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Archive for the ‘Morocco’ Category

harem courtyard, Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco

Overall, based on our five days in Marrakech, I’d say the main things to do are to shop for handcrafted goods, eat and wander aimlessly. The other “sights” were nice ways to kill time, but none of them were anything I’d travel to Marrakech specifically to see, which I guess is a sign the city is more than just for tourist ogling.

In any case, taking the souks and haggling out of the picture, here’s how we kept ourselves otherwise entertained:

Hammam/Spa Action

To my mind, Muslim country = hammam (public steam bath) tradition. The Moroccan women running our riad told me to skip going to a fancy European-style spa and stick with the hammams to get my skin healthy and glowing, but the trick with the authentic hammams is that men and women go at different times of the day and you get your treatment lying on the tile floor, which didn’t sound super appealing to me.

Jon, however, went to the Hammam el-Bacha (“The Pasha’s Spa” on Rue Fatima Zohra) because he’s such a sucker for a massage, especially for 7o dh (less than $10). He reported that you put your belongings in a cubby hole and then walk into this warm, cavernous, marble-tiled room.

An old guy who spoke French and Arabic (neither of which Jon understands) gestured Jon to lie on the floor, and then he gave Jon a vigorous scrubbing and massage for almost an hour. The guy then finished off the session by dumping buckets of warm, clean water on Jon, and Jon now wishes he’d gone to the hammam earlier in the trip so he could go back again and again.

In contrast, Jon and I spent one rainy day at a fancy hotel spa, which Jon thought was terrible, especially in comparison with his Hammam el-Bacha experience.

Our first choice was to get treatments at the Bains de Marrakesh, recommended by our riad, but it was booked solid the whole time we were in town. Disappointing!

We called up a ritzy French chain called Cinq Mondes, which just opened at a new-concept Club Med just outside the city in the Palmeraie (where all the big luxury resorts are), but not only did you have to schlepp out to the resort to confirm your appointment in person, but also a facial there cost 910 dh ($106), which is about twice the going rate at other places we called in Marrakesh. No thanks.

After all this calling around, we settled on the “Oriental Spa” at Hotel es Saadi, partly because we’d read good reviews on-line, and mostly because they had appointments available for both Jon and me at the same time.

The Hotel Es Saadi has seen better days. The decor was glamorous circa 1980, I think. Lots of gold and mirrors. There is, however, an impressively-large, heated outdoor pool.

My facial was an hour long and relaxing, and I was a fan of the treatment rooms, which were warm, large and clean. Jon, however, didn’t get much out of his hour-long massage, which was too bad because it cost 580 dh (i.e., a lot more than his hammam massage).

Apparently his masseuse’s major qualification was that she spoke English, but sadly she was unable to do much besides rub Jon’s skin with aromatic oil for an hour. And then we were particularly non-plussed when the hotel told us all their credit card machines were broken, so could we please cough up 1000 dh in cash?

Bottom Line: Try that Bains de Marrakech (and report back!) and/or the public hammam.

250 Jews and One Synagogue

One evening, we walked 20 minutes southwest of the Djemma el Fna (close to the Bahia Palace – see below) to reach the Mellah neighborhood, which was a Jewish neighborhood established in the 1500s. Today there are 250 Jews living in Marrakech (but no longer in the Mellah), and incredibly enough, this tiny population manages to maintain an old synagogue, the Alzama.

We ended up a little lost on our way to the synagogue, whose entrance is down a small alley and whose doorway is tiny and unmarked. We were led there by some little kid, who of course then asked each of us (Jon, me, and what turned out to be the synagogue’s cantor), for money. Admittedly, we wouldn’t have found the place without the kid’s help, but still, not thrilling to get the shakedown after reaching the synagogue (of course we paid up).

synagogue entrance, Marrakesh, MoroccoThe synagogue makes up one side of a closed-in courtyard, and based on the laundry hung out to dry, I think the other three sides are apartments.

There’s an old, blind man who is the custodian of the synagogue, and I think he lives in one of these apartments. Otherwise, congregants show up on Fridays and Saturdays by traveling in from the “Nouvelle Ville” (i.e., the new part of Marrakech built by the French in the early 20th century).

We were invited for services (it happened to be Friday night when we visited), partly because of hospitality and partly because the synagogue needed 10 Jewish men to make up a minyan (which is a quorum you need for a service to take place).

