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Finding the right place
It is full of tourists in the Medina (old town) of Marrakesh. But there is also a local life, despite the tourist induced gentrification. I was wondering where people do their day to day shopping for food and I did not expect it to be found in the covered market in the heart of the city. And Tarek helped me to feel comfortable.
I had short visits of the city before and after hiking in the Atlas mountains with a friend – okay it was hiking in a valley, not really steep. A little Internet search helped to find markets which I hoped would be a bit off the beaten paths. That means they should not part of the Jemaa el-Fnaa square which is truly famous for its souks and very crowded. So the covered market seemed to be the right place for me. It is rather a market hall and not huge and the entrance easy to be overlooked. Nevertheless it covers all the daily needs for food and cooking, including spices for tourists.
I entered it and felt a bit intimidated because it was fairly calm, not too many customers were around. This always gives me the impression that I will be approached by vendors and feel obliged to buy something. This was really not the case. The vendors were relaxed and pleasant.
Then came Tarek. He owns a stall full of pickles, olives, pastes and other condiments. He saw me coming and immediately offered me to try his olives and did not stop until I had a taste of his major staples. He opened jars just to give me a spoon full of home made harissa, tapenade and more. I hope he refilled them for the buyers. I even had to try a tea where he added a little menthol crystals to show me how good it is against cough. It certainly burns everything bad out of the throat, I can tell now. So after the tour of his merchandise, there was no sign of pushing me to buy something. I felt comfortable and we chatted a bit. After this visit I decided to fill up my backpack when traveling back home.
I continued strolling, I had time and the place is not large, so it is easy to get an overview once and then focus on the interesting things. It is not only a market where goods are being sold. Butchers still do the slaughter and cut the meat, pastry makers produce the dough on site (see photo gallery).
I am always fascinated to see butchers working. I eat meat but I would not like to kill animals, so I am happy when others do it. In the market still a lot of live poultry was available. The chicken live in cages under more or less simple conditions and are being slaughtered on the spot. Hard to get it any fresher in the city.
The pastry makers fascinated me. Two guys prepared a round dough for further processing. The first guy took a lump of soft, shiny dough and dabbed it on a bass drum sized heated steel plate to create a very thin layer, filo like. This took maybe 30 seconds, then it was turn of the second guy who took the thin layer of the steel plate and swirled it in the air like a pizza baker. The whole process looked very artistic and left me with mouth open – while I was trying to take pictures.
I made my way through the spice, flower, vegetable and fruit stalls, everything presented to please the eye. Somehow I had the feeling that the quality of the produce was superior to what I experience in Germany. It looked more ripe, not so industrial perfect but more “robust” and “healthy”. This is the moment where I ask myself why I rarely do vacation in a flat with its own kitchen.
And yes I went back at the end of our trip to see Tarek, he recognized me, we both smiled and chatted again. I brought some nice food gifts back to Germany. It was green harissa, black tapenade and ras el hanout a spice mix and some pastry from another shop. I kept most of it.
All in all: A gem, discover what is part of the Marrakesh cuisine and chat with the friendly vendors – you will have a good time and find something to bring back home
A little link list:
- A blog post on the Marrakesh markets from Summer Tomato
- A short video giving first impressions
- My other posts on markets in Morocco