Refreshed after a mid afternoon rest, and confident I was able to return to the same starting point for my evening street food tour as the morning, I set out to explore the Marrakesh Medina once more.
Things didn’t go well, I got into a big taxi not a small one, later a flicker of a memory returned from reading somewhere that had mentioned petite taxis for the city, large ones to explore the environs. The driver left the taxi rank taking a different route to all my other departures, weaving through side streets. We hit the avenue Mohammed 6th, it was heaving with Saturday evening traffic heading to the centre. He cursed and swore and asked if I wanted to use his services to travel out side of the city. I explained I had all my trips booked. Not long after this, he stopped the car, said too much traffic, and ordered me out saying the Café de France is that way.
I set off, got very lost in the heaving crowd. I couldn’t identify any bearings from that very morning. After a very stressful thirty minutes, asking lots of people including two policemen, I turned up late to my starting point to find my group had gone and my mobile had lost its signal, again. A young watch seller from Senegal came to my aid, called the company and several calls later my guide turned up with the group having agreed to make his way back to the starting point.
I had missed the pancake stop and the green tea. We made our way into the souk one more. Our next stop was a spice shop, containing the famous conical mounds of spices.
Some of the jars had spices in rainbow layers; the stalls were a veritable assault on the senses. I was calming down now, it is uncomfortable joining a tour late.
Leaving the spice shops, we passed several more, going past places I had seen on my two earlier trips, but I still had no sense of my bearing. The next stall was replete with pastries, crammed with various types of nuts in different shapes and combinations; my favourite was coated with honey and sesame nuts. They were drier more like shortbread in texture than baklava.
The route was determined by location than taste or flavour so after sweet we hit the olive stall that also sold chillies and preserved lemons. I love olive oil for cooking though I have never become fond of the fruit. They were in three colours, green, red, and black. It is the same fruit; the colour is determined by the moment they are picked, the longer on the tree the darker they become.
Then we wound our way to the bakery. Bread is very important in Moroccan culture and considered bad manners not to finish it. We saw the large flat circles being put into the ovens and the warm baked loaves come out – fresh bread aroma is one of life’s pleasures.
We were given a loaf each, it was wonderful but I couldn’t finish a loaf so not wanting to bin it, I held it in my hand and soon afterwards I saw a young woman in a wheelchair. She gave me the most wonderful smile when I handed it to her.
An oven was also the cooking source at the next stop – roast lamb, roasted whole on a large stick, it is lowered into pits. We made our way up a rickety staircase above the lamb ovens.
Chunks of lamb were piled on a dish, a fork and napkin handed to each diner. We were shown to sprinkle a prepared mixture of salt and cumin on our lamb. The balance of salt to cumin was debated as we ate. I love lamb and this simple mix transformed the flavour of the meat. As a foodie, I delight in discovering food pairings. I recommend this one.
We thought this was our last stop but we made our way out of the souks into the Djamna al Fna, the large square, now crammed with food stalls. We squeezed onto to one of the benches at the trestle tables. We were given a bowl of the soup, that breaks the fast of Ramadan in Morocco. It was very bland; they accompany their soup with sweet food, notably dates. The American woman in the group suggested trying it with a squeeze of lemon, this was alchemy, another food pairing to add to the day’s discoveries. It went well with dates as well.
The eating was not over; our guide announced it was now time to go to supper, we gave a mutual groan of no more but were led to a large hanger. We shared chicken couscous, lamb tagine and beef tangia. Beef tangia, typical to Marrakesh, is placed in a clay jug and left at the baker’s to cook slowly all day. All the food was flavoursome, the meat melted like butter but by that time we were all too full to do it justice. Our final stop was the tea stall to drink a herbal digestive mix, steaming it burnt lips and tongue, but soothing once it had cooled.
My fellow travellers were all in riads in the medina, I had to make my way back to the taxi rank. A long walk as the square is closed in the evening, to let the food vendors set up. I found the taxi area, had to stand between the buses as they pulled up and the other traffic. Finally after five hair-raising minutes, that seemed much longer, I hailed a petite taxi. I negotiated the fare and was soon back safely in my hotel, out side the old town I was beginning to identify landmarks on my route.