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Published: June 19th 2016
Wrapping up Morocco inMarrakesh makes sense. If you haven't seen it, felt it or eaten it yet as you travel around Morocco, then you will find it in Marrakesh.True, there are no High Atlas Mountains here but the spices, food, medina, all of the goods that you might have missed and all of the goodies that you might want to try again – they are all here.
Our accommodation for this last few days was just a bit more luxurious than the norm. The Hotel Gomassine is in the French quarter of the city, Gueliz. Wide streets, some more up-market shops, more expensive restaurants and bars and good coffee. Five minutes in a taxi – beige here – to the main square of the medina, Jemaa el 'Fnaa, 15 minutes to the airport and 5 minutes to the railway station.
The medina in Marrakesh is easier to navigate than Fes. You can still get lost and it can be quite difficult to find that shop you visited yesterday, or even half an hour earlier. The rule is that if you see it and you want it, buy it if you can come to a price! Don't wonder if there
might not be something better along the way a little. You may never come this way again or, rather, you may never find it.
Our first walking tour through the medina introduced us to some of the food of the area. We started out with a type of doughnut. Much lighter than what we might be used to and made with a mixture that holds quite a lot of air as it is cooked quickly in a deep frier. Great stuff but I may have eaten more than I should. There was a lot more to come.
Just leaving the food for a moment, we should mention something we noted through all of the walking and other tours we did. Every guide that we had in Morocco mentioned at some point of their presentation that Moroccan society was largely Moslem but not exclusively so. Every city seems to have, or have had, a thriving Jewish area. All of our guides were keen to make the point that, while a lot of the Jews who had lived here for generations had been encouraged to leave by Israel after the Six Day War, those that stayed were very much part
of Moroccan society and those who returned for a visit from time to time were very welcome. Each guide talked about Morocco as an inclusive society where there was clear acceptance that Islam was the dominant religion but others were free to practise their faith.
There was also an explanation about the basis of the Islamic architectural style where houses tend to be built to provide no outward display. A typical home has a bland or stolid exterior without windows but may be quite opulent inside. Certainly, most of the riads we entered had large open areas inside with rooms on other floors looking down into these areas, much more decorated than the exterior.
Back to the food and our walking tour of the medina. One difference with the medina in Marrakesh is that motor bikes move through. People are used to them and they aren't in every lane but they do keep you busy getting out of the way.
We proceeded to eat samples of lamb cooked in an underground oven in a small 'hole in the wall' shop, soup served in the main square from massive tureens at tables that covered a large section of
Getting ready for cookery class
These three were preparing our dessert
the main square, beef cooked beautifully – I think on a barbecue, obviously after having been marinated in spices – and salads. Lets be honest, none of these were really of 'sample' size so by the end of all of this all of us were well and truly (over)fed.
On our tour of the market in the medina spices abounded. We were taken to visit the shop of a Tuareg Apothecaire in an area that had a number of similar establishments. The proprietor took us through a very good explanation of the sorts of uses for various of the spices and other herbs he had on his shelves. It was interesting and, if I remember any of it, useful.
For some reason we broke the rule that I noted earlier – when you see it and you know you want it then buy it if you can come to a price – and this became an issue. Not immediately but the next day when we finally decided that we would have a use for some of these spices even if we might not be able to get them back into Australia. The next day we searched. I am
Two salads done
sure we were in the right area but it took us a couple of hours to actually turn up at the place we wanted to find. And then we only found it because I spotted a store that sold small flags –that I collect in every country I visit – and the Tuareg Apothecaire waved from the very next store. There are rules you should not ignore.
On this trip we have had cooking demonstrations and participated in the preparation of food, coming up with some great dishes, but it was Amal in Marrakesh that was the best food experience of the trip. Amal is not really a cooking school and not really a restaurant, although it has been voted into the top 5 of restaurants in Marrakesh and does teach cooking. It is a non-profit organisation that targets women who have been widowed, divorced or for some reason are left without means. These women are trained in all aspects of food preparation and service. They move from here into work, either in their own small businesses or in employment as chefs or wait staff. If I recall the figures correctly something close to 85 women have moved through
Cooking class results
The spices were the secret
Amal and I think that 80 of them are either in employment or are running their own businesses.
