Monday, 23 January 2012

Marrakech: a stroll in a local food souk

I've always wanted to visit Morocco. To me, it appeared to offer a full-on taste of a completely different world, yet barely further than southern Spain. In fact, southern Spain can be pretty exotic, too. Seville and Granada take your breath away with their Moorish architecture, especially the spectacular Alhambra. Morocco continued to beckon, though.

In November I finally fulfilled this desire, spending a few days in Marrakech with my mother. Based on reading several reassuring reviews we decided to stay at the Riad Al Massarah in the medina. Although helpfully located in the old centre, the riad is in the Bab Doukkala neighbourhood, which offered the chance to observe Marrakech on a local level, away from the touristy Jemaa el Fna square and main souks (about 20 minutes walk away). The new town and Majorelle Gardens were just a short taxi ride away. More about the riad will follow separately.

After breakfast on our first day, Abdelwahed, the chef at the riad, took us food shopping in the local souk. This helped us get our bearings and he gave us some useful practical tips about Marrakech (such as being discrete when taking photographs – if we hadn't been with a local and introduced to people, we wouldn't have been able to take so many pictures). Perhaps as a result of this, as the days went by, the local traders greeted us with a friendly "bonjour mesdames" whenever we passed.

It was thrilling being introduced to Marrakech in this way and it was at least as exotic as I'd expected. If mopeds hadn't kept whizzing through the narrow allies and if there hadn't been so many bicycles about, you could have been transported back several centuries. With this bounty on offer, it was easy to appreciate the significance of Marrakech's fertile location. All types of food were available, often in their freshest, most honest form. (However, if you prefer your chicken breasts skinless, boneless and shrink-wrapped, this post might not be for you.)

You always see the testicles on carcasses to prove the beast is male and the green stamp indicates the highest quality meat.

Herbs, but mainly mint.

Live chickens.

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