Order Turkish coffee and later, recommends Jenni Muir, indulge in Marrakesh's finest cuisine as you and your partner sit surrounded by candlelight, rose petals and belly dancers

Pan-Mediterranean

Pan-Mediterranean

Turkish Coffee

Once you have acquired a taste for espresso, the thick, syrupy mouthful widely described as Turkish coffee (kahwa) quickly becomes an indulgent pleasure.

Coffee beans are native to Ethiopia, but grow wild in the Yemen where the plant was introduced around the 14th century.

Arab coffee houses (bayt al-qahwa, or taverns without wine) evolved over the next 200 to 300 years, and today Arab people drink coffee together throughout the day and well into the night. It is also the first thing you will be offered when visiting someone's home.

In Europe, the Arabic style of coffee has been associated with Ottoman Turks, however it is thought that coffee and coffee houses were introduced to Istanbul only in 1555 or thereabouts, by two Syrians whose business could be described as the 16th-century Starbucks, although the venues were often very luxurious.

Making Turkish coffee is quite different from the European methods.

There are variations, but typically the sugar and freshly ground coffee are combined with water and brought to the boil.

When ordering, you need to specify whether you want your coffee sweet (helou or helweh), medium (wassat, mazbout or mazbootah), or bitter/unsweetened (murra).

Cardamom seed is a common and delicious flavouring.

Marrakesh

Dar Moha

You'll have no trouble experiencing traditional food in Marrakesh, but for a taste of the city's cutting-edge cuisine, head to Dar Moha, widely proclaimed as one of Morocco's best restaurants.

Here the Swiss-trained Moroccan chef Moha Fedal combines the concepts of France's nouvelle cuisine - less fat, lighter cooking techniques, delicate spicing - with traditional Moroccan dishes such as pastillas, tagines, cooked vegetable salads and dips.

The elegant property is a carefully renovated 19th-century riad, the former home of fashion designer Pierre Balmain. Guests dine under banana palms in a walled garden with tranquil pool. Tables are romantically lit with candles and strewn with rose petals. Traditional musicians and belly dancers provide entertainment.

Critics and visitors rave about the medley of crunchy briouats themed air, sea and land. Tagines may be made of quail and olives, seafood or lamb. There is an unusual couscous with spiced fillet of beef. Later, try the chakhchoukha of apple with rose-flavoured coulis, or pear infused with fresh lemon verbena (a French favourite) and served with saffron sorbet and almond croustille.

You can stay at the riad too, but this venue is more accurately described as a restaurant with rooms than a guesthouse or hotel.

81 rue Dar el Bacha, Medina, Marrakesh, Morocco, tel: 00212 4438 6400, www.darmoha.ma.

Petra

Freekeh

Adelaide-based entrepreneur Tony Lutfi was introduced to freekeh, a traditional staple grain of Jordan and Syria, when dining at the home of a member of the Jordanian royal family. They joked that he was lucky to have it there, because served anywhere else, the tiny stones often lurking among the grains were liable to break his teeth.

In time that passing comment became Lutfi's inspiration for a new venture - production of stone-free freekeh - and, lo, it's now a top seller in Jordan and other regions of the Middle East.

Freekeh is young or "green" wheat grain that is roasted to give a rich, smoky and somewhat meaty taste, and has been part of Jordanian and Syrian diets since around 2300 BC. Being a staple food, it's not showcased as often as Jordan's special-occasion lamb dish mansaf, which you'll read about in every guide. Instead freekeh is characteristic of humble home cooking: made into rustic soups, pilaffs studded with almonds and pine kernels, and served with roast or poached chicken.

You'll occasionally find it in restaurants that include home-style dishes. One is the Petra Kitchen, a distinctive venue in which all furniture and hand-embroidered linens are produced in Jordan.

PO Box 40, Mean Street, Petra, Jordan, tel: 00962 3215 7900.

Cairo

Egyptian breakfast

The Egyptian equivalent of the "Full English" is ful medames, served in the humblest of homes and the haughtiest of hotels. According to Middle Eastern food expert Claudia Roden, it is "pre-Ottoman and pre-Islamic, claimed by the Copts and probably as old as the Pharaohs".

Curiously, although remnants of ful, which are a local variety of dried brown fava or broad bean, have been found in the earliest archaeological sites, the ancient Egyptians regarded them as unclean.

Medames is derived from the word for ashes, and refers to the traditional method of cooking the beans over coals, a slow and gentle method that suited the beans and could conveniently be done overnight, so that they were plump and tender in the morning, ready for breakfast.

Flavouring vegetables (onions, tomatoes) and spices such as cumin, garlic and hot pepper are added to the pot. Before serving, the beans may be dressed with oil and lime, or the local clarified butter.

Then they may be eaten with wholemeal flatbread, hard-boiled or fried eggs, onion, lime, tahini sauce and/or pickles.

Ful medames is not only served for breakfast, but to "breakfast" on the evenings of Ramadan. It's also a common sight on street food stalls and mezze menus.

Istanbul

Rahat Lokum

In the Louvre Museum in Paris there is a painting by Maltese artist Amedeo Preziosi of Haci Bekir, a master confectioner.

It's one of a series of Istanbul paintings by the artist, who travelled to the Turkish capital in the mid-19th century. Yet that's not the only reason sweet-maker Haci Bekir is legendary: he also invented rahat lokum, or simply lokum, the delicacy now better known around the world as Turkish Delight.

Perhaps most amazing is the fact that his lokum shop in Bahcekapi still stands, and is run by his descendants. They believe that Haci Bekir devised the recipe in 1777, basing it on a traditional Anatolian sweetmeat made of honey or grape molasses and flour, but replacing these key ingredients with the newly available sugar and cornflour. The flavour and soft but toothsome texture made lokum an immediate hit, and Haci Bekir was appointed chief confectioner to the Ottoman Court.

Today the shop produces lokum in myriad varieties: flavoured with strawberry, lemon, orange, mint, vanilla, chocolate, clotted cream and rose, or combined with various nuts.

Enjoy a piece of mastic-flavoured lokum alongside Turkish coffee. Mastic is an aromatic resin collected from a tree native to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Istiklal Cad, No 127 80060, Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey, tel: 009021 2245 1375.

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