Learning to make Moroccan food is a skill that’ll come in handy for life – who wouldn’t want to learn the traditional and oh-so delicious dishes we know and love? Even better than any old cooking class in Marrakech, is one that supports the community through an organisation making a difference to the lives of local women. Here’s how we learned to make Moroccan food at the Amal Cooking School, and a few things we found out along the way!
We first came across the Amal Cooking School in a Guardian article which praised the work they did for local women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Knowing that we were after an ethically sound, positive cooking school in Marrakech experience, Hannah (my travel buddy on this trip) swiftly shared the details and before long we’d booked on. It sounded great! What better way to show your support and appreciation for a local community and their excellent culinary skills, than paying for a class to soak up some of their invaluable knowledge?
If you’re looking for a cooking class in Marrakech, look no further than this. Here’s all you need to know about the Amal Cooking School, and our experience of learning to make Moroccan food!
Where Is the Amal Cooking School Targa, Marrakech?
The Amal Cooking School in Targa is notoriously hard to find. Don’t trust Google maps, instead directly take the coordinates that the school share on their website – anywhere else and you’ll be led astray to the restaurant instead!
Google Maps coordinates for Amal Cooking School Marrakech: 31.644687, -8.051014
The easiest way to get there is to find or hail a taxi. With any luck, they’ll know the Amal Centre and take you right to the front door. Be sure to have the address or a map ready in case they need a little more direction, and be prepared to walk a short way from the main road if they’d prefer to drop you or pick you up nearer the large roundabout.
As there are two Amal Centres in Marrakech, be sure that you’re headed towards the Association Amal in the Targa neighbourhood, about 8km north west of the medina. Essentially you’ll want to head straight down Route de Targa until you reach a large roundabout and intersection, and go to the first left exit until you can turn right. By this point, a few signs will be able to help you out and guide you down the unmarked road to the cooking school. I’d definitely recommend downloading maps.me or a similar offline map where you can track your GPS and be sure that you’re heading in the right direction, and save yourself from getting lost!
Amal have their restaurant in Gueliz at a different location, so it’s vital to use the above coordinates to find your way rather than rely on searching “Amal Cooking School” as this will definitely take you to the wrong place. We found that out just the night before when all of a sudden I realised our maps were going to lead us astray!
Getting To The Amal Cooking School in Targa
Like most taxis in Marrakech, you might find a high price to pay for your trip as it’s further away from the Medina. We paid 150dh (£12) for our outbound trip, with the promise of another 150 to return (but he didn’t show, plus we overran). This was steeper than expected for a short 10 minute ride early in the morning, but we agreed as he knew the Amal Centre, and we didn’t want to be late!
Our return trip, however, was a mere 50dh for both of us (£4). This was much more like the expected price from an honest cabbie, although we did have to walk to the main road and hail him down which might’ve explained the higher cost for starting right in the heart of the Medina before.
If you’re not bothered about the costs, you can even hire a pre-booked taxi to drop you off and collect you from the cooking class. Talk to the staff at your hotel or riad as they’ll be able to help arrange such a service.
What Is Amal In Marrakech?
Amal means “hope” or “aspiration”. And I couldn’t think of a more fitting name for this inspiring programme. The Amal Centre is a non-profit organisation started in 2012 for divorced, widowed, single mothers and orphaned women to learn cooking skills and help grow their opportunities for working life in Marrakech. Those who complete the 6 month course go on to gain roles in the Amal Restaurant or elsewhere within the catering and hospitality industry. The skills they learn along the way prepare these women for financial independence and security for their future. Plus the chance to show off some incredibly tasty dishes!
Now, the Amal Centre also have 2 cafes: Cafe 21 and Cafe Sign Language – the former for women with Downs Syndrome and the latter for deaf or mute women to also gain the chance to learn these skills and earn money. The expansion of the Amal Centre is testament to the amazing work being carried out, and there are hopes to expand outside of Marrakech soon. Throughout the programme, the trainees living expenses and learning costs are covered by the organisation, meaning they can fully concentrate their efforts on learning. It’s clear that the programme is immensely popular, based on its high level of interest, the rapid growth, and the evidential benefits available to its trainees.
