After the neighborhood bakeries, my favorite part of our visit to the medina of Fez (Morocco) was the souks. These bustling markets offer a glorious array of clothing, jewelry, home decor and housewares, tools, toys, religious items… and, of course, food!
My camera could not begin to fully capture the energy and dazzling selection of the food souks, but here’s a taste of what we found there.
One of the highlights of our National Geographic trip to Morocco last fall was the time we spent in Fez, the country’s cultural capital. Inside the walls of the medina, the ancient and unbeliveably vibrant traditional city, 150,000 people maintain a way of life that is, in many ways, much like it was hundreds of years ago.
Jay and I asked out tour manager, Andrew, how we might find our way out of the medina’s intricate labyrinth of narrow, brimming pedestrian streets if we were to venture inside on our own, without a guide. “Leave a trail of breadcrumbs!” he answered helpfully. If we had indeed needed them, breadcrumbs would have been easy to find; the medina abounds with several hundred bakeries whose wood-fired ovens collectively produce tens of thousands of khobz — the ubiquitous, flattish Moroccan loaves — every day.
Our guide Rashid turned out to be far superior to a breadcrumb trail. He told us that the bakery — along with the fountain, the hammam (bath), the mosque, and the Koranic school — is one of the five traditional elements of each of the medina’s hundreds of neighborhoods. He also helped us negotiate the etiquette of tipping in exchange for permission to take photographs inside — not an easy feat in these small, windowless grottoes.
The cool thing about these bakeries is that, in addition to baking their own khobz, they bake the loaves of the neighborhood women who prepare the dough in their own homes. We saw many women like this one wearing a jalaba (the hooded robe that is the everyday garb of most women and many men), carrying their unbaked bread on a cloth-covered wooden tray to the bakery, where they would pick up the baked loaves later in the day.
One of the highlights of our recent trip to Morocco with a National Geographic Expedition was our visit to a traditional Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains. The Berbers are the indigenous people of Morocco. National Geographic arranged the visit through American Peace Corps volunteers who acted as our facilitators, ambassadors, and translators.
After traveling through the mountains on a narrow highway fraught with hairpin curves, our bus arrived at the base of the village. As the Peace Corps volunteers walked us up the unpaved road and into the heart of village, there was so much to take in: red clay houses — outfitted with electricity and satellite dishes — whose color matches the red of the surrounding hills; the village mosque; the man screening earth; the woman with the captivating smile, sweeping leaves.
Street food in Marrakech, Morocco has quite a reputation. Now, I am delighted to say, I understand why. During our two days here, Jay and I sampled some of the wonderful offerings at the Jemaa el Fna, the huge square in the Medina, the walled old city.
This woman fries pieces of flattened yeasted dough on a griddle. Drizzled with honey and rolled up… a fantastic treat for two dirhams (about 25 cents).