Best Foot Forward: Woodworking in Marrakech and Fes

Nothing stops you in your tracks while wandering in and around Marrakech like this sight:  a man turning wood with nothing more than a sharp blade and his feet!  Yes, you may wince a bit looking at these pictures.  We certainly did.

Wood turner in Marrakech medina working with his feet!

Wood turner in Marrakech medina working with his feet!

Moroccan woodturners are pros, though.  And with skilled hands and strategic balance, they seem to be quite productive even with tourists looking on.

Chef Joanne Weir grabs a shot of a wood turner in the Marrakech medina.

Chef Joanne Weir grabs a shot of a wood turner in the Marrakech medina.

Take this guy, for example.  He places the wood on a pole, lays a knife on top, and spins a little make-shift lathe with — you’re seeing it correctly — only a foot or two!  We watched.  We clapped.  And then we purchased freshly turned pieces of an art you don’t see often, if at all, in the U. S.

Later in Fes, we happened upon this workman who — everyday, no less — sits in this little box-like space in the medina and shapes combs out of natural bone.  He, too, uses his feet to steady the piece of bone.

A craftsman in Fes uses his feet to shape bone into creative combs.

A craftsman in Fes uses his feet to shape bone into creative combs.

He carefully presses his foot against a large piece of bone while he cuts shapes such as whales, ducks, birds, etc. to top off his combs.

Bird comb made of bone and shaped with a workman's foot: Fes, Morocco

Bird comb made of bone and shaped with a workman’s foot: Fes, Morocco

In Morocco, most craftsmen we met or acknowledged with a head nod absolutely, positively didn’t want their picture taken.  But the comb maker seemed genuinely enthralled when our guide asked if I could pose with him.  So, here’s one of the happiest people I met in Morocco — a man who goes every day to his workplace, sits in what seems to me to be a cramped space and cranks out the finest examples of bone combs in creative shapes.  A fine memory, for sure.

It's a rare to find someone who not only allows photos but actually poses with a tourist!

It’s a rare to find someone who not only allows photos but actually poses with a tourist!

For more posts on Morocco, take a look here.

And to see pictures of our journey, head to Flickr to take in the sights of this colorful country.

Thanks for traveling with us,

Bert and Rusha Sams

 

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Memories of Marrakech: Shoe Fetish

There’s nothing dark and mysterious in the medina of Marrakech, especially if you’re in the apparel section.  Shoe stalls literally screamed color.

Cramming hand-made leather slippers onto the walls of tiny nooks must take patience and skill, but every shoe stall was packed to overflowing.

All lined up: Yellow shoes in the Marrakech medina

All lined up: Yellow shoes in the Marrakech medina

From pom-poms to fancy stitches to pointy toes, the shoes of Marrakech were not to be denied. And yellow ones took center stage in many displays.  My favorite:  the ones made of cut-up rugs, or at least that what they looked like to me!  But all were picture-worthy (if you could get permission to snap away)!

For more on Marvelous Morocco, click here.

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Memories of Marrakech: Getting around.

Old meets new as a man in traditional Moroccan dress chats with a friend in motorcycle attire.

Old meets new as a man in traditional Moroccan dress chats with a friend in motorcycle attire.

We’re people watchers (especially when we travel), fascinated by how people work, worship, and live in countries other than our own.  And in Marrakech, how people move from one place to another was in stark contrast to how we get around in the U.S.  Rarely did we see cars in lanes (lines on the street were merely a suggestion in some places), and ingenuity ruled the day as far as transportation went.  People got around any way they could — from carts to motorcycles to bikes to skate boards.  Here are a few glimpses of transportation, Marrakech style.

Horse-drawn carriages

Not just for tourists in Jemaa el-Fnaa.  Locals hopped on, too.

Mostly it's tourists who ride in horse-drawn carriages, but locals use them as well, especially in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Donkeys with carts

Piled high and to the breaking point.

Donkeys pulling carts were the norm for those who needed help with deliveries.

Donkeys alone

Waiting to deliver the goods, a donkey stands tethered in a Marrakech marketplace.

Waiting to deliver the goods, a donkey stands tethered in a Marrakech marketplace.

Carts piled high

Adding a third wheel actually doubles what you can haul!

Adding a third wheel means you can add a cart to a cycle -- double duty, double efficiency.