I sat upstairs in the women’s gallery by myself, which actually became fun when a young Israeli woman came up and joined me. She’d been traveling through Morocco with her cousin for three weeks, so she and I traded travel tips while the men downstairs disregarded our presence and prayed in Hebrew. I guess invisibility has its privileges.

On the whole, it was pretty cool to be in such a gorgeous old synagogue hidden away in a predominately Muslim country. What fascinated me was the lens through which this Israeli woman viewed the countries she visited. For example, everywhere in the world she travels, she needs to find a kosher family that’s willing to cook her a local meal, because otherwise, she can’t eat the local food. It’s limiting in one way (not being able to sample all the local delights), but enlarging in another (being able to meet local families).

Bahia Palace

We spent two hours walking around the ceiling detail, Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, MoroccoBahia palace, which is just a 15-minute walk from the Djemme el Fna. The Palace today – particularly the gardens and the impressive “harem courtyard” (see photo at top) – looks pretty run down and neglected, but there are still a few beautiful details here and there.

I was surprised by how recently the palace was built – in the late 1800s. While all the colors and detail work of the ceilings and archways are intact, there’s no furniture or other interior decoration, so it’s hard to imagine life in the palace. I had so much better an understanding when we visited the Alhambra in Grenada, which must have inspired the Bahia Palace, because the two buildings share so many architectural elements.

Doorways at Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, MoroccoOn the one hand, it’s refreshing to see a tourist attraction and not be bombarded with moneymaking paraphernalia (you pay 30 dh at the Palace entrance and then you just wander around on your own), but on the other hand, there’s no brochure, map or audiotour to give the place any context.

The quick blurb in our guidebook told us that Edith Wharton stayed as a guest at the Bahia Palace during the French Protectorate period of Morocco’s history. Not quite the history and context I was looking for, much as I love Edith Wharton. Still, the Bahia Palace was worth visiting for a few hours, and maybe before you go, download a podcast about it from iTunes or something. Then you’ll be golden.

Majorelle Gardens

Although it was a chilly, 45-degree day Cacti at Majorelle Gardens, Marrakesh, Moroccowhen we went, the Majorelle
Gardens (a botanic garden) were definitely worth visiting for an hour or two. I’m sure the gardens are particularly nice in warm weather!

You need a taxi to get there from the Medina, but for once, the 20 dh taxi fare was a fair price as it was a 10-minute ride to get to the gardens.

The gardens and nearby villa are now owned by Yves St. Laurent, whom I’d like to credit with making everything look so stylish, but apparently all kudos go to the garden’s founder, Jacques Majorelle, a rich guy who moved from Paris to Marrakech in the 1920s for health reasons.

I loved the bold, almost-garish colors that brightened up the otherwise sort-of-uniform green and beige of the cacti, bamboo and lily pad gardens. An electric blue here; a lemony yellow there – it all worked.

 

Museum of Islamic Art at Majorelle Gardens, Marrakesh

 

The tiny Islamic Art Museum (see photo at left) took about 30 minutes to walk through. I’d say it’s worth the separate admission price if you want to see some of Majorelle’s watercolors (clearly an example of Islamic Art), pottery, and beautiful, carved doors presumably saved from destruction when buildings were demolished.

Being the materialist that I am, I kept thinking how great it would be to make one of those massive doors into a dining table. Attention: Pottery Barn furniture designers!

Koutoubia

Our guidebook (and many other books and websites) kept listing the Koutoubia as koutoubia marrakeshan attraction, but I think it’s more of a landmark. Jon and I oriented many times to the Koutoubia, which is an old mosque on the Avenue Mohammed V, but whose key feature is a very tall minaret that you can see from most open spaces in Marrakech.

 

 

When we walked around the Koutoubia grounds, we didn’t get much out of it, so maybe it’s a better time with a guide.


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Couscous at Chez Chegrouni, Marrakesh, Morocco

In general, the food we had in Marrakesh was limited in choice (i.e., all Moroccan), and while the food was never totally awful, it was rarely that amazing. All our meals consisted of some combination of flatbreads, tomato-and-cucumber salads, chicken or lamb braised in a tagine (the cone-shaped cooking pot used in Morocco), and of course, mint tea.

