The Joys of Moroccan Food

Moroccan food is scrumptious, and I think we only hit the tip of the iceberg during our short visit. This is the kind of place where you want to eat more than three meals a day.

An essential element of Berber cuisine, the tajine is always a satisfying meal.  The tajine is a dish of meat, spices and vegetables baked in an earthenware pot of the same name.

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Common combinations include chicken with olives and lamb with prunes. After they bake for a long time, they come out with the moist, delicious falling-off-the-bone meat and perfectly cooked vegetables. I especially like it when they’re garnished with almonds and a hard-boiled egg.

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Moroccan olives are to die for. They have a wide variety of fresh, fruity flavors that have been cured with herbs and spices or packed in oil. These savory little fruits are grown all over the countryside and sell for under 1USD/pound. Even olive-averse Eric liked them.

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Strawberry tree fruit has an alien gelatinous center and a spiny, almost crunchy exterior. The sweet flavor is good, even if texture leaves something to be desired.

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Pastilla is a Moroccan dish that is made of thin, flaky layers of dough along with various sweet and salty flavors. Most of what we tried contained pistachios, egg, chicken (although traditionally made with pigeon), and a layer of powdered sugar and cinnamon on top. The unusual flavor combinations in this dish make it highly addictive.

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One of our favorite things about Morocco was cup after cup of hot mint tea. They mix the mint, sugar and tea with boiling water and let it steep until the flavors have fully developed. This staple is often complementary, and it can be had just about everywhere. And, it’s one of the few things we can recreate at home.

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While we were in Paris, we stopped by L’Escargot for dinner. The escargot there was yummy and came with schmancy forks for digging the little guys out of their shells. But at 1 euro per snail we had to limit our indulgence. Enter the Marrakesh snail guy.

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He serves up small bowls of our mollusky friends in a warm, inviting, peppery broth. We didn’t want to stop eating these, and at $6USD for two bowls, we didn’t have to. What sweetened this deal was that when we finished, another guy came over and refilled our bowls. For free! Unlimited escargot for 6 bucks…budget backpacker jubilee.

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And finally, real sugar Coca Cola tastes the same everywhere. But these bottles were just neat.

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Outside the Medinas of Fes and Marrakesh

If you’ve tired of shopping, there are tons of other fun activities in and around Fes and Marrakesh.

Despite our voyeuristic sleeping arrangements, the Funky Fes did deliver on a nice day trip to the Roman ruins of Volubilis. The ruins of this first century Roman town are only partially excavated, but they’re still pretty extensive, with an aqueduct and several olive presses.
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The Romans left the city sometime in the fourth century after an earthquake destroyed it. Nowadays it seems to be a little-known tourist attraction, judging by the lack of crowds. We went with a group from the hostel and hired a local farmer/tour guide who showed us around. For around $2USD, we were able to walk all over the ruins (save for the mosaics, which have been partially restored). Definitely a nice reprieve from the medina.

Included on our Volubilis tour was a visit to the city of Meknes. We had a nice lunch in the town square and visited the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, who was a Moroccan ruler in the 17th century. This was a treat, since it was the closest we got to a mosque.
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Moroccans won’t let us heathen non-Muslims enter mosques, except for the Hassan II in Casablanca and the Tin Mal in the High Atlas.

In Marrakesh, we journeyed out of the medina into the Ville Nouvelle (new city) in search of something a bit stronger than mint tea. Morocco poses an interesting challenge for people who enjoy drinking. Alcohol can’t be sold within view of a mosque, which is pretty much everywhere. A tip for people visiting Marrakesh: there is a smaller market outside of the medina called Marche Central. There are three liquor stalls there. It’s a 20-minute walk, and a 25CL beer will run you around 20 dirhams. However, the Jardin Majorelle is also in this neighborhood, and it’s worth visiting. This is an extremely diverse garden with Moroccan architecture painted in cobalt blue. Fun fact: Yves Saint Laurent owned it until his death in 2008. It costs 40 dirhams each to get in, but it was a beautiful oasis in the city (and a good place to sneak in a drink!).
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We can’t wait to visit again when we have more time to spend in the High Atlas.
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Marche Central
Rue Ibn Toummert
Marrakesh
 
Jardin Majorelle
Rue Yves Saint Laurent‬
Marrakesh
 
Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail
Opposite the Koubbat as-Sufara’
Meknes

The Riads of Morocco

From very basic hostel dorms to full service five star hotels, Morocco has a great variety of accommodation options for every budget and style. On our whirlwind tour of Morocco we stayed almost exclusively in Moroccan riads which are traditional Moroccan homes that have been converted into hotels and hostels.

