My recent trip to Marrakech has brought back mouth-watering memories of last year’s trip to Morrocco with the family, when we stayed in Taghazout, the surf-capital of Morocco. Our week was spent in an apartment that overlooked the ocean and we spent our time either trying to surf (the kids) or hanging out in the many little cafes along the sea front (me) surfing in our imagination while sipping a refreshing orange juice or a sweet mint tea.
We were there around Easter a year ago, and since Morocco is a warm and sunny spring destination and a number of airlines, such as Monarch offer cheap flights to Agadir, there’s really no excuse to go. Here are some of the happy food memories from our trip to Taghazout and Agadir to tempt you;
Because of the years that Morocco was under a French protectorate, it’s easy to find delicious freshly baked baguettes as well as the more traditional Moroccan flat-bread to eat for breakfast. With it we tried the local Amlou, a dip made of ground almonds, Argan oil and local honey which was so moreish that we had to bring a jar home with us. It makes a smooth, oily mixture, a bit like runny peanut butter to dip your bread into and on one of our day trips we stopped at the Argan oil co-operative to learn how the argan kernels are pressed to make the oil used both in cooking and in skin and hair preparations.
Lunch was often a Moroccan salad which is served in all the cafes and restaurants as a side dish or starter, preferably with a view of the expert surfers twisting and turning their way into the beach. The salad is made from the vegetables that most families might have growing in their back garden, chopped small, such as tomatoes, cucumber, green and red peppers and red onion tossed in vinaigrette and served with French bread.
Being a Muslim country, alcohol is not generally served, except in cafes and restaurants that cater for Europeans, but instead we drank gallons of freshly pressed orange juice. In the markets you’ll see huge stalls full of oranges waiting to be taken home and pressed into juice and we also came across a few juice bars that sold more interesting juice combinations, using carrots, beetroot and ginger such as the kiosk next to L’Auberge in Taghazout.
Another ingredient that featured in many of the Moroccan dishes we ate was chickpeas, which is made into hummus but also used in the green salad that we often ordered, mixed with other Mediterannean ingredients such as tomatoes, black olives and goats cheese, or cooked in tagine dishes in place of meat.
A staple of the North African cuisine is of course cous cous, a small grain that is steamed and then served with oven cooked vegetables and sometimes pieces of meat or chickpeas. I began to realise that the same repertoire of Moroccan dishes appears in almost every restaurant, from the street-food vendor to the smart restaurant, so you are often paying more for the decor and ambiance of the restaurant than any difference in the style or quality of the food.
We ate cous cous several times in different variations in Taghazout, from the elegant French-style version at L’Auberge, to a party version for the guest night put on by the owners of the Surf’n'Stay apartment where we stayed, as well as a home cooked version prepared over the open fire after our walk up to Paradise Valley. Each time there is a base of cooked cous cous in the bottom of the clay tagine dish, topped with chunks of meat and then a layer of large vegetable pieces, such as carrots and courgettes and potatoes laid over the mound of cous cous, with a dish of spicy harissa sauce of the side or poured over the top to give extra flavour. I gather that the French almost regard cous cous, which they inherited from their North African colonies as a national dish, just as we Brits love a good curry even though our Indian empire is long gone.
The final favourite that we discovered in every restaurant was the Tagine, which refers more to the style of oven cooking in a clay pot than to any specific combination of meat and vegetables. Just as we might talk about a stew or casserole cooked in the oven, the Moroccan tagine dishes rely on being cooked oh so slowly in the oven (think six hours). Since every neighbourhood would have a hammam, you might leave your tagine dish with the man stoking the wood fired boiler for the hammam and come back a few hours later after your bath to pick it up for your lunch.
The tagines we tried seemed to often combine meat with fruit flavours, such as lamb cooked with prunes or chicken cooked with preserved lemons and green olives which were delicious.
I know that in a week near Agadir we only scratched the surface of Moroccan cuisine and were probably experiencing the tourist favourite dishes. From reading some of the Moroccan Food blogs out there such as The View from Fez and Maroc Mama I know there is plenty of variety in Moroccan home cooking, so if you are tempted, I commend some of their recipes to you. Enjoy!
More inspiration from Morocco
This article was brought to you in partnership with Monarch Airlines who fly twice a week from Manchester to Morocco.
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Marrakech can be exotic, chaotic, challenging and welcoming in turn. You want belt? You want slippers? Where are you from? How much you want to pay? A woman grabs my arm and offers to to cover it with intricate henna patterns. When I decline she starts to make a ‘present’ of a design on my hand and I have to tug myself away. I point the camera in the direction of a distant group of snake charmers and instantly a man is there with a cap asking for payment.