Although tagines pretty much dominate all menus, not all tagines are created equal, nor are they all the same price. As you’d expect when there’s a large income gap even among locals (i.e., lots of poor and a few ultra rich), much less between locals and tourists, restaurants we tried were either dirt-cheap (because they cater to locals?) or expensive by any standard. In other words, we didn’t find a lot of mid-range options in Marrakesh. For example, when Jon and I ate at street stalls or communal tables in the Djemma el Fna, our meal for *two* cost $5-$10, but when we ate at restaurants recommended by any number of newspapers and magazines (e.g., NYT, the Guardian, Conde Nast Traveler), our tab for two would run upwards of $100 despite ordering cheapo local wine.

Eating at the Riad L’Orangeraie

Our best meal in Marrakesh, hands down, was the dinner served by our riad, and our continental breakfasts in the morning weren’t too shabby, either. Both the breakfasts and our one dinner at the riad were home-cooked and fresh, and we ate in the comfort of a niche off the central garden courtyard.Breakfast at Riad l’OrangeraieBreakfast every morning was served with coffee or tea, orange-zested crepes, a Moroccan flatbread of semolina flour, pound cake, and baguettes with a choice of jams. An Atkins-diet nightmare, but we loved every bite, especially because breakfast was included in the price of our stay.

For dinner one night, with a bottle of really delicious wine we’d lugged to Marrakesh (thanks, Bobby and Cathy!) and a modest cost of 25 euros each, we tried three different Moroccan salads (salad being the generic term for veggie appetizers), a lamb tagine with couscous, and an orange-and-cinnamon dessert. The salads we tried in Morocco could be as simple Moroccan salads at Riad l’Orangeraieas what Jon calls “Israeli health salad” and which is that combo of cucumber, tomato and onion that you put on falafel (falafel is *not* served in Marrakesh, by the way), or they could be as interesting as the ones at our riad. One salad made of fried eggplant and edam cheese was especially genius, though I’m not sure how traditional it was. Our least favourite salad was one of broad beans and tomato, mostly because the flavors didn’t seem to blend at all.

What knocked our socks off at our riad dinner was the lamb tagine. It didn’t look Lamb tagine at Riad l’Orangeraielike much (comfort food never does), but when our hostess lifted the tagine cover off, the strong, hearty smell of lamb steamed out in an aromatic cloud. Not only was the lamb tender and flavourful (tasting of cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, sugars of all forms), but also fresh, sweet dates carefully topped with chopped almonds added a dash of texture and contrasting flavors.

Jon and I demolished the lamb and the accompanying hot, fluffy couscous. We were so full, we couldn’t finish the very simple dessert of fresh oranges dusted with cinnamon and sugar.Oranges, if you haven’t noticed a theme, are everywhere in Marrakesh. Orange trees are everywhere, even in the unlikeliest of places, which explains the dozens of fresh orange juice sellers in the Djemma el Fna.

Bo & Zin, Douar Lahna, Route de l’Ourika (+212 24 388 012)

Of the expensive ($100+ for two) dinners we ate, Bo & Zin and Le Foundouk are kind of neck-and-neck (see my post on Day 1 re: Le Foundouk). Bo Zin was a 20-minute schlep outside of central Marrakesh (negotiate hard with the petit taxis – we settled on 50 dh), which was kind of a pain, but once there, it’s a large, sleek, dramatic, candle-lit place that reminds you of any number of restos in NY, Paris, London . . . .When Jon and I arrived for our 9:30 dinner reservation, the tables were full (a mix of couples and big groups – all white, so presumably foreign) and a DJ was in Aubergine and goat cheese millefeuille at Bo Zinthe middle of the room spinning a loungey soundtrack. The place is definitely too cool for school.

The restaurant’s Thai-French food was uneven (though averaging out at a “not horrible”), and definitely overpriced for what it was. for example, my eggplant-and-goat-cheese millefeuille was enjoyable (a tower of creamy sweetness), while my chicken-and-cashew main course was not only low on cashews, but also was glopped over by a sugary-sweet sauce with little heat.

What we enjoyed about Bo Zin, though, was the scene and atmosphere. The crowd was sort of a caricature of cool (all in black) and sometime after 10 pm, the “regulars” started coming in, so we enjoyed watching all the delighted hugs and kisses flying around.

The restaurant, thankfully, provides a complimentary car and driver to get you back into town, because I can’t imagine how extortionate a petit taxi would cost to come out to the restaurant and bring you back to Marrakech center.

