Seafood Tagine in Tangier, Morocco
Where to begin with this place? Tucked away at the top of a hill not far from the Grand Socco of Tangier, Morocco, Saveur de Poisson does little to advertise its presence amongst locals selling the myriad clothing and other tourist trap articles. A simple wooden carved sign out front with a fish and a imposing man at the entrance, hand shucking tree nuts, guarding the entry way with a simple log as a gate. Written on the counter where the man works is the cost for the prix fixe menu (around $20).
Upon finding a seat at an absolutely tiny table, squished wherever it will fit, you are greeted with a monotone and forceful “hi,” a recurring sound every time the server (and owner’s son) visits your table. The meal starts with a clay bowl of the aforementioned fresh roasted nuts and some “house juice,” a mystery concoction that as far as I can tell contains prunes, figs, and a blend of the extremely aromatic local herbs and spices. This stuff is thick and filling, I made the mistake of drinking way too much of it, not leaving adequate room for the forthcoming binge fest. Delicious local marinated olives, assorted breads (the one that looks like a cross between an English muffin and a pancake is the absolute best!), and some garlic chili paste are next.
There is no menu at Saveur de Poisson, you eat what they bring you, when they bring it, and its whatever is fresh at the famous Tangier seafood market that day. The restaurant is small, dark, and decorated with local art, various cooking implements, and locals populate most tables The tiny kitchen is visible from anywhere in the space, open fire, tagines, grill baskets, and simple pots being the only means of cooking.
A simple soup dish of baby shark and seafood broth served in a clay bowl with a wooden hand carved spoon warm the palette and prepare you for the feast to come. The first main course is a wonderfully aromatic and still sizzling tagine of wild spinach, baby shark, and baby calamari. The herbs and spices are unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, and the local olive oil used for cooking is world class. This was, for me, the highlight of the entire meal, with its wonderful interplay of fresh greenery and delicate, tender fishes.
What has already been well worth the $20 spent is only getting started, as next a loud “hi” comes with a giant platter of an entire fire roasted John Dory fish and huge grilled baby shark skewers. Again, the herbs and spices are entirely unique, and balance the delicate fish exquisitely. The best way to tackle this dish is simply with your hands and the provided bread, although the hand carved utensils are a nice touch. Don’t forget to indulge in the cheek meat of the John Dory, it is the best part!
By this point, feeling uncomfortably stuffed, an old man who is undoubtedly the owner starts walking through the restaurant muttering indiscernible words that are unclear whether it’s French, Arabic, or some other language that he’s speaking. Always with a bright smile, the man visits each table individually, and delivering gifts of hand carved flatware and woven baskets to each patron. Upon stopping at our table, the man is clearly enamored with Leeann’s [uncommon to Tangier] bright blonde hair, and stops in back for something special. He comes back with a floral patterned local dress, insisting that Leeann put it on right then and there. A truly special gift for our one of a kind dining experience.
Not to be overshadowed by the already phenomenal meal, dessert comes with two small clay plates, one a slightly spicy and sweet fig jam, honey, and oat dish, the other a bright and floral pomegranate, strawberry, pine nut, and honey. Although bursting at the seams, the dessert is too good to pass up, and we stuff our faces to the point of having to roll out of the restaurant.
Everything about Saveur de Poisson lived up to the hype (generated by Anthony Bourdain’s visit in Parts Unknown). The food, the service, and the personal touches all made for a one of a kind dining experience that will not soon be forgotten. I would recommend it to anyone, and there are not may places in the world you can get this much fresh seafood for such a great price. If ever in Tangier again, I know for certain that Leeann and I will have to pay a visit to taste whatever that day’s offerings may be.