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Archive for November 4th, 2011

We had a great sleep! And no ill effects from the jet lag…yet!
The first thing we needed to do is change our Travelers cheques to cash. Both trip advisor and a recently published book on Morocco said ‘everyone’ does this ‘everywhere’. You must see where I am going with this? Read NO ONE, NO WHERE. No bank, no exchange bureau, no where! They LIED! One more spot, the last one, a credit bureau; no the girl clerk does NOT do this, but that hotel on the corner does! So we go there, and low and behold, they DO! And it was not a rip-off, they were quite pleasant and reasonable. We met our Berber Souk tour guide there; a nice gentleman about my age born to a Berber Mom and an Arab Dad. He generously guided us through the souk highlighting areas we might have interest in, of course stopping at the ‘non-touristy’ honest shops (likely where he gets commission). Non-the-less a good experience. The shops expect bartering, which I love! And we did end up buying some Morrican saffron, cinnamon, cumin and a Moroccan spice mix.
This is our lunch place.

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He took us through the mazes of the souks for about two and a half hours. So nice. I did end up also buying a leather purse and a very cool fossil for my nephew (a disgusting bug, he will love it!).
The afternoon we booked a cooking course with our Riad; we were to be guided through the market to buy the food we will cook. Sadly the weather turned viscous and the winds were atrocious, so we turned back, but the cooking lesson prevailed! Our gracious translator Said Hayat and our wonderful Chef took us through the next two hours of traditional Moroccan cooking. Forget about that instant couscous, we made real couscous that took an hour, with our hands! So cool (actually, it was pretty hot!). We made Shrimp Briouat, (we will biy their actual cookbook and will remake the entire dinner in Toronto on our return for Barb and Kevin!) Chicken Tangine and Stewed Lamb (minus the lamb for Kevin!). We made grapefruit brûlée and apple tart tatin. And then we had it ALL for dinner! Our hosts were amazing! We had such a great time. It’s a must do in Marrakech! Here are some photos of our first culinary adventure!

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A traditional flavour base in Moroccan cooking is called smen it’s a very pungent, cheesy smelling butter. Think fish sauce in Thai cooking – its a flavour base!
Tomorrow we have hired a guide to takes us to the Atlas mountains! Bon nuits mes amis! (it’s all coming back to me now!)

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Marrakech

Our cab from the train station is yet another broken car, but this time it’s called a “tiny taxi”; it’s labelled carefully on the side of the roof (they should have taken this much care with the interior – again it looks like a bomb went off in it – there are holes where the instruments should be). Our driver can’t speak English nor French. He is intent on taking us but he can’t even read the name of the hotel. He drives us to where all the Western hotels are and asks someone to read our note (JT thought it would be a good idea to write down our address and hotel name). He tried telling us how much it cost in Arabic, we couldn’t understand, so we gave him 40 Dirhams, then low and behold he said “no 50!” We get to our hotel with the short detour, it was only around $8, which wasn’t bad. Our Ryad is very an ancient building in the old part of Marrakech (Medina). It’s barely noticeable on the road (just a door with a number); it’s a busy road. There are no windows; I thought it was strange, but the heat and the street noise makes it better that there isn’t. Still weird. Our room is interesting but small and it’s clean. The only window opens into the inner courtyards, which are open to the sky. There are tall trees that grow from the ground floor to the top which has an open air deck. The deck encompasses the entire roof and has many flowering trees, lemons and limes in pots; the furniture is club-like, wicker with cushions. It’s really lovely. it rained like a demon all yesterday afternoon so we were unable to enjoy it. We were greeted with a welcome tea, of hot sweet water poured over a lot of fresh mint. We like mint, but it was a little too minty (like mouthwash, but hot). The tea is served in short clear glasses with a napkin tied around it. There were two each mini sweets of a butter pastry and an almond filling. Both very tasty, and very sweet. The Moroccans are not swelt people.

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The Riad served us lunch in one of their several little nooks throughout the two buildings (they are joined to make one). Lunch was a slow cooked tangine of Moroccan Meat Balls in a dark sauce; we tasted cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, tomatoes and raisins. There was also a couscous mixed into it. It was delicious; we had to consciously slow down because we were eating too fast. It was served with a whole wheat bun. Our hostess gave us a map and we ventured on our first tour of Marakech by foot.
Stand aside, the traffic is like no other! Mopeds, motorcycles and mini cars and trucks screaming by you so close that if your toes pointed out they would be run over! It’s sheer madness. There are thousands of people walking through the markets; some with walking and driving space, and some just a metre wide but that doesn’t stop a stinky motor cycle to come ploughing through; the stores are tiny too, enough for a counter and a chair if you’re lucky. Everything seems to be on the ground or low to the ground. Parts of this souk are not touristy (barbers, dry cleaners, butchers (the CFIA and FDA would cringe), fabric stores, kitchen shops etc) sadly I have not seen much of anything that I want to buy. After about ten minutes of walking through this chaotic maze we entre into a large square of small caravan stands with more unappealing goods. And Angela warning: there are SNAKE charmers!! Really disgusting snakes. I carefully got a picture of one but he noticed and we had to pretend not to hear/understand and run away. I’m sure he just wanted money – it was a disgusting cobra!
Contrary to what I’ve read, the people are pushy and persuasive, I would even liken them to the vendors in Jamaica who are relentless (mind you the Moroccan vendors do eventually give up). We had several young, well dressed gentlemen stop us and make suggestions on where to walk in the medina, to avoid the tourist traps, of course (how nice) but if we can also see his family’s stores, just over there. They’ll take care of you, he said. I, personally abhor this type if high pressure sales, it’s too confrontational and I hate to have to be rude. Today we’re going to pretend to speak only Hungarian, I’m certain they will give up sooner when they think there is no chance of communication.
We met the owner of our Ryad today, an American/UK gentleman. He was entertaining some travel agents in our Ryad, but he came over to welcome us. Upon our arrival back from dinner, our room had been turned down and our bed was decorated with red rose petals. On the suggestion of the owner we’re doing a half day cooking course here with our chef this afternoon. It will be similar to Maison MK on Sunday but we’re both tired of the mayhem outside the walls and thought another lesson would be fun! I am hoping that the chef can guide us to the better spice vendors so I can buy some wonderful spices to bring home.
Off now for some strategic souk exploration, some historical properties and some gardens; cooking course for dinner tonight!

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