There are sights to see in Marrakech; palaces, gardens, mosques, but that’s not really the point. You go for the colour, the street-life, the banter, the people. All of this can be rather exhausting of course, so thank goodness we were staying at Riad Star, a haven of calm within the Medina or walled city. Riad Star is the latest addition to a small family of boutique Riads, owned by English couple, Mike and Lucie Wood, and is beautifully designed on a Jazz Age theme in honour of Josephine Baker, cabaret star of the 1920s and 30s, who lived there for a time.
To help you make the most of your stay in Marrakech, the couple have designed the Marrakech-Riad i-phone app that you can download free from iTunes, giving you tips on haggling, information on restaurants, recommended shops and things to see around the Medina. Best of all the app has a map that is stored on your phone (no need for wifi or roaming) with all the points of interest marked on it and a GPS feature which means you can navigate your way through the narrow passageways of the souk by following the moving dot, without falling prey to those helpful young men who point you in the wrong direction and then offer to show you the way (for a small fee).
We flew to Marrakech with easyJet for a weekend on their new direct route from Bristol and spent our time sightseeing, haggling for things we didn’t really need and trying not to get too lost – although that is half the fun. The Saadian tombs were one of the things we discovered, entering in single file through a narrow walled passage, that opened into a large courtyard. Pavilions with columns and carved plasterwork housed the tombs marked on the floor in tiles, with a raised section to prevent anyone walking on the dead. These tombs are the resting place of the rulers of the 16th century Saadi dynasty, but were dusty and forgotten until 1917 when they were rediscovered and restored.
Even more impressive was the Medersa Ben Youssef, an Islamic religious school founded in the 14th century with over a hundred tiny rooms for the pupils, overlooking the courtyard with central shallow pool. The Medersa is well known in the Islamic world and every surface is covered with patterned tiles in blues, green and browns as well as intricate plasterwork and Arabic inscriptions. The richly decorated surroundings make it the ideal place to bring visiting royalty and celebrities to be photographed framed in one of the windows or against a tiled backdrop that says “Here I am in Marrakech”. The Medersa even starred as an Algerian Sufi retreat with Kate Winslet, in the film Hideous Kinky.
Even more recognisable for those “Here I am in Marrakech” photos, are the Majorelle Gardens which have become known for that particular shade of blue named after them, “Majorelle Blue”. The gardens were developed in the 1920s and 1930s by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle and were later bought and renovated in the 1980s by the French fashion designer, Yves Saint-Laurent. The gardens feel a bit like walking into an art installation, clothed with tropical bamboo stems, shady palms, spiky cactus and water lilies drifting in shallow pools. Rich teracotta painted paths lead the eye towards electric blue pavillions, while acid yellow and tangerine painted and planted pots punctuate the garden paths. There’s an interesting museum of Berber clothing and jewellery within the gardens, but don’t make the mistake of taking a sneaky photo inside or you’ll get a severe telling off like I did!
We used the Marrakech-Riad app to locate interesting places to eat as we wandered through the Medina, mainly European style cafes such as Earth Cafe that specialises in fresh juices and vegetarian and vegan dishes. I enjoyed my beetroot, ginger and orange juice with a lunch of roasted tagine vegetables topped with goat’s cheese. We were equally at home at some of the street kiosks that we came across in the souk where we tried a mini tagine of lamb and vegetables served with bread and a Moroccan salad of chopped cucumber and tomatoes. We discovered that the same fresh orange juice, tagines, flat bread, and Moroccan salad dishes appeared in most of the restaurants, so the choice of where to eat was less about the originality of the food and more about the setting and ambiance.
Haggling in the souk can be a daunting prospect, since you know that all the traders have been perfecting their bargaining skills since childhood and are relying on that fact to extract the maximum amount of money possible from you, while persuading you they are your best friend. Of course it’s all a friendly game of charades where each side understands the part they are playing. Luckily I was able to use the tips on the app to brush up on my haggling patter which works something like this;
First you decide what you want to buy and what is a fair price to pay, perhaps by checking out some of the fixed price shops such as Ensemble Artisanal or by asking the price of the same item in a few stalls while making it clear that you are ‘not buying today’. Next you find a stall that has a good selection of the slippers, bowls or lamps you want to buy and wander up without expressing any particular interest. The conversation develops like this;
“Please come and look, looking is free! Where are you from? Bristol? – I was working near there a few years ago. Do you like this bowl (thrusts it into your hand).
“Oh I’m not sure, I have no space to take this back to England but how much is it?
For you I’ll make a special price of £10, how many do you want to buy?
“Oh it’s very nice, but I can’t afford that and I’m not sure my husband would like it, but how about if I gave you £3 and I might take two?
Shopkeeper looks horrified; “Madame, you’re trying to rob me, I have a family to feed and can’t you see the beautiful craftsmanship – this is hand painted. But for you I can do it for £8″
You look doubtful, “No I really don’t think I need it, but perhaps I could go as high as £4 for it”
And so it goes on until you agree at £5 and before you can change your mind your purchase is being wrapped up for you and the cash (preferrably the exact amount or you might not see your change) is handed over.