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While some people claim that staying at riads is not within a backpacker budget, we found a variety of riads that were affordable, full of character, and well located (or at least one of the three).  While sometimes quirky, we wouldn’t trade our nights at the riads for any boring hotel.

Riads are rectangular buildings with a plain brick or stucco exterior but a shockingly exotic interior.  The house is built with a large rectangular courtyard in the center completely open to the sky.  Few if any windows look out to the outside of the building; instead each room has windows and doors that open into the center courtyard.  This design gives the family that lives there a large outdoor area that is completely private. We enjoyed many of our meals and spent much of our time socializing with other guests in this common area.  As is the Moroccan style, the interiors are ornately decorated with detailed carvings, tile work, and bold colors.

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Riads come in all sizes and styles and owners have converted them to suit the needs of tourists of every income level. Being on a backpacker-level budget we were surprised with the level of accommodation we could get at such a low price. The first riad we stayed in was a friendly backpacker hostel called Funky Fes. While the location wasn’t the greatest and water pressure was abysmal at times, the price could not be beat at roughly $12 a night per person for a 10 bed dorm. The real surprise came when we saw the configuration of the room we would be staying in. A large 4 post bed was in the center with bunk beds surrounding. Seeing as we were the first couple to arrive that morning we had the luxury of being on center stage for the duration of our visit!

The riad that we stayed at in Marrakesh was probably the best find of the trip. Due to a pricing mistake, we were able to reserve a beautiful suite at the Dar Balthazar for well under a third of the going rate.

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The suite included a nice bed, our own heat/ac controls, a large sitting room, and an Eric-sized bathtub with the best water pressure we had in Morocco. Unlimited mint tea and full breakfast (as opposed to jam and bread) made this place a real winner.

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When the Balthazar fixed their pricing mistake, we decided that it would be better to move to a less expensive room for the final night in Marrakesh. So, where can you find a room in Marrakesh for around $20 less than 24 hours in advance? The center of it all, the Djemaa el Fna of course! While most places in this neighborhood were far over our budget, we scored a basic room at the Hotel Cecil (also a riad), only 20 feet from the Fna. While the chairs were tiny and the reception desk laughed at us when we asked if there was heat in the riad, the location could not be beat.

Funky Fes Hostel
60, Arset Lamdelssi
Bab Jdid – Fes Medina

Dar Balthazar Riad
32 Derb El Halfaoui
Marrakesh

Hotel Cecil
Derb Sidi Bouloukate
Djemaa El Fna
Marrakesh Medina

1,000 Things

We’re anticipating at least five years outside of Denver before we settle back down into domesticity. Looking around our tiny one-bedroom, I notice how much STUFF we have. It’s crammed into every closet and cupboard, under furniture, in piles on the floor…almost all of this has to go. We’ll keep a 60 square foot storage space while we’re away and everything we still own has to fit into it.

So today, in hopes of making the transition from an apartment of stuff to a backpack of essentials a bit less painful, we decided to begin a new Sunday ritual: throw away/sell/donate 10 items each, every single week. I figure that if we keep up this literal and symbolic purging, we’ll have very little to do when we have to move. Altogether, can we get rid of 1,000 things? By the looks of it, I’m thinking yes.

Eric was telling me about these people who only own 100 things. This wouldn’t include essentials like food, but it would include things like eating utensils, clothing, keepsakes, and the like. I must have at least 20 items in my purse right now. So that would be a challenge. How many things do you think you own? How and why do we accumulate so much stuff?