Sunday, March 6, 2011

Donkey, Taxi, Scooter, Monkey on a Bike

Koutoubia Mosque at sunset

It's hard to find the words to describe Morocco.  It's magical, exciting, beautiful, slightly scary (in a good way) and in many ways frozen in time.  We just returned from 6 days in Marrakech and villages in the Atlas mountains.  Our flight was only an hour and a half, but suddenly we were in another world.

Never a dull moment in the Djema'a al-Fna!

At the heart of Marrakech is the Djema'a al-Fna.  The translation is 'Assembly of the Dead' and it is anything but dead.  It is amazing to watch this square transform as the day unfolds.  In the early morning hours the juice vendors dominate the scene.  By early afternoon the snake charmers, fortune tellers and henna tattooists arrive on the square.  Around 4pm, nearly 100 portable restaurant owners wheel in to set up their stalls and fire up their grills while musicians and dancers perform.  It's a spectacular scene that is buzzing with wild traffic at all hours.  As we became punchy and overstimulated, we'd shout out warnings about the vehicles approaching from behind, "Donkey. Taxi. Scooter. Monkey on a bike!"

The portable restaurants offer a wide range of food items cooked on the spot.  We chose a stall with  kebabs and delicious merguez sausages.
Just beyond the square, a meandering jumble of streets are lined with souqs or small shops that sell spices, slippers, woven goods, metal work, live chickens, olives, and, and, and...  Many of the items are hand crafted by artisans on site.  We got sucked into the dyer's souq and emerged with some new information and a few new scarves.

We were dazzled by the gorgeous architecture and mosaics, woodwork, stucco work and calligraphy that adorn buildings.  The intricate geometric designs are stunning and definitely appeal to the math teacher in me.

Islamic school Médersa Ben Youssef
Stucco work detail - Saadian tombs

We had FANTASTIC food on this trip, some of which we prepared ourselves at a cooking class at La Maison Arabe.  Our class included a visit to a communal bread oven and spice market.  Each neighborhood has its own oven where local women bring in bread dough loaves on trays then return later to pick up the finished product.  Somehow the baker keeps everyone's bread straight, even as he shuffles up to 100 loaves around in the woodfire oven.   The rest of our class time was dedicated to hands-on preparation of the classic tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives, bread, eggplant and tomato salad and grilled pepper salad.  So delicious!!

The master baker in action 
Eric in action

Other amazing meals included kefta tagine with tiny lamb meatballs and eggs, couscous with caramelized onions and raisins, and bastilla - a pastry-wrapped bundle containing shredded chicken, eggs and almond paste then dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  The sweet/savory combination was divine!!

Beautiful bastilla served on the patio of our riad, Maison Mnabha
Our incredible starter of 14 salads at
Al Fassia Guéliz

Moroccans love their mint tea and so do we!  Green or black tea leaves are steeped along with a handful of fresh mint leaves and a bit of sugar.  It's refreshing and perfect any time of day.  By the end of the trip we'd both mastered the art of pouring from a nice height.  This helps cool the tea and creates a foamy head that the Moroccans insist upon.

Our days in Marrakech were exciting and exhausting.  Our heads are ready to explode with memories of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes we experienced there.

~ Peggy

1 comment:

  1. What a great trip. Thanks for sharing your pics - they are fantastic. I really like seeing you guys having a good time together. Nice tea pouring, can you do that with beer? 14 salads. Sounds like heaven. So nice. See additional email for further comments.