We were there to be learn how to prepare a range of salads. Four other people joined the group and they were cooking tagines. The head chef directed operations and a woman with excellent English translated and led the training exercise. All of us had ample hands-on participation in the varioius processes and there is some chance we will remember the various rules that direct much of Moroccan cooking.
When we had prepared it all we sat down and ate it. That was indeed good.
Our final dinner of the tour was in a proper-flash restaurant not a long walk from the hotel. It was a comfortable environment and we enjoyed good food along with alcohol this time.The tour broke up the next morning as some were off to the airport or to the railway station. A few of us stayed on for a night or two to spend a little more time in this interesting city.
This has been a relatively short tour and we were lucky with the group. Everyone seemed to get along reasonably well
Doughnuts Moroccan style
Maybe not the healthiest option but one of the tastiest
and most seemed to enjoy themselves. I am sure that some people found others to be a bit of a nuisance at times but, overall, the group rubbed along without friction.
Our main aim had been to get around Morocco without too much hassle, to have our travel and accommodation sorted and to find some good local guides along the way. The Intrepid tour met our needs very well and exceeded our expectations in the thought that had gone into the itinerary and the skill and capacity of the tour leader.
I didn't record the names of all of the local guides but Mohammed, Abdullah and Aziz were three of them. They were all knowledgeable and careful to ensure both that they lost no one and that everyone was catered for. They had all clearly been briefed by Tarik on the group and what might interest us and that made it more enjoyable and informative.
The tour overall was very well organised. We were kept moving at times but there was plenty of time to experience the places we visited without having to rush on to the next place to keep up with a program. At times
Mint tea coming up
Note the size of the sugar cubes
when we visited shops, some were left to sit around for ages waiting for other members of the group to finish negotiating a purchase. I guess that we were sometimes the ones negotiating a purchase so this didn't bother me too much but my apologies to those who had to sit there while we made our decisions and established a price.
We will take a lot of memories from out time in Morocco. Tagines – even though we didn't buy the cookware – will be part of our diet from now on. There will now be different salads served at our place and there might be a few more mountains. Pastillo will join the dishes we eat and I am determined to try cooking couscous from scratch, including preparing the flour. Some of it we might remember but as a back up we bought some recipe books.
I can't remember a meal in Morocco where olives and bread weren't on the table. This can only be a good thing. You may be able to have too much bread but I very doubtful if it is possible to have too many olives.
The medinas at Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes
Largest mosque in Marrakech
and Essaouria will remain in our memories, although the one in Casablanca may fade a little. The High Atlas Mountains is a place we will return to if we can. There is more to be done there.
Morocco is easy to get around. I still think it would be a lot easier with some Arabic but you could do as well with French.
Our transport was organised for us but trains were organised in the same way as everywhere else. You get a ticket with an allocated seat in first class and you find your own seat in second class. The trains were clean and pretty efficient. We never had a problem negotiating with a taxi. We were always able to establish a reasonable price quickly. I am sure they routinely charge tourists a little more but it is ever thus.
The need to bargain shouldn't be an issue for most people. Engaging in the discussion around a purchase is enjoyable as long as you don't get carried away or let yourself be put under pressure. My skills aren't great. I tend to feel guilty if I get a really good deal because the other person might
Koutoubia Mosque at night
Also known as the Booksellers Mosque because that's what was here
have been dudded. On the other hand I don't feel good if I get a lousy deal because I have been shafted. That middle point is hard to find. Luckily, I have what I regard as a very useful capacity to forget what I pay for something shortly after I hand over the money so it all passes pretty quickly.
There is alcohol around in Morocco and some of it is rather good but, generally, the drinking culture is much more about mint tea, which is provided everywhere, and nosnos, which is in every coffe shop, than it is about alcohol. And the availability of good expresso coffee is increasing.
We will be back to this part of the world.
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