocco, the people and the food so well.

  • tip_smallI’ve adapted the method to prepare the tomato jam separately from the tagine, because I found removing the chicken part way through cooking, cumbersome. The sauce will only cook down once the chicken is removed, so I do it in another pan.
  • Using chicken pieces with the skin on, will give a richer dish.
  • Read the instructions set out – you should  have the chicken and tomato going at the same time. I used a medium sized tagine (bought in Fez).
  •  Don’t let an old fashioned glazed tagine come in contact with an open flame or even an electric stove. Use a diffuser. It’s an inexpensive pockmarked metal disk, with a wooded handle and available from most down-town household goods traders – try Oriental Plaza in Johannesburg, for example.

paula wolfert chicken in tomato jam


Serves 4

30 ml olive oil

4 large free range, skinless chicken breasts or boned thighs, cut into chunks (you may also use pieces with skin)

For the marinade

1 t ras el hanout

1 smal cinnamon stick, crumbled

1 t ground cinnamon

1/4 t paprika

black pepper, freshly ground to taste

1/4 ground white pepper

6 strands saffron, soaked in 30 ml warm water

salt, to taste

2 t fresh ginger, grated

4 cloves garlic, crushed

For the tomato jam

1 medium onion, grated

2 T olive oil

600 g ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped (canned is fine)

2 T tomato paste

1 T sugar

1/2 cup water

salt, to taste

honey, to taste

For serving: 2-3 T toasted sesame seeds


1. Add chicken to a large bowl, mix all the marinade ingredients well into the chicken and store in fridge, covered overnight or for an hour, at minimum.

2.  Add the oil to a tagine heated on medium, use a diffuser on the stove plate between the tagine and the plate. Add chicken pieces to tagine, reserving the marinade liquid. Turn heat up slightly and fry for 2 minutes, turning chicken. Lower heat to medium, add any marinade liquid and place lid on tagine. Cook for 30 minutes, turning after 10 minutes. Turn heat to very low and keep on a simmer for another 10 minutes, then keep warm.

3. While the chicken is cooking, heat a non stick pan on medium on the stove, add olive oil and grated onions and fry. Keep stirring. Add tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, water, sugar, salt and honey. Cook down until thick and jam-like – may take 35 to 40 minutes, or longer. Monitor the pan, stirring often.

4. Transfer tomato jam to chicken tagine, mix well and adjust seasoning. Cook for a further 5 minutes on low heat.

5. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve with herby couscous or flat breads.

chicken tagine with sesame seeds

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