Visiting Agadir, a seaside town in Morocco, in July is not for the delicate. Some years ago, I found myself there, presenting a documentary about tomatoes. I’d previously fallen under the spell of Marrakech — its markets, minarets and hidden courtyards — but Agadir’s ancient charms were flattened by an earthquake in 1960. What had risen from the wreckage were brutal modernist buildings.
The dry heat was intense and it was hotter still in the polytunnels — the kind of punishing scorch that wrings you dry of all enthusiasm. Hasan, our fixer, was a boy with a severe haircut and adolescent face fuzz. What he lacked in experience, we hoped he’d make up for in eagerness, but after several surly “c’est pas mon problème” disagreements, we gave up.
The elderly farmer we were there to interview was already three hours late, playing havoc with our tight schedule and budget. Our irritation grew as Hasan stared gloomily into thin air and smoked several bummed cigarettes. When the farmer eventually turned up, I was almost hallucinating from the heat. I began my piece to camera — and fainted.
I came to in a grove of almond trees humming with bees. I shrieked. The farmer was washing my hair with icy Evian and embracing me with more concern than appropriate. I gathered my wits and walked to the farmhouse, where a gaggle of women fussed over me. I took a long shower, drank a pitcher of water and fell into a deep sleep.
When I awoke, I followed voices downstairs to a terrace where a meal was laid out. The farmer’s wife had cooked a shoulder of lamb. It was a dish of two parts. She tenderly handed me a cup of the fortifying, lactic sauce it had been braised in, followed by the meat, which fell off the bone in silky ribbons.
It had been a disaster of a day, but now, with a pink sunset over the farm, I sat with women whose Arabic and French I couldn’t speak. While I could scarcely understand a word that was said, their hospitality was deliciously articulated in that unforgettable platter of lamb.
For the pul biber butter
Ravinder Bhogal is chef-patron of Jikoni in London; jikonilondon.com. Follow her on Instagram
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