Carts piled low

Have flatbed, will deliver — open and airy transportation, for sure.

Give me a flatbed, and I'll deliver you some produce -- open and airy transportation, for sure.

And carts filled to overflowing!

No comment needed.  We have no idea how people negotiate mile-high loads!

Walking gets you there. 

Ladies at Koutoubia Mosque get around by foot — possibly the most expedient way in crowded tourist areas.

Ladies at Koutoubia Mosque: Walking won out as most common way of getting around, especially in the areas where tourists want to see the sites.

And so does riding.

A cyclist whizzing by?  Not following the lanes?  Just another day in the streets of the medina.

A motorcyclist speeds through the crowds of the Marrakech medina -- and no one seems fazed at all!

But at the end of the day, a cart can be anything you want it to be.

For more of Marvelous Morocco, check it out here!

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Memories of Marrakech: Mats at Koutoubia

 

Mats laid out for the Call to Prayer at Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech

Mats laid out for the Call to Prayer at Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech

Since we love the brevity and pop of Instagram, we’ve decided to share — in short bursts of photography — a few images that have stayed with us after a visit to the colorful, exotic city of Marrakech in a series titled Memories of Marrakech.  Here’s the first one:  The Mats at Koutoubia Mosque.

Mats laid out end to end on an area adjacent to Koutoubia.

Prayer mats laid out end to end on an area adjacent to Koutoubia.

Koutoubia Mosque is a central landmark of Marrakech, a place where tour guides begin an explanation of the city and its people.  We marveled at the sandstone and brick architecture, the horseshoe windows, and multifoil arches.  And we were fascinated by the fact that the first mosque built on the site had an error in orientation — those who prayed on the plaza surrounding Koutoubia really weren’t facing Mecca as they should be doing.  A new mosque soon took the place of the first “disoriented” one.

But what we found most fascinating during Ramadan (when we visited) were the dozens and dozens of mats all lined up ready for Call to Prayer.  It’s an image that has stuck with us ever since.  Although we never witnessed people praying, we could imagine how the plaza might look with so many devout worshipers in one place.  Definitely a focal point for Marrakech and this cultural, religious center of town.

Ready for Call to Prayer!

Ready for Call to Prayer!

We hope you’ll check out our whole series:  Marvelous Morocco!

— Rusha and Bert Sams

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For a night in Marrakech: Riad Les Yeux Bleus

 

Looking down into the courtyard of Riad Les Yeux Bleus, Marrakech.

Looking down into the courtyard of Riad Les Yeux Bleus, Marrakech.

Although I’ve heard from many people traveling to Marrakech that it’s difficult to book a night at Riad Les Yeux Bleus, but please give it a shot as early as you can.  Near all the action of the city yet in a very quiet place, Riad Les Yeux Bleus is tucked away in the medina only ten minutes from Jemaa el Fna and offers all the luxury you’d ever want in a Moroccan riad.

Places for relaxation, sipping mint tea, and swimming -- all in the courtyard at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

Places for relaxation, sipping mint tea, and swimming — all in the courtyard at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

A riad is a traditional Moroccan house with an interior courtyard or garden.  Riad Les Yeux Bleus takes advantage of its open-air space by flanking a crystal clear pool with lounge chairs and tables where afternoon tea or cocktails await. As you might expect, heavily carved doors open to the courtyard adorned with tall, leafy plants and colorful Moroccan tiles.  But the unexpected is also quite nice — like lush banquettes offering a quiet respite for two or a group meeting for a party of four or five.

Alcoves and lounge chairs offer luxurious relaxation at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

Alcoves and lounge chairs offer luxurious relaxation at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

In good weather, the rooftop is the place to be — ample seating in clay-colored decor bounded by the exotic fronds and colorful flowers you’ve come to love in Morocco.

But no matter what you do at Riad Les Yeux Bleus, don’t miss dinner where you are seated among layers of patterns and colors and served Morocca specialities on a silver platter.

Dinner is served at Riad Les Yeux Bleus

Dinner is served at Riad Les Yeux Bleus

It’s comfortable in this romantic room off the courtyard where rich colors of Moroccan rugs contrast with white columns and tablecloths.  Elegant.  Simple.  And oh, so Moroccan.

