Last month I spent nine days in Morocco and one of the highlights was a food focused tour through the old town medina with Plan-it Fez.
We were met at our riad (a courtyard centered hotel) by Gail Leonard, a British expat who lives in Fez and runs Plan-it Fez with her business partner and fellow expat Michelle Reeves. Gail lives right smack in the center of the souk (shopping area) of Fez which is one of Morocco’s oldest cities. The streets are narrow and winding, often with no set course and dead ends. From above, they look like a maze, and it’s not uncommon for tourists and locals alike to get lost. While I typically don’t do tours on my travels, this one piqued my interest because it was both focused on food, and private. You won’t ever find me on a tour following the woman with the raised red umbrella and a gaggle of tourists trailing behind wearing matching hats. Anyway, this customized tour focused on our exact interest (food!) and did not disappoint.
Gail met us promptly at 10 am and we set off walking to our first stop, the nearby honey cooperative. Here we tasted about a dozen different honeys, ranging in color from pale gold to almost black. It was the flavor range which surprised me the most; in some you could taste the herbs and flowers and others were bitter and almost medicinal (I bought a small amount of this unique one to take home). While we were there we also tried smen, a rancid butter used in cooking, and a dried beef called khlii (also made with camel meat) which is preserved in fat and aged for a year.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was visiting a bakery. In Morocco, every neighborhood has five things; a communal oven, a mosque, a hammam (bath house), a fountain (fresh water), and a school. Many homes in the medina do not have ovens, so everyone sends their bread, vegetables, even meats to be baked or roasted to the communal oven. Some places only cook items sent to them by the neighborhood, but this one also bakes about 2000 of those flat round loaves a day for sale. It’s not uncommon (we saw this many times) for women to stand outside their home with a tray of bread dough and ask any passer-by to take their bread to the bakery to be baked. The men who work there never mix up anyone’s bread either. Every family has their own mark, their style, or even a different tea towel covering the dough, something to differentiate it from their neighbor’s bread.
We made our way through one of the outdoor vegetable markets right the the neighborhood where Gail lives. If you’d like to get a taste of what it’s like to walk through the crowded chaotic street filled with people, animals, crates of vegetables and other foods, I’ve put up a very short video (less than a minute) on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/GgzDrn46ViI
We walked quite a bit and then it was time to stop and taste more food. Our first stop was the little shop below, no more than eight feet square. There was just enough room on the narrow bench for the three of us to have a snack of fried liver, fried eggplant, and a few other goodies. While we were there I watched him make a sandwich of liver and a fried egg, topped with a spicy red sauce (see photos below).
At our next stop we bought more fried foods; thick slices of cornmeal coated eggplant, potato puffs, and fried anchovy or smelt type fish. We took our bundle of goodies to a shop selling nothing but a big pot of fava bean soup called bissara. The soup was garnished with a very flavorful dark green olive oil and a dusting of cumin and paprika (I’m going to try and recreate this soup very soon). My stomach had been bothering me on this day, but the soup was warm and comforting and suddenly I found my appetite returning.
We ended the tour walking through the wet market where there were live chickens for sale, fish and butchers selling beef and camel meat.
If you’re headed to Morocco, don’t miss Fez, it’s a beautiful city. And if you’re interested in food make sure you contact Plan-it Fez.