I think after a month or two of haggling I might have got the hang of it, but we did go out looking for a lamp and came back with six painted bowls and a mirror after making the mistake of expressing interest in a pepper pot. But the nice shop-keeper did then take us up to the top floor of his shop and give us a great view over the roofs of the souk and we just about managed to squeeze it all into our easyJet hand luggage!
And so to the square of Jemaa El Fna, the beating heart and soul of Marrakech, where you can be entertained, robbed if you don’t take care, buy a glass of orange juice, or get into conversation with an ‘official’ guide who will feed you misinformation and try to take you to his friend’s shop. Watch the snake charmers and monkey men from a safe distance or they’ll be onto you, draping a snake around your neck and demanding money for the photos, or take a horse and carriage ride around the Medina. Around the edge of the square are cafe terraces where you can get a view over the square which is especially useful as dusk falls and the food stalls are put up to feed the throngs of visitors.
We didn’t eat at the stalls in the night market, although we fully meant to go back there, but somehow once we got back to the calm of Riad Star, we couldn’t face going back out again to face the pressing crowds and the succession of people trying to extract their share of your cash. We were recommended by the staff at Riad Star to try stall number 117 and by the Marrakech-Riad app to try the fish stall at No 14 serving fish from the ports of Essaouria and Casablance with French fries and salads – a Moroccan Fish & Chips. If you try either of these stalls, do let me know how they were!
Another benefit of using the Marrakech-Riad app is that it gives you a 10% discount at many of the cafes, restaurants and boutiques that are popular with Europeans, such as the Henna Cafe, a co-operative that is supported by the Marrakesh-Riad and provides an art space, small rooftop cafe and a community project where language classes are provided for locals who want to learn English, German and French to work in tourism. If you want to avoid being grabbed by a persistent lady in Jemaa El Fna, this is the place to get your henna design in a more relaxed atmosphere, but try not to step on the tortoise who roams under the tables in the terrace cafe!
It took me a couple of days before I could really relax in Marrakech and enjoy the atmosphere without worrying about being ripped off or scammed. By then it was time to fly home, but next time I’ll be ready to bargain like a local and bring home another suitcase full of slippers, painted tangines and Aladdin lamps.
Heather and Guy flew to Marrakech courtesy of easyJet who fly from Bristol to Marrakech on Tuesdays and Saturdays – perfect for a long weekend break. EasyJet also fly to Marrakech from Gatwick, Stanstead and Manchester so you really have no excuse!
Thanks to Riad Star who hosted our stay in Marrakech. We loved the beautifully designed home-from-home in the Medina, filled with Moroccan craftsmanship combined with Jazz Age objets, paying homage to cabaret star, Josephine Baker who stayed there in the 1940s. Rooms at the Riad start at £140 per night bed and breakfast and delicious Moroccan meals are available on request.
The Riad is one of four in the Marrakech-Riad family, owned by English couple Mike and Lucie Wood, which are all well located close to all the major sights of the Medina, with English-speaking Moroccan staff who will offer advice, airport transfers, book restaurants, and lend you a local mobile so they can rescue you if you get lost in the Souk! Each Riad has between 4 and 7 bedrooms, making them ideal to book as a group if you are planning a gathering of family or friends, or for couples planning a romantic getaway.
About the Marrakech Riad App
We found the Marrakech-Riad app was indispensable for finding our way around the Medina and full of useful tips and information about sightseeing, restaurants and shopping. The app is free to download from iTunes and features;
- A comprehensive GPS responsive map of the old town medina to save you getting lost in the maze of bustling streets. In the latest version the map has been extended to cover the new town area of Marrakech.
- Background profiles on popular tourist attractions and up to the minute guides to restaurants and bars, written by Marrakech Riad owner and local expert, Mike Wood
- Discounts at many of the shops and restaurants recommended by the app
- Information on day excursions from Marrakech
- Useful tips on haggling in the souks and other advice to make your stay in Marrakech more enjoyable.
More things to see in Morocco
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
In this article our guest writer, Sophie Couwenbergh shares her experiences at Fiesta Hermosa in Southern California that takes place over the Labor Day weekend on Hermosa Beach, featuring live music, fish tacos and hippie underwear.
When I was researching my first trip to Los Angeles in 2012, I found out that we would be there during Labor Day Weekend. I thought it would be fun to experience some of the festivities held during that weekend. After some more research a friend and I decided to go to Fiesta Hermosa and we had so much fun that I even decided to go back when I was in LA for another trip last year.