Elegant dining at Riad Les Yeux Bleus

Elegant dining at Riad Les Yeux Bleus

And the dishes just keep coming — Moroccan specialties like salads, brochettes, and pastilles made of fresh ingredients (bought at markets in the medina, perhaps?). You’ll be happy your stay for the night is just around the corner in this intimate eight-room riad.

For convenience, impeccable service, authentic decor, and bountiful repasts, book a room at Riad Les Yeux Bleus.  But do it soon.  You won’t want to stay anywhere else if the medina’s shopping and hubbub are what you’re in Marrakech to see!

Loving the service and surroundings at beautiful Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

Loving the service and surroundings at beautiful Riad Les Yeux Bleus.

— Rusha Sams

More posts on Marvelous Morroco are only one click away.

 

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Party on the Plaza: Morocco’s Jemaa el-Fnaa

Birds-eye view of the Marrakech plaza known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Birds-eye view of the Marrakech plaza known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.

If you enjoyed seeing the Marrakech medina — that dizzy meld of colorful goods in tiny shops — then you’ll love passing through the giant plaza to get there.  But caution:  you’ll stop and stare. A lot.

The name, Jemaa el-Fnaa (sometimes spelled Djemma el F’na) means “assembly of the dead,” since it’s been the site of public executions since 1050.  In all the world, Jemaa el-Fnaa could be one of the most memorable public squares you’ll ever see.

A lady applies henna designs to the hands of a customer in a temporary booth on the plaza.

A lady applies henna designs to the hands of a customer in a temporary booth on the plaza.

During the day, it’s a market place where hawkers of all things Moroccan set out hand carved camels, rugs, and pottery.

A seller of carved wooden camels waits for buyers in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

A seller of carved wooden camels waits for buyers in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Carts filled with produce file past you, making deliveries or selling to customers right on the spot.

But come 5:00 or so in the evening, and Jemaa el-Fnaa starts puts on its party hat.  Vendors open up big green tents showing off rows and rows of colorful fruit and trinkets tourists love.

Stalls open up offering fruit and tourist trinkets on the plaza known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Stalls open up offering fruit and tourist trinkets on the plaza known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Fruit stall No. 18 with tidy rows of bottled water, oranges and other tropical fruits.

Fruit stall No. 18 with tidy rows of bottled water, oranges and other tropical fruits.

Looking like a patchwork quilt, rows of nuts and dates wait for customers.

Looking like a patchwork quilt, rows of nuts and dates wait for customers.

And sellers of live snails offer you a to-go cup so you can steam ’em at home.

A seller of snails ready to scoop up a ladle full for you.

A seller of snails ready to scoop up a ladle full for you.

Need a bigger meal? Men in green tented stalls fire up the grills offering cooked meats with sides of couscous, tagine vegetables, and olives, of course.

You're not in Kansas anymore: heads and meat ready for purchase in Marrakech!

You’re not in Kansas anymore: heads and meat ready for purchase in Marrakech!

The real party, though, is center stage where monkey handlers beckon you to come in closer.  Not to worry.  A few dirhams is all it takes for a photo as close – or as far away – as you care to be.

A monkey handler shows off for the camera in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

A monkey handler shows off for the camera in Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Snake handlers lay out their best cobras and patterned slitherers sure to elicit an “ooh, ah,” or more likely “I’m not coming any closer” from the crowd.

At dusk, the cobras come out.

At dusk, the cobras come out.

"Heads up. Tourists are watching!"

“Heads up. Tourists are watching!”

This is as close as I wanted to be.

This is as close as I wanted to be.

In the background, the thumping vibe of African drums and metal clappers draws you closer to red robed dancers who invite you (most persuasively) to line up and stomp to the beat.  So we did.  Here’s Chef Joanne Weir who brought our group from Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 to the plaza.  And then, like the good sport she is,  started movin’ and groovin’ Marrakech style.

If you only get one chance to dance in Jemaa el-Fnaa, take it. Chef Joanne Weir did.

If you only get one chance to dance in Jemaa el-Fnaa, take it. Chef Joanne Weir did.

On our second visit to Jemaa el-Fnaa, we found an even better place to see this aggregate of sights and sounds:  up top at a restaurant balcony.  For the price of an orange soda, we nabbed premium seats for the unfettered chaos below.