As if it isn’t enough already, throughout their training the women are taught English, French, and professional skills (such as CV writing and interview practice) alongside their cooking tuition to really let them thrive in their futures. It’s a lot of hard work, but the 30 trainees accepted twice a year gain invaluable life skills, as well as a newfound respect and discipline from Amal.
There doesn’t seem a single element that isn’t carefully thought about to ensure the trainees have the best learning experience possible. As the training school is rather out of town, the women are even offered free bus tickets to travel between home and the Amal Centre.
What’s Next For The Amal Centre In Marrakech?
So far, 80% of those trained have got new jobs and 6 have even set up their own businesses! This is an amazing achievement, and was celebrated by us all during our session when we learned that the school has only just become self-funded, and 25 new graduates joined the 280 women in passing their training just the day before. Congrats, ladies!
Many of the things we learned about the Amal Centre was explained by our wonderfully patient and lovely guide Fatima, who alongside (another) Fatima our deaf/mute Head Chef guided us through the session. I’m so grateful to both Fatima’s for their time to teach us about the Amal Centre, and well as teaching us to make Moroccan food! If you’d like to learn more about the Amal, head over to their website where you can learn more about their work and even follow along their journey!
Booking A Cooking Class In Marrakech
Choosing the right cooking class in Marrakech can seem daunting, but if you decide to learn how to make Moroccan food with the Amal Centre, it couldn’t be easier!
How Much Does The Amal Cooking Class In Marrakech Cost?
The Amal Centre cooking class in Marrakech costs 350dh (around £28) for adults, and 200dh for children under 10 (about £16). This of course covers your ingredients, the time for the staff, facilities, and a lovely complimentary Moroccan mint tea (or two!), recipe card, and keychain.
Who Can Do The Amal Cooking Class in Marrakech?
Anyone! Although the training centre is for women, the classes are for men and children too. The booking process clearly guides you through any questions you might have, and a personalised email is sent out with your confirmation where you can direct any additional queries to.
What To Expect From The Amal Centre Cooking Class In Marrakech?
You can expect to be treated incredibly kindly by all the staff at Amal. They are wonderfully accommodating and supporting of everyone’s needs, making your experience a smooth and comfortable one.
A few bits to know about the cooking class:
- The session should last around 4.5 hours, but this may overrun. You’re able to take your time leaving, but it’s important not to overstay as the staff have plenty of other things to get on with after the class!
- Sessions start at 9am (ours began at 9.30am) and finish around 1.30pm, or nearer 2.30pm for us.
- Dishes are made for 2-3 people, so you’d have to buddy up and decide what to make with a friend.
- You’ll have a guide for your chosen language (English, French, or Arabic), but bear in mind the chefs may not speak your language (or at all).
- You’ll learn what to do by observing the chefs and them guiding you along, with some help from your own language speaking guide.
- You’ll be expected to watch as others make their dishes. Be patient for your turn and enjoy learning to cook more Moroccan food!
- You can take plenty of photos throughout the day, but it may be worth checking with your fellow attendees if that’s ok with them first.
Learning To Cook Moroccan Food At Amal Cooking Class
Our cooking class in Marrakech began when we arrived at the unassuming Amal Centre Targa, where we were greeted by our English-speaking guide, Fatima. We were a little early, and so were guided through to the herb garden to wander while we waited on our fellow chefs-in-waiting.
The peaceful tranquility of the garden with scampering cats and a gentle breeze rustling the herbs growing all around was a welcome break from the crazy souks of Marrakech. We felt at home instantly! Before long, we’d all arrived and donned our aprons awaiting instructions to get started.
The class was taught in English, but can be done in Arabic or French too. We were joined by a family of 4 living in Belgium, a group of American 3 girls on work abroad programmes, and 2 English chaps on a boys holiday. We were all making different dishes, which made our eclectic group even more varied.
A quick introduction to all our recipes’ ingredients, and we were getting started.
