Every time I see roses, the scarlet and blood red ones, I think fondly of my time in Morocco. Fresh roses made appearances constantly on our journey, either in beautiful arrangements or as a garnish and there were even rose petals in the toilet bowl in our hotel in Casablanca. You are met by people wielding a little container of rose scented water to sprinkle on your hands and again at the end of a meal someone appeared ready to give your hands the farewell rosewater treatment. I buy red roses whenever I put on a Moroccan meal at home and it takes me right back to Morocco as soon as I set my table. You can just glimpse my Moroccan floor rug bought in Rissani in the background. See further down for my meal with the Rissani rug merchants.
We purchased the oysters and even more seafood in the European fresh food market in Casablanca and then our friend and Moroccan expert Meera Freeman showed us
how and where to hand them over to a little cafe so they could cook it all for our lunch. The cafe provided even more in the way of little side dishes comprising spicy sauces and relishes. Red roses perfectly arranged in our Casablanca hotel at breakfast. The French pastries were hard to resist but I headed toward the Moroccan breakfast table to find something I had never eaten before and I was not disappointed. I selected the Beghrir Moroccan pancakes drenched in butter. Very naughty but for a long day ahead most fortifying.
We loved exploring in the cobbled back streets and many of the houses and walls are painted in an electric ultramarine blue.
The local takeaway chicken outlet coming up. Hey… what about those long necks. Maybe I am thinking…..all chickens have long necks and since they are squashed into shape neatly when we buy them, we forget what they really look like. Note the orange tree in the street, we saw this sight regularly on our travels.
Most first timers to Morocco include Fes in their itinerary and we were no different but we did have an opportunity to stay in an old very traditional home still occupied and run as a guest house by the owners. Riad Maison Bleue is a only a three minute walk to the official entrance of the old town of Fes. The water feature here was a swimming pool in the courtyard. We slept in rooms with four poster canopied beds and were very spoiled. When we arrived we were met with almond stuffed dates and milk, a traditional greeting and one I adopted recently when I gave a Moroccan cooking class. The family also run a very upmarket restaurant in the town of Fes with the same name that we also visited for a meal. Pigeon Bastilla, a mix of sweet and savoury is one of the best dishes you will find in Moroccan cuisine.
For your first visit into the labyrinth that is Fes you should have a guide or you will get lost. We had our own guide of course but there are plenty of ‘self appointed’ guides hanging around the entrance. You should discuss the time you will take and the price, they may answer, ‘whatever you desire’…….but it is a good idea to be clear otherwise there may be a disappointing end to the tour.
Meera organised for us to eat in the private home of one of her friends in Fes. It was an experience we will remember for a long time. The home was traditional, a little shabby in parts but we had a magnificent home cooked meal.
A trip to Fes is not really complete unless you visit its leather dye works. A smelly affair that takes a bit of getting used to, but it is an education worth the assault to the senses. At the end of the tour you are led into a retail leather shop but there was not one thing I would consider buying, just not to my taste. However if I was living there it would be a different matter as I would commission some hides for using in my own creations. We did buy some of the famous leather slippers cutely named Babouches, but it was in Marrakesh market that we bought the classic yellow leather pointed toe slippers for John (all the men wear yellow) and I acquired two pairs of pointed toe babouches in purple and red suede. They are so soft and comfy that I would have bought a pair in every colour if I had the luggage room.The drying of the hides. Little rainfall in this part of Morocco helps.
Handmade tiles are a leitmotif of Morocco and in Fes we asked to see how tiles are made. As you would expect, it was all very rudimentary and there were no innovations since labour has always been cheap. For the intricate designs, the tiles are made in a larger square, glazed, fired and then they cut out the various shapes required for the various patterns required.
We marvelled at the patience required to work in this medium and did not even ask about the remuneration!
The bus came to a standstill. We had more reliable transport but at least this old bus has a second life.
John trying to resist a bargain. He did but someone else got him in the next town. I desperately wanted a white wool Jelaba (long caftan robe) and set him to work, he managed to buy the Jelaba and two large bangles that we did not want or need. They are on my coffee table doing double duty as wind protectors for tea lights.
Moroccans still use communal ovens to bake their own bread and we were lucky to spot some home prepared flat breads before they went into the oven. You can see the various trays and tea towels that will identify each one so they find their way back to the kitchens from whence they came.
One bread I adored was the Medfouna. It is actually a spicy ground meat filled bread pie in the closed pizza style. It was provided for our lunch from the carpet sellers in Rissani. It is their way of softening you up for a rug purchase. A tactic that usually works. It is a speciality of this region and traditionally the men make it and then consume it at all male gatherings. I keep looking it up in my Moroccan cookbooks to reproduce but somehow never get around to it, maybe writing this post will get me on the job. Roz