If you’re squeamish in crowds, sit this one out. Go sip hot tea in a posh, beautifully tiled restaurant.  But if you’re looking for sensory overload from hard-driving music, the whoosh of undirected vehicles, foreign foods in outrageous stalls, and people moving willy nilly in and among and around, you have to take in Jemaa el-Fnaa.  Only in Marrakech.

Moroccan musicians performing at Jemaa el-Fnaa

Moroccan musicians performing at Jemaa el-Fnaa

For more information:

Follow us in Morocco by clicking onto Travel Series: Marvelous Morocco.

And to see pictures, head to our Flickr account, Marrakesh album.

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Morocco’s Cat Fetish

"So whadya think, Harry? A lot of tourists today?"

“So whadya think, Harry? A lot of tourists today?”

Furry felines flourish in Morocco.  And maybe they have for years.  Not sure about the history of it all, but everywhere we went, there was another cat — or two or three or so.

One guide told our group in Marrakech that Moroccans like cats better than dogs.  “They are clean animals.  You know how they lick their paws and clean their whole bodies?  Dogs don’t do that!”

Could be, we thought.  After all, cleansing is part of Muslim ritual, so it makes sense.  Whatever the explanation, we rarely saw a dog the  whole three weeks in Morocco. In Marrakech especially, cats were everywhere — parks, monuments, the medina, and homes. We spied our first cat couple on the cobblestone plaza at Koutoubia Mosque.  They looked like two old people camped out watching the tourists go by.

Asleep at the door: Marrakech

Asleep at the door: Marrakech

Cats seemed to have the run of the place just about anywhere, but especially in the Marrakech medina.  Perhaps it’s because Muslims would prefer to put bowls of leftover food and scraps near the stalls for their furry friends rather than throw good food away.  We liked that.

A motorcycle seat makes a fine cat bed in the Marrakech medina.

A motorcycle seat makes a fine cat bed in the Marrakech medina.

In Bahia Palace, it didn’t seem to bother the resident furry ones that hundreds of visitors per day passed through their home.  After all, who’s going to let a few foreigners disturb a perfectly good nap?

Asleep on the stoop: Bahia Palace, Marrakech

Asleep on the stoop: Bahia Palace, Marrakech

Even in the early 1800s when the palace was built, special accommodations were made for this favorite of all Moroccan animals.  See that little hole?  It’s a going-in-and-coming-out place for — well, you guessed it. Now we know who really had the run of the house!  (And it wasn’t the 24 concubines kept on the premises.)

Cat door in Bahia Palace

Cat door in Bahia Palace

Some cats, like this one in Chefchaouen (the blue town) seemed to be posing for pictures — much like the tourists do.  (And, yes, you’ll see us standing beside a blue door, too, in an upcoming post on this charming town.)  Ready, set, smile!

Cat on a doorstep: Chefchaouen, Morocco

Cat on a doorstep: Chefchaouen, Morocco

We’re not so sure that Moroccan cats even care that they might be upstaging a take-back-home, frame-worthy picture. Like this little critter who just nonchalantly strolled through the stables at Heri Es Souani in Meknes.   We were posing so our guide could take what she said was “the one picture you’re going to treasure from this trip.”  But here came this cat, just calmly photo-bombing our photo image from beautiful Morocco.  Could it be that cat snobbery exists all over the world?  Maybe so.  It’s at least one thing we have in common.

We've been photo bombed -- by a cat in Meknes, Morocco. Oh, well.

We’ve been photo bombed — by a cat in Meknes, Morocco. Oh, well.

As always, thanks for traveling with us.  — Rusha and Bert Sams

For more information:

More posts on Morocco —  Travel Series:  Marvelous Morocco.

Follow Flickr for more photos of our travels.

 

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All the Makings of a Feast: Marrakech Medina

Shopping for preserved goods and spices in open bowls: Marrakech medina

Shopping for preserved goods and spices in open bowls: Marrakech medina

No culinary experience in Morroco, especially Chef Joanne Weir’s Culinary Journey, would be complete with a trip to the Marrakech medina.  It’s there that the freshest, most colorful foods are piled high for what is truly a feast for the eyes.  And once you get home, the makings of a feast for all!

It begins outside where donkeys and carts of all shapes and sizes bring in the goods. Everything from spices to herbs to fresh-picked fruits make their way over cobblestone plazas to the open markets or through winding alleyways to markets inside.