Fiesta Hermosa was organized for the first time in 1972 and has since been the largest arts and crafts fair in Southern California. The festival takes place every Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekend (Saturday, Sunday and Monday), right by Hermosa Beach. The stands are stretched out over Hermosa Avenue (from 10th St. until 14th ST.) and Pier Avenue (from Palm Dr. until Pier Plaza). Here you can find anything from jewelry over clothes to paintings.
Plenty of food and entertainment
That’s not all that Fiesta Hermosa has to offer, though. There are also two stages – one at Pier Plaza and one at the Charity Beer & Wine Garden at 11th Street – where live bands play different kinds of music all day long. Last year we saw a Beatles tribute band performing at the main stage.
Although there are enough bars and restaurants in the festival area to grab a bite, Fiesta Hermosa also has its own food court with stands offering tastes from all over the world. There’s pizza, fries, Mexican food and I later learned that the Hermosa Beach lifeguards even have a fish taco stand there. I somehow missed that, otherwise I would have definitely gone for a fish taco. I did see the Holy-Guaca-Moly stand and got a sample of their nachos with guacamole. Yum!
By the way, right next to the food court you’ll also find Fiesta Hermosa’s ‘kids department’ with different rides and games, just like a mini carnival.
We didn’t have lunch at the food court but instead decided to head back to this small place at Pier Plaza where we had a coffee in the morning. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the name but it was about two shops away from a big clothing store selling surf brands like Rip Curl. When you enter there’s a counter at the left and some tables to the right. Pier Plaza isn’t that long, so I’m sure you’ll find it. This place has fresh orange juice, a multitude of coffees and teas and it serves great quiches. I liked it because it was much less crowded (because it was such a tiny place) and noisy than the other places in that area and if you manage to get a seat outside you’ll be ideally placed for some people watching.
Fiesta Hermosa highlights
I found this cute little cupcake shop quite by accident. Some of the stand owners were talking about it and while they weren’t selling cupcakes outside, the shop was actually right behind one of the stands. I always have to get a cupcake when I find some abroad.
We loved this stand full of hippie colored clothes, including underwear, and just had to get a picture of this. Luckily the stand owner thought we were funny.
I don’t know if this is typical for the Californian coastline, but we saw such cool bikes at Hermosa Beach, such cool models, in all possible colors. If I could’ve taken one home with me (meaning: if it wouldn’t have cost a fortune to do so), I would have.
Practical information for Fiesta Hermosa
Be aware that Fiesta Hermosa is a daytime festival. It starts at 10 am and finishes at 6pm, except for the Beer Garden, which is open until 7 pm. Glass and plastic containers are recycled and the plates and cutlery used at the food court are all either recyclable or compostable. Fiesta Hermosa is green! The buses that bring in visitors as well as the generators that supply power for the festival run on biodiesel.
If you want to visit Fiesta Hermosa you could drive there, but I don’t know if you’d easily find a parking spot. Parking in Los Angeles is tough, with different parking restrictions on every block and pretty high fines if you don’t keep to those restrictions. That’s why I love Fiesta Hermosa’s shuttle bus system. You can park your car at the Northrop Grumman Building O4 at 15092 Aviation Blvd. (near the intersection of Aviation Blvd and Marine Street in Manhattan Beach) for free and then take a shuttle bus (also for free!) to the festival area.
The buses drive constantly between Fiesta Hermosa and the parking lot from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm. I made use of the shuttle system both times I visited Fiesta Hermosa and I’m glad I did. No stress searching for a parking spot and the bus drops you off right where the fair begins. (Note: dogs aren’t allowed on the shuttle buses.)
What else is there to do at Hermosa Beach?
If you’re in the area during Labor Day weekend you should definitely spend a day at Fiesta Hermosa, but even if you’re in Los Angeles another time of the year, this beach town is worth a visit. Even when there’s no fair you’ll be able to do some shopping on Pier Avenue. It’s not like spending an afternoon on Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, but there are some nice boutiques there. If you walk down Pier Avenue you’ll get to the beach. A nice big stretch of sand where you can catch some sun and watch people play volleyball on one of the beach volley terrains.
Often there are also some surfers out in the water, working on their best tricks in the hopes of getting a spot on the Surfer’s Walk of Fame. You can find this collection of surfer names engraved in bronze plaques on the Hermosa Pier.
If you’d like to get active yourself you can mingle with all the runners, bikers and walkers on The Strand. This beachfront sidewalk is also great for some people watching. And if you happen to be in Hermosa Beach on a Sunday, you might want to check out the Comedy and Magic Club. Jay Leno often performs here on Sunday nights to try out new material.
Many thanks to our guest author, Sofie Couwenbergh, a Belgian language lover and travel aficionada who combines a full-time job with a never-ending wanderlust and an upcoming freelance business. She uses her weekends, vacation days and public holidays to travel the world and share her experiences with you on Wonderful Wanderings. Be sure to follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey