Bold colours and intricate patterning adorn the structures of Moroccan architecture: these are the images of Morocco that will forever stay imprinted in your memory even when all others have long gone.
I’m of the opinion that it’s the tastes of a country that stay with you long after you’ve arrived back home, and this is without a doubt true of Moroccan cuisine. Aside from the couscous and dates which are synonymous with a trip to Morocco, there are a few lesser known delicacies which will have your mouth watering.
Cooked in a traditional tagine pot, tagines can be made from almost anything imaginable, and are made with an enormous array of herbs and spices. Pigeon is quintessentially Moroccan, however beef and chicken options are served almost everywhere. Hands down the best I ever tried was a lemon chicken tagine in the souks of Fes!
Until you understand that ‘Moroccan Whiskey’ refers to a super sweet mint tea, served in traditional Moroccan tea glasses, you’ll be surprised to hear so many people in this largely non-drinking culture talk about the fact that they drink it at least five times a day! The mint tea is served after many meals, and is a customary welcome drink – many hotels offer it upon your arrival.
Msemen (Moroccan pancakes)
If there is one thing I will miss from my travels in Morocco, it has to be devouring a stack of these every morning for breakfast. Msemen are not really pancakes; rather than being made of a batter, msemen is made of a semolina dough, which is rolled out and fried. The taste is in-between a pancake and a pastry, and I personally devour mine with butter and honey.
Dozens of vendors cooking up fresh batches of snails are scattered throughout the souks in Marrakech, and I challenge all of you to try your hand (or rather, tastebuds) at eating a bowl. The dish is a great example of the French influence within the country, however these snails have a more garlic-y aftertaste than their European counterparts. Also, unlike other Moroccan dishes, these bad boys come with a huge hit of salt, in the form of a broth which the locals drink after finishing off the main dish.
Fruit, fruit and more fruit
Don’t be surprised when you’re promised ‘Moroccan ice-cream’ for dessert and the waiter brings out a tray of mandarins, apples and bananas! Pastries, such as msemen, appear reserved for breakfast and light snacks, while dessert is a lighter, fresher option; one which you generally appreciate after stuffing your face with tagine and couscous! TIP: If you get the chance, try some freshly squeezed orange juice.
Labyrinths of winding streets and narrow corridors greet you as you enter the Old Medina of Fes: and I sure hope you either have a guide or a really, amazingly good map. If not you’ll be taking your life - okay a bit dramatic - rather you'll be taking your chances of leaving the medina on the same day into your own hands.
The quintessential postcard-picture of Fes – if there’s one thing you’ll remember from your visit to the city, it’ll be the smell of these tanneries. While I didn’t think the smell was anything near as terrible as most travel sites made it out to be (although visiting during the summer months may prove to be a different experience), the sprigs of mint offered upon your arrival are a welcome gift. Be prepared to do some barging as you leave the tanneries through the co-op store. There are pluses and minuses about buying from the co-op. On the one hand, you know the leather is quality and genuine - unlike what you may sometimes be sold by a cunning street vendor (it happened to a friend) - although you should expect to pay a little more here than in the souks. Still, if leather is what you’re after, the pieces are all much cheaper than anything you can find at home. My personal favourite are the babouche slippers – without a doubt the most comfortable (and bright) pair of slippers I’ve ever owned!
University of al-Karaouine
It’s easy to be taken into another time when you visit one of the oldest universities in the world. Not typically flourishing with tourists, the sense of knowledge and serenity fills you as you traverse its many floors and stairways. The floors are all situated around a main courtyard, and while many prefer to limit their explorations to this square, the true sense of wonder comes from discovering the stairwells and tiny rooms (most of which are open) on the upper levels.
The souks run along the labyrinth that is the narrow, winding streets of the Old Medina. Here you’ll find jewellery, leather, ceramics and food (as well as your dime a dozen ‘authentically-made-in-china’ souvenirs). What I love about the souks in Fes above those in other cities such as Marrakesh is that, although many tourist traps do still abound, the marketplace is still truly used by the locals; meaning that you can secure more authentic food and wares than the more tourist-aimed souks.