Trucking fresh food into the medina on a busy market day.

Trucking fresh food into the medina on a busy market day.

Herbs by bicycle: Marrakech medina

Herbs by bicycle: Marrakech medina

Spices become art forms as conical shapes in colors of the Mediterranean stand tall awaiting shoppers looking for such delicacies as cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cinnamon.

Cones of spices form a backdrop for open bags garlic and crushed ingredients.

Cones of spices form a backdrop for open bags garlic and crushed ingredients.

Herbs aren’t packaged in plastic, as we may see in the U. S.  They’re more likely to be found in armloads — thick, green, and aromatic.

Outside the medina, a seller of herbs awaits customers.

Outside the medina, a seller of herbs awaits customers.

Ready for purchase during Ramadan (May 17 to June 14, 2018) are sweet treats for the season.  Of course, those who fast wait until evening to dive into these goodies.

Bowls and platters hold sweets for Ramadan in this medina stall in Marrakech.

Bowls and platters hold sweets for Ramadan in this medina stall in Marrakech.

Going to the medina with Chef Joanne Weir meant frequenting her favorite places.  Like this booth filled with preserved lemons, onions, and olives of various shapes, colors and sizes literally overflowing their massive bowls.

Olives, lemons, spices, and preserves -- a colorful stall in the Marrakech medina.

Olives, lemons, spices, and preserves — a colorful stall in the Marrakech medina.

And if we had needed eggs, we could have bought them . . . with the chickens as well.

Fresh eggs and chickens: Marrakech medina

Fresh eggs and chickens: Marrakech medina

Rich brown dates begged to be touched — so we bought some and ate them while we walked!

Dates for sale in Marrakech

Dates for sale in Marrakech

If you live in the medina, you can bake your homemade bread in community ovens.  (Look closely to see the baker hard at work inside this one pulling out round flatbreads brought to him by residents.)

Community bread oven with baker inside.

Community bread oven with baker inside.

Flat breads cooling near one of many community ovens in Marrakech.

Flat breads cooling near one of many community ovens in Marrakech.

Our culinary group counted ourselves lucky to catch this in action:  young men spinning werqa dough (similar to phyllo) used in making pastilla, a meat pie usually filled with pigeon and apricots and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  (But I have to say that the chicken version we cooked later in the week ranked right up there with one of my favorite dishes of Morocco.)

Spinning werqa dough for making pastilla.

Spinning werqa dough, a dough used for making pastilla.

Every turn in the medina market offered a different glimpse into Moroccan culture and cuisine.  How grateful I was for the opportunity to shop for fresh goods in a truly remarkable place:  the Marrakech medina!

Shopping for fresh fish in the Marrakech medina

Shopping for fresh fish in the Marrakech medina

— Rusha Sams

For more information:

To view more pictures of Morocco, check out my Flicker account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/placeswesee

And to see more posts on this exotic, fascinating country, click on Marvelous Morocco.

 

Posted in Food, Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

A Magical Mix: the Medina of Marrakech

A stall filled with pierced metal lighting in the Marrakech medina.

A stall filled with pierced metal lighting in the Marrakech medina.

Shopping is nothing new to Marrakech.  Located at the end of the Salt Road and on the way north to Casablanca and Rabat, visitors have poured into Marrakech for centuries as a place for goods, but mostly a feast for the senses.

I don’t pretend to have seen all of the Marrakech medina, even after three trips.  But I loved what I saw.  From the outside tourist stalls to the winding, skinny unnamed streets that take you past booths filled with everything from antiques to leather goods to basketry and pierced metal lighting, the medina offers an overload of colors, smells, and sounds.

If there’s one piece of advice to pass on, it’s this:  first-timers need a guide.  Negotiating narrow alleyways with sharp turns where stalls can look alike means you can — and probably will — get lost.  After all, you’re rarely focusing on where you’re going.: You’re too busy looking at what’s for sale. My first day in the medina was spent with two women from California, Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder, who arrived at Jnane Tamsna one day early, as I did, for our Culinary Journey to Morocco with Chef Joanne Weir.

And when you arrive at the medina, there’s more to see than you can imagine.  Like these hands of Fatima, named after the daughter of  the prophet Muhammad.  The hands, our guide told us, are protective signs bringing the owner a sense of safety, happiness, and good luck.

