This was my first trip to Morocco and I hope one of many. I was thoroughly charmed by the people, in awe of the architecture and handicrafts, and all consumed by the spicy food.
The intoxicating smell of Marrakech still lingers in my head (and my suitcase – I knew I shouldn't have brought back all those spices!). It is impossible to ignore the spice shops with their tall bright colored cones of cinnamon, cumin, paprika, and tumeric. When customers buy the spices, it's fun to watch the the sellers scrape the tall cones with a spatula without spilling any to the floor. Miraculous.
Fresh mint is sold at every corner for use in the traditional mint tea. The smell of mint wafts through the overcrowded marketplace of Medina intermingling with the spices and barbecued meat stalls. Every time I sat down some one offered me a cup of mint tea – whether I was buying handmade rugs, enjoying the street performers, or relaxing in our riad (hotel). The tea was so refreshing amidst the chaos of the markets and the scorching afternoon heat.
The riad we stayed at, Dar Les Cigognes, was exquisite. It is hardly noticeable from the outside, but once you enter, there is a paradise awaiting. The riad has been restored with attention to every detail from the intricately carved plaster moldings to the stone polished walls. We had a difficult time leaving our hotel especially after we experienced the spa and hammam
My favorite part of our riad (aside from drinking Moroccan beer on the terrace and getting scrubbed down in the hammam) was taking cooking lessons from the resident chef. He taught me how to make lamb tangine and other Moroccan specialties! Here's a Moroccan cooking tip: when you think you've added enough spice to your tangine – add more!!!
My video below doesn't do the city justice. I was so overwhelmed by all the color and music and people that video taping took last priority. Honestly, I'm a total tongue twisted idiot in this video. I'm sure you'll notice that I only describe food as "delicious" even though there are a million better adjectives for Moroccan cuisine.
If you're wondering why I don't know what I'm eating at any of the meals in the video, it's because people kept brinigng me things to eat without a menu. None of it disappointed and I had a difficult time keeping my fingers away from the olives and salted peanuts that seemed to follow me everywhere. Especially those red olives – DELICIOUS!!! (shit, there's that word again)
Our guide, Mustafa, was incredible. He took us through the confusing streets of Medina, in and out of the different markets explaining the history and introducing us to prominent people and shop owners. I finally asked him how he learned to speak English and he told me that in the '60's the hippies who used to smoke hashish in the Medina sqaure, taught him English little by little. Now he makes a substantial living as a tour guide and helped to write the Lonely Planet guide on Marrakech. He's also been interviewed on several travel shows.
The last tour he gave was for Gwen Stefani and he has her personal cell phone number to prove it!!! He said he really didn't know her music too well, but his kids were big fans. Apparently she filled her mansion in L.A. with rugs, furniture, and antiques from Marrakech. Mustafa took us to all the shops she went to just in case we wanted to fill our Paris 'mansion' with goodies too.
We didn't want to disappoint Mustafa so we bought a few tiny things. Including a beautiful antique vase (God, I hope it makes it back here in one piece), some hand woven wool rugs, and a few lanterns for the terrace. Oh, and a ton of spices – I'll be making tangine for the next hundred years!
In the video you will notice a disclaimer to one of the Casbah's we visited. We got our adventure a little confused that day. We were supposed to take a mule ride up to a Unesco Casbah and then come down and drive to Richard Branson's Casbah for our reserved lunch. However we got up to the top of the first Casbah and asked if it was Richard Branson's and the host said 'yes'. We stayed for lunch thinking it was Chez Branson.
Lunch was DELICIOUS but when we got back down our taxi driver was wondering what happened to us. We missed our reservations at the Branson's casbah. I'm glad we did, I don't think anything could compare with that view of the snow covered mountains or the freshness of ingredients in the tangine (I think it was lamb, again no menu).
All in all I would definitely go back to Marrakech. But this time I want to take some belly dancing lessons instead of cooking lessons. Then I can come home with all those great sexy moves and shiny outfits!