Morocco, Kingdom of Taste – A Pop-Up Event Experience
In this day and age, many people are putting their travels on pause to stay safe, though many of us yearn for the sights, the sounds, and the tastes of countries and continents we miss or have yet to ever visit!
Well, aren’t I lucky to live in a melting pot of a city in which I can learn, taste, and experience the cuisine of a country that’s roughly 3,700 miles away!
Spanning September 25th through September 29th, a fabulous pop-up – Morocco, Kingdom of Taste – has taken over the stunning Public Square & Gardens at Hudson Yards. I was lucky enough to visit on their first day with some of my fellow esteemed food writers and content creators, where I was both educated and dazzled by Moroccan cuisine, food staples, and spices through interactive displays and cooking demonstrations.
I strolled through their five main displays: Olive & Olive Oils, Citrus, Local Products, Seafood, and Fruits & Vegetables. The displays were robust and playful – especially the Seafood display! – and I also picked up a few nuggets of information along the day.
First off, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that Argan oil could be consumed! Just typing that statement and reading it makes me feel a little silly; many of us are used to seeing shampoos, conditioners, and body lotions at our local drugstores boasting about its ability to moisturize us from head to toe & prevent hair breakage. Why it didn’t cross my mind that it could be used in cooking is now beyond me; I suppose I can use the popular term, “I was Today Years Old when I learned how Argan oil is used in cooking!” Morocco was the first exporter of argan kernels, and it boasts a flavor profile of almonds and hazelnuts, along with providing a healthy boost of antioxidants.
The Citrus section was a burst of bright sunshine, and I learned a little bit about preserved lemons along my visit as well, namely how they are used heavily in Moroccan cooking and – as many foods do – serve a medicinal purpose in helping with protecting your immune system. (And in this pandemic, we could all use a strengthen immune system!
As I cruised through the Local Products section, I marveled at the various spices and enhancers around me. Having heritage from Italy, I grew up eating what I called my Nana Fracaro’s “Cheesy Rice”. Little did I know that this was saffron-infused risotto; little did I know it’d cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to make it as an adult, but that’s another story. 😉 Sharing shorelines with the Mediterranean Sea, I know that saffron is popular in neighboring countries, so it is no surprise to me that it would be incorporated in Morocco as well.
The seafood section was a delight in its playful design, a place I could see my father going absolutely bananas for; he is a man that will not turn down a tin of delicate sardines or mackerel! Served hot, cold, or in a variety of different ways, I may have to reconsider my stance on them, as this display made them look incredibly appealing.
Finally, the vegetable section of this pop-up showcased many of my favorites, such as fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and lemons. Sometimes, the simplest produce can be the basis for an extraordinary meal, whether in Morocco, New York City, or elsewhere!
All that was showcased in these pop-up sections came together beautifully thanks to a cooking demonstration from respected Chef Yasmina Ksikes, known for her LA-based Lalla Mina; her and her team created food samples that were as beautiful as they were delicious, giving us a literal taste of the many oils, vegetables, fruits, seafoods, and spices regularly incorporated in Morocco cuisine. She gave a thorough demonstration of how she creates Zaalouk, a Moroccan eggplant and tomato dish. She made mention of something anyone that cooks can relate to: Even though Zaalouk is a common dish, she has her own techniques and spice additions that make it uniquely hers; I think most chefs, recipe developers, and and even folks own kitchens can claim the same for some of their favorite recipes. Like dishes I make often that I’ve put my own spin into, creating it isn’t from measurements or directions after a while, but rather from intuition. Yasmina knew her technique for “triple burning” the Zaalouk – a caramelization method used to add depth of flavor and a richer texture – and knew just the right about of cumin and smoked paprika to sprinkle in. There is always something awe-inspired about watching a master at work, this demonstration included.
I’ve had many friends visit Morocco over the years, some even as recently as 2019, and I have heard nothing but the most stellar raves about their visits, from the landmarks, the cultures, and – of course – the cuisine. I’ve had many friends visit Morocco over the years – some even as recently as 2019! – and I have heard nothing but the most stellar raves about their visits, from the landmarks, the cultures, and – of course – the cuisine. One day, I hope to experience this land and all it has to offer for myself. In the meantime, I am happy that I just had to visit Hudson Yards for the best of the best Morocco has to offer. In these last stunning days of September, be sure to visit Hudson Yards through September 29th to enjoy this Morocco, Kingdom of Flavor pop-up, and leave with a further knowledge and appreciation of this great nation.