V and I recently played hosts to WFD and JBG, two guests yearning for distinctly different experiences in Morocco and with vastly different approaches to travel. The four of us drove to Fes for a weekend of cooking, shopping and enjoying the craziness of the medina. WFD and I ran off to the Fes medina during his last visit and ripped through it over the course of a day; we left completely spent with barely enough energy to perform the customary post-mortem on the day’s photographs.
V had planned a cooking lesson for the four of us as the center of our weekend trip. V and I are both fans of relaxed travel, as opposed to WFD who demands constant stimulation and a break-neck pace from the moment he wakes until he falls asleep, though is known to indulge in naps. JBG falls into our camp. We hoped that the cooking class (and the related grocery shopping) would be the common ground between the four of us and keep the group on the same page.
After a nice breakfast at our riad (thankfully devoid of the obligatory hardboiled eggs and the guilt that follows not eating them), our cooking teacher arrived and walked us to the guesthouse that hosts the classes. With Fatima’s – our ace cooking instructor – help we settled on three dishes to shop for and prepare. We planned on creating primarily vegetarian friendly dishes and Fatima assured us that our choices were within her repertoire.
We walked into the section of the medina closest to Bab Bou Jeloud, the blue gate, and started shopping. Fatima guided us to through the market and showed us all of the best produce and spices. No trip to the medina is complete without a trip through the open-air meat market, where vegetarians dare not tread and for good reason. I would suggest that the squeamish readers click here right about now. Things are about to get…really real. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
Fatima guided us through the market and purchased the best of the best produce and spices for us. She knew who had the best okra, where the best eggplant were located and who was selling the tastiest dates (best eaten with a walnut shoved inside – awesome!). Our produce basket grew uncomfortably large as we walked from vendor to vendor and decided to cook far more dishes than the three that we originally decided on.
Note – I will be posting more on the cooking class in an upcoming post. You will not miss anything relevant to our fantastic experience with Fatima by skipping out now.
The meat and produce section of the medina is separated by product – the spices are generally all sold near one another, as are the vegetables and meats. We walked directly to a chicken vendor, where Fatima selected a live bird and instructed the salesman as to how she preferred the bird dressed. (I am confident that had the chicken been asked for her opinion, she would have said that she was dressed just right. Zing!) That’s as fresh as it gets – no factory farm, no pumping the bird with water to make it heavier, no cryo-packing and trucking it from one state to the next.
Regardless of the farm-to-table demonstration unfolding in front of us, JBG was not interested in seeing the process carried out. Nor was I. We walked a few steps away and came across another scene that may scare off the tourists.
JBG was not thrilled with where we ended up. Sorry, JBG.
The hanging camel’s head serves as an advertisement as to what the vendor has for sale. While some of the people in the medina are not thrilled with this sort of advertising, most of the people don’t really care. I reserve my opinion on such matters – I am a guest in this country and am more interested in showing how other people live than offering commentary and potentially offending my hosts.
Note – a Moroccan coworker mentioned to me that a camel-sandwich is delicious after a night out dancing and drinking tea. I am not making this up. I have to introduce him to bad pizza on Houston St.
We also came across this piece of lamb meat which I learned from the same colleague must be cooked for a very, very long before it’s ready to be eaten.
We wrapped up our shopping and returned to the kitchen. Don’t worry – we left behind some camel chops and even enough lamb face to make a few burritos, if you are so inclined.
I will be posting the cooking section of this post shortly to accommodate the readers that were scared off. To the readers that stuck by, thank you. Please show respect to the host-culture in your comments.
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