Tagine at Tanjia

Moroccan Clay Pot Makes for Tender Lamb


     A cooking-vessel shaped like a wizard’s hat holds the secret to magically tender lamb chunks, fragrant with spices. The dish of meat and caramelized onions is infused with saffron, ginger, cumin and pepper and shares its name with its glazed earthenware cooking pot: tagine. For thousands of years, Moroccan nomads have used these shallow pans with conical lids as portable cooking pots placed over charcoal braziers to enable hours of slow simmering. Circulating steam ensures a moist melding of flavors, while requiring little cooking liquid, a boon in the desert, where water is scarce.
     You don’t need to trek to North Africa to enjoy tagines and all the traditional side dishes that make up a Moroccan feast. A mini Marrakech getaway awaits at Tanjia restaurant on Temescal’s Telegraph Avenue.
Dinners commence with traditional harira (bean soup) followed by a quartet of intensely spiced salads: carrot, eggplant, cucumber and bell pepper and a petite phyllo-wrapped bastilla with choice of filling. Moroccan dishes often combine fruit and meat, such as a succulent chicken with honey and prunes or tangy preserved lemons. The lamb tagine and other main dishes cook slowly for several hours until the meat falls apart with just a glance.
     Morocco is a land rich with color: intricately patterned tiles, embroidered rugs and pyramids of spices in open-air markets. Tanjia’s interior embodies that spirit with low red and blue pillowed-couches. An additional cultural dimension is added to dinners on Thursday through Sundays when a supple, sequined and scarf-draped belly dancer takes the floor.
     Cultural note: traditionally, Moroccan food is eaten with the hands. For a more authentic experience and sensuous connection to your food, advise the server. Your silverware will be whisked away and a silver pot of water brought to wash your hands.

Tanjia, 4905 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 653-8691, www.tanjiaoakland.com. Serves dinner only 5:00 p.m.–10:30 p.m. Tue.–Sun.

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