Monday, October 31, 2011

No Reservations...

Tucked away on a side street and easily overlooked during the day, we were drawn by the lights and smells coming from this tiny cave of a restaurant in Essaouira.  To enter, you must walk through the kitchen, and into a small, three stool room.  There are only two items on the menu:  Harira, Moroccan soup of tomato and lentils, and half round of bread stuffed with fried potato patties.  Good luck ordering just one of the two.  It doesn't seem to be an option. 

Jami and I have decided that our eating adventures here constitute as "field work".  We're doing our job, and we're doing it well, braving gastrointestinal issues from foreign food and tummy aches from stuffing ourselves with, "just one more bite!"  
Anthony Bourdain, I think, would be proud. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hand Painted Signs...

I'd venture to say that Shannon is mildly obsessed with painted sings.
Margaret Kilgallen, Jeff Canham and New Bohemia Signs are household names chez nous. And, if you'd walked into our kitchen this last spring, you probably would have been greeted with pots and pots of house paint, wet brushes and a peek at Shannon's own hand painted sign commissioned for Falafel of Santa Cruz.
As best friends are oft to do, Shannon's obsessions tend to rub off on me a little bit.  Now, I'm always on the lookout for new lettering and hand painted signs where ever I go, and never before have I seen so many as here in Morocco.

I wish Shannon were here to go sign scouting with me.  
I miss her...

A Rainy Day...

We made ourselves cozy during our stay in Essaouira.  The winds along the sea and through the narrow alleys of the medina nearly blew us off the continent and did quite a number to my hair.  To avoid the rain we ducked into several of Essaouira's many tea shops and drank Berber Whiskey (mint tea) throughout the afternoon, tasted the local space cakes sold off of trays by the port, and experienced a traditional Moroccan hammam.  
"space cakes".

The hammam, or bath house was one of the most unusual experiences I've ever had.  I was referred to a washwoman by the hostel owner, and was lead down the twisting alleys to an unmarked door.  Inside, we walked down narrow hallways of tiled walls, past a wood fired stove that provided the heat for the bath water.  We traded bath tickets with the women in the woman's room for soap, not dissimilar to something that might happen in Spirited Away.  My guide, who up until this point had been fully robed and veiled, began to take off all her clothes and instructed me to do the same.  For a country that traditionally is so conservative with gender, it was interesting to watch how differently women conducted themselves in the baths.  Though it was not crowed inside, the hammam could easily be a very social place, and women had no inhibitions inside, often walking over and scrubbing another woman somewhere she could not quite reach.  I sat in the corner as the wash woman filled up plastic jugs of hot water from the faucet and poured them into three big brown buckets veined with the white shadow of old plastic.  She dumped the first bucket on my head then lathered me with soap and left me to steep for a while in the corner.  After some time, she came at me with a course wash pad and rubbed me raw from head to toe, pulling my legs towards her stomach while she was scrubbing, my toes quite in danger of running abreast with her nipples.  She then washed my hair, and called me her "baby" as I sat huddled knees to chest, not quite ready for the exposure of a public bathhouse.  Afterwards she dried me off, and we redressed, she redoing her veil. A small tip to the bath women, and off down the snaking streets, my skin bright pink; a clean, glowing contrast against the muddy streets and dark skies of Essaouira.

New Faces...

This is Jami.
From the time she graduated highschool (early, at 15), she has been working in restaurants around the world and documenting her culinary and gourmand escapes.  She joined us in Madrid and tagged along for five days through Marrakesh and Essaouira.  Together, we braved the dirtiest food carts and darkest hole in the wall eateries determined to taste the true Morocco and discover the perfect bite.  She's continued on now, off to Italy then Ireland, a brief stint in a restaurant in Los Angeles and then back to Africa to spend Christmas in Nigeria! 
Jami, who goes by the alias, Jami Cakes, is hugely inspirational and over this last week we shared a passion for food, adventure and stories about our dishwashers. I wish she was still here, Morocco won't be the same without my perfect foodie friend!

P.S.  Jami is quite the professional traveler.
You can follow her adventures here on blogspot,
on her website, twitter, fan her on facebook,
or watch her cooking videos on her youtube channel.
Phew!  It's a lot of work to be a pro!!

By The Sea...

Fresh Fresher Freshest
Do you like fresh fish?
It’s just fine at Finney’s Diner.
Finney also has some fresher fish
that’s fresher and much finer.
But his best fish is his freshest fish
and Finney says with pride,
“The finest fish at Finney’s
is my freshest fish, French-fried!"
-Dr. Seuss

There is no fish fresher than at the beachside shacks of Essaouira.  For sixty Moroccan Durams (~6euros) we got 11 plates of fresh fried fish, and a tour of the town from the fish monger who seemed to take a certain liking to Hannah!
This region of Morocco was made famous by visits from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin who came in search of spiritual enlightenment.  This pilgrimage lives on and Essaouira is awash with aging spiritualists, space cake bakers, and young, new wave hippies. 
Listen to music claimed to be inspired by Essaouira here and here.

On Route To Essaouira...

After a good deal of time spent haggling, Omar, the taxi driver, agreed to drive us two and a half hours east to Essaouira.  On the way, he pulled over at an Argan Oil co-op.  Here, Berber widows and single mothers are employeed to produce this oil using traditional methods of peeling, roasting and grinding Argan tree seeds using stone grinders and woven baskets. The final oil is the rarest on earth and is made into cooking and beauty products that are extremely popular here in Morocco, and abroad. 
The leftover nut that is strained from the oil is fed to the goats that we saw hanging out in the trees along the road during our drive to the seaside!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In The Riad...

This is the most beautiful hostel in the entire world.
Never before have I seen such elegant accommodations for weary backpackers and world travelers.
Equity Point Hostel offers not only a place to sleep, but adventure tours of Morocco, a spa on the top floor, cooking classes and the most beautiful rooftop terrace in the world. 
Closer to the equator, dusk falls earlier and the top of the riad is the perfect place socialize and meet other travelers, or just sit in silence and listen to the chilling sound of the muezzin calling the prayers from the nearby mosque. 
I could stay in this place forever.

P.S.  Equity Point Hostel is nearly impossible to find (unless you're with me, of course ;) ).
I'll be back in Marrakesh tomorrow and, if I can get my video recorder working, I will take you on a tour through the souks of the medina, and right up to the front door!


How can you capture Morocco in words?
Hopefully these pictures can do a bit to justify my inability to articulate my experience in this place.
Marrakesh is among the most amazing places I have ever been.  The incredible difference between the world of Northern Africa and anything else I've experienced makes it hard to identify points of reference.
Here, my senses are on overdrive.  Ever color, smell and sound is amplified.
It's like a technicolor film, but you're inside, trying to figure out whether anything around you is truly real.  There's no time to reflect on the authenticity of any of these things, however.  In Marrakesh, you must always be on your toes, dodging donkey carts, navigating the twists and turns of the souk's million alleys, fending off enthusiastic sales men and snake charmers, gawking over domesticated monkeys, and gingerly avoiding the rotten chicken heads left out in the streets for the benefit of Morocco's overwhelming cat population.
 Despite the overwhelming stimulus of this place, I have found myself quite at ease.  The red city of Marrakesh is known for its twisting alleys and its penchant for making tourists quite lost.  Though I quite enjoy loosing myself, in books and baking and crowds, I do not generally find myself lost geographically.
I've always been a little bit big headed about my sense of direction, and here finally, in Marrakesh, I have finally converted navigational apostles.  Follow me through Morocco and I'll make sure we're not lost. 

If on the off chance we do, though, it'll just be part of the adventure!