Hands of Fatima offer protection from evil. We all need one, right?

Hands of Fatima offer protection from evil. We all need one, right?

I really had to hold back in this shop offering some of the finest work on inlaid pieces of furniture, hand-painted pottery, and carvings all in rich Moroccan style.

Pottery shops became one of our favorite places as well, but we had a hard time figuring out how to pack blue-and-white painted bowls, platters, and salt cellars into our suitcases to take home.  (Some of us — I’m not saying who —  bought an extra suitcase!)

Lovely painted pottery lined the walls of one stall in the Marrakech medina.

Lovely painted pottery lined the walls of one stall in the Marrakech medina.

Designer clothing hung over our heads in this shop, but the owner willingly brought pieces down to our level to try on or hold up to see if they would fit.

The designer himself was in this clothing shop to take down any items we wanted to try on.

The designer himself was in this clothing shop to take down any items we wanted to try on.

Our guide, Sharif, took us to a basket place that was touristy, but we didn’t mind.  After all, we thought we’d look pretty sassy carrying a Marrakech tote to this beach this summer.

Pom poms and embroidered words on baskets were popular this summer in the Marrakech medina.

Our guide, Sharif, shows Kendra Hodder the popular pompom we saw on baskets and shoes.

But my favorite areas of the medina were the souks where artisans work every day but Friday crafting specialty items by hand.  Families sometimes worked together as this one did in Souk Cherratine where bags, poufs, and coats of camel-skin (most expensive) or goat-hide (more reasonably priced) are made.

This young boy helps his father make leather poufs by cutting out the circles for the bottoms.

This young boy helps his father make leather poufs by cutting out the circles for the bottoms.

This maker of leather poufs took time to pose with two ladies from California.

A maker of leather poufs took time to pose with my friends Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder from California.

Souk Smata is devoted to traditional leather slippers.  Saffron yellow slippers, we were told, are most popular among adults in Fes.  But we chose some for our grandchildren embellished with pom pom balls.

Yellow slippers all in a row in the Marrakech medina.

Yellow slippers all in a row in the Marrakech medina.

Overhead in the dyers souk (Souk des Tenturiers) you dodge shanks of yarn hanging from rafters or bamboo coverings.   Shopkeepers told us this was cactus silk made from the agave plant.  Whatever it was, it took the rich color of the dye quite well.  And it was here that we found men who actually didn’t mind if we took their picture.  One even posed for the “crazy ladies from the U.S.”

Finally, our guide found us a place to sit down — in a carpet shop.  Little did we know that we would spend two hours watching as men rolled out one Berber after another, letting us know regions of origin or weaving techniques or the meaning of the embedded patterns.  But sitting down felt good.  And we bought rugs we didn’t even know we needed. Not only that, a special treat awaited:  hot mint tea! Let the carpet show begin!

In our last souk of the day, Souk Haddadine, blacksmiths and woodworkers plied their trades in small, small spaces.

On the way out, we stopped by an argan oil shop to watch ladies in traditional dress shell argan nuts from the Argania spinosa tree.  The oil is extracted from the nuts and sold in several forms from lotions to pure oil meant to soften your skin.  A great takeaway from Marrakech.

Shelling argan nuts in the Marrakech medina.

Shelling argan nuts in the Marrakech medina.

Of course, there’s far more in the Marrakech medina.  My next post will feature food (at least the stalls that would allow photos of what they offer) sold within and outside the medina.

Bombarded by the sights and sounds of Marrakech, we headed into the medina to encounter even more sensory overload!

A sight to see: the Marrakech medina!

Colorful stalls, sounds of motorcycles whizzing through winding maze-like alleyways, artisans hard at work  — just another day in Marrakech!

— Rusha Sams

For more pictures of Marrakech, check out my Flickr album: Marrakech 2018:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/placeswesee/albums/72157697015074334

Posted in Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Can you say tagine? Culinary Journey in Morocco begins!

Chefs Joanne Weir and Bahija like what the see!

Chefs Joanne Weir and Bahija like what the see!