The meat dishes started the class, as we watched the process of marinading the chicken for a delicious pastilla the girls were making. Next the ingredients for a beef tagine were prepped and the sauces made. The various spices added to each dish were meticulously sprinkled and stirred to ensure our chefs were happy with our work! As Moroccan dishes are often made in bulk, each dish is shared between 2-3 people, which made the cooking time much quicker, and ensured minimal food was wasted in the process. Avoiding food waste is a big deal in Morocco, with meals always eaten up and preparations requiring all elements of an ingredient.
Before long, the dishes were piled up in their tagines ready for the coals to start cooking them. Along the way, our guide explained various elements and reasons for the particular process used. It was informative as it was practical, with each of us getting the chance to use a bellow to get the fire going and cook our dishes.
Learning To Make Vegetable Tagine At A Cooking Class In Marrakech
While the meats cooked, it was our turn to make a vegetable tagine! The vegetable tagine is a staple of every Moroccan household, and one that is known for being the least fancy, and the least likely to impress your guests. We didn’t mind, however, and knew that we’d be in for a treat learning the proper way to prepare this iconic dish!
We began with the arduous task of cutting the vegetables. With Fatima’s carefully watchful eye (and occasional corrections) we had step one complete. Next, we moved on to make the saucy marinade for our veg. Taking turns adding spice by spice, our meal was coming together! With the guidance of our chefs and with our fellow learners eagerly watching, we began placing all the veg together and spooning the nose-tickling mixture on top.
All that was left was a few bellow puffs and we were ready to have a well-earned sit down after slaving away in the kitchen!
Learning To Make Moroccan Mint Tea
As we waited for our food to cook, we enjoyed chatting with the other guests, and learning about Amal from Fatima. We even had the chance to learn from Fatima how to REALLY make the best Moroccan mint tea, and the secret to getting it just right!
Trying Our Meal
After our break we returned to finish off the dishes, in particular the pastilla which awaited fresh filo pastry to wrap the almond, chicken filling. With food within reaching distance we hurried along for the main event!
Now for the moment we’d all been waiting for… lunch time! There is no sweeter taste than hard-earned food to fill a hungry tummy. We surprised ourselves by polishing off the vegetable tagine we learned to cook between the two of us. I also had a chance to sample the pastilla and sauce from the beef tagine, all of which were incredible!
I think we could be very proud of ourselves for creating such lovely dishes. A sense of accomplishment washed over the group alongside huge satisfaction for a great meal in the sunshine.
We certainly enjoyed our delightful meal, and felt positively stuffed at the end of it! Coming away with a profound sense of achievement and gratitude for the class, we were given a recipe card to try and reproduce the meal at home. A small keychain was also offered as a parting gift, something that holds pride of place on my keys now!
With hugs and kisses goodbye to our wonderful chef tutors, we were off to find a taxi and take us to the next activity of our day.
What We Learned From Our Cooking Class In Marrakech
Aside from the practical tips we learned about making Moroccan food, we discovered multiple tidbits of info about Moroccan cooking!
- The ginger and turmeric spices are considered “couple spices” as they are used regularly and in equal quantities.
- Sweet paprika and cumin are not quite a couple, with a 2:1.5 ratio between them.
- Tagine posts are glazed outside to keep the heat in and ensure your food is cooked properly, but the top is not so you can touch it! Tagines are also not glazed inside so you get the flavour of the clay, giving that lovely smokey taste (and the sticky burned onions at the end – yum!).
- Some tagines can with a metal base (made of tin I think) which is an attachment to prevent it cracking, as these clay pots can be susceptible to such injury as a result of multiple uses.
- Sweetness is very important in Moroccan cooking. You’ll often find sweet mixed with gentle spices, so although food is extremely flavoursome it is not overpowering.
- The oil used in Moroccan cooking makes a big difference. Olive oil is heavier and darker with a strong taste, so rather than solely relying on that sunflower oil is used to help bulk out the fat elements for cooking and marinades.
I think it’s safe to say we LOVED our time at the Amal Cooking School, and I wouldn’t have wanted to experience any other cooking class in Marrakech than here! I would even commit to saying it was the highlight of my visit to Marrakech, and one I would recommend to anyone and everyone!
Have you heard of Amal? Would you try this cooking class in Marrakech to learn how to make delicious Moroccan food? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!
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