If you ask anyone about Moroccan cooking — whether they live in Morocco or somewhere around the world — the person is bound to mention tagine.  A tagine is a cooking vessel with a sort of upside-down-funnel-shaped top that fits tightly on a deep saucer.  It holds an assortment of meats and vegetables, allowing the steam generated from the cooking to rise and caress those meats and veggies in a blending way.  But the word tagine is also used alone to indicate what’s for dinner — as in, “We’re having tagine tonight.” We found tagine dishes in almost every restaurant and riad we visited. So, it’s no wonder that Chef Joanne Weir and Chef Bahija of Jnane Tamsna chose tagine cooking for our first adventure in preparing Moroccan cuisine.

In a charming outdoor “room” with twig lattice walls and covered top, 15 participants in Joane Weir’s Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 took their seats, picked up their knives and went to work. And I was proud to be among them!

Ready to make chicken tagine in the utdoor classroom at Jnane Tamsna

Ready to make chicken tagine in the utdoor classroom at Jnane Tamsna

The ever-vigilant Jnane Tamsna staff had started the fires of individual cookers on outdoor tables, so we were ready to begin.

Individual cookers for tagine cooking class.

Individual cookers for tagine cooking class.

There are some basics with cooking Chicken Tagine, our menu item for Day 1.  Although there are no required ingredients, we were told that most tagine dishes include a meat like chicken or lamb, spices (mostly salt, pepper, turmeric and saffron), diced red onion, and extra virgin olive oil.  For our chicken tagines, we first chopped red onion and laid it on the bottom of the tagine. Step two involved seasoning the chicken pieces with spices and herbs in various amounts.

Layers of chopped onion, seasoned chicken and spices in a pottery tagine.

Layers of chopped onion, seasoned chicken and spices in a pottery tagine.

Joanne and Bahija explained the types of spices used in Morocco, adding suggestions on how much or how little to use.  But even with their suggestions, we had the leeway to choose our own spices in the amounts we found most satisfying.  (I found that to be true for most of what we cooked during our Culinary Journey: we had the freedom to make the dishes our own.) For my chicken tagine, I went a bit heavy with salt and pepper, lighter on turmeric.  And then I slathered my chicken with cilantro and garlic.  Others ventured out with a blend of spices called ras el hanout.

Vegetables are piled high atop seasoned chicken and chopped onion.

Vegetables are piled high atop seasoned chicken and chopped onion. Do you see little threads of saffron on top?

Next, we added vegetables or fruits to our liking. For a chicken tagine heavy on vegetables, Chef Bahija and Chef Joanne laid out quite the variety:   tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, peppers, fava beans, and olives.  But if you wanted a sweeter tagine, there was something for you as well: apricots, apples, almonds, prunes, dates, raisins and pear.  As I said, your tagine was yours — from the choices you made to how to finely you chopped ingredients and even how you arranged it all into a pile.

And what fun it was! Some even became a bit giddy at this “doable dish.”  After all, the mystique of cooking tagine was over.  This was one dish we could make at home!

The mother-daughter team of Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder from California had fun showing off their tagines!

The mother-daughter team of Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder from California had fun showing off their tagines!

After layering the chosen veggies or sweets atop our chicken, we carried our tagines to the cooking table where Chefs Bahija and Joanne added water to each unit.  And the waiting began.

It wasn’t long before the steam inside the pottery tagines had done its magic, converting raw ingredients into a savory or sweet treat.  When all was done, we gathered at an outdoor table to eat what we cooked, thanks to the patience and guidance of our two chefs, Bahija and Joanne.

Chefs Bahija and Joanne making cooking fun in Morocco!

Chefs Bahija and Joanne making cooking fun in Morocco!

Cooking tagine was definitely fun, but so was another custom we learned from our guides.  Every time someone took our picture, we heard this:  “Say Tagine“! (And we smiled, loving this alternative to the “Say Cheese” we’d always heard.) “Say Tagine” became our go-to command whenever we took pictures of our group.  And there was much to smile about in our Culinary Journey in Morocco! Say Tagine,  ladies!

For more information:

Many recipes are included on Chef Joanne Weir’s website.  And be sure to check out Chef Joanne’s schedule of classes at  https://www.joanneweir.com/international-culinary-journeys/ In addition, her TV series Plates and Places can be accessed on Create TV and on Vimeo.

Jnane Tamsna, a boutique hotel near Marrakech, was the site of Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018.  

See photos of Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 on Flicker.com/photos/placeswesee

 

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