Al Fassia, Blvd. Zerktouni Residence Tayeb (+212 24 434 060)Al Fassia restaurant doorway

The cheapest of the pricey restaurants we tried was Al Fassia, which is outside the medina in the Gueliz, which is the “new” part of Marrakech the French built. It’s kind of an antiseptic area with its wide boulevards and boxy 1960s-ish buildings.

Al Fassia has been around for a while and has a real grande dame vibe going on with all kinds of mirrors, gilt and faded rugs. What drew us were the reviews we’d read as well as the fact that the business is entirely staffed (and owned?) by women.

We showed up without a reservation and even though I could see dozens of empty tables in the vast dining room, the maitre d’ claimed she didn’t have room. I wasn’t really interested in arguing, so we turned to leave, and as we headed for the door, suddenly the woman had a table that just happened to be free.Kefta tagine avec les oeufs at Al Fassia, marrakesh

If you’re looking for the classics and want something high-quality, then Al Fassia is for you. Prices were high considering you can buy the same dishes at the local hangouts, but portions were huge. The harira, for example, was thick and full of goodies. It also came in such an enormous portion that it would easily have fed four. All for 55 dh.

My order of the kefta tagine avec oeufs, a local specialty of meatballs with an egg on top, was very good, but not sure I’d pay 100 dh (~$14) for it considering we had a similarly good dish at a café packed with locals for 1/3 that price.

Bottom line: I think Al Fassia would be a nice, safe (as in likely very sanitary) place to go if you need an introduction to Moroccan classics, but I wouldn’t make it a destination.

Cheap EatingFood Stalls in the Djemma el Fna

Just before sunset every day, the Snake Guys, merguez sausage “kitchen” in the Djemma el Fnastorytellers, musicians and henna artists in the Djemma el Fna make way for hundreds of open-air kitchens and tables to set up shop for the dinner rush. Each stall specializes in one dish, but in general, they’re selling brochettes (kebabs), spicy merguez sausages, harira (the traditional, filling Moroccan soup of lentils, chickpeas and lamb bits), snails, and sheep parts (umm, the head).

Jon and I couldn’t resist the smoky aromas and festive atmosphere, so one evening, we took a seat at a merguez sausage stall that was crowded with local Bread and merguez sausage at Djemma el Fnafamilies (the part of you that roots for the underdog wants to patronize the empty stalls, but I figure the locals can’t be wrong, and even if they are, high turnover means food safety, generally). For just 15 dh (less than $2!), we snacked on a plate of sausages, bread, and multiple glasses of mint tea. It wasn’t the best sausage in the world (not spicy or flavourful enough for me), but it was hot, fresh and freaking dirt cheap. Plus, sitting elbow-to-elbow with local rug rats and parents is a priceless experience.

Chez Chegrouni, Djemma el Fna (+212 63 434 132)

A little higher in cost than the stalls in the square, Rooftop view from Chez Chegrounibut still a cheap eat is Chez Chegrouni. The Djemma el Fna is bordered by big restaurants that include signs screaming that you can get rooftop seating. Instinctively, I’d stay away because it seems totally touristy to eat at these places, but Chez Chegrouni (on the northeast corner of the Djemma el Fna) was recommended by so many sources that gave it a try for lunch.Lunch was definitely packed with tourists, especially on the rooftop dining area. But the food was much better than I expected, and it was nice to relax and watch the action on the Djemma el Fna.

You sit down, get a limited menu of Moroccan specialties written out in English and French, scribble down what you want on a “napkin” (which is little more than a scrap of paper, seriously), and then wait for your steaming hot tagine or brochette with couscous to show up.

My chicken with couscous was fine. The chicken was a little dry, but the couscous was hot and fluffy with raisins and onions to add sweetness. It was hot and fresh and cheap. No big complaints.

Cost for two appetizers, mint tea and two mains: 60 dh (less than $8). So if you want to try one of the restaurants on the square, you could do worse than Chez Chegrouni.

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Jon with Snakes in the Djemma el Fna

Today when we started Day 2 of Buying Things We Don’t Need, Jon got sucked in by the snake guys in Marrakesh’s main square, Djemma el Fna (see creepy photo above).  Here’s how the Snake Guys work: they spot you, the big dumb tourist, wandering around the Djemma el Fna with a guidebook. Actually, scratch that. You don’t even have to carry a guidebook. They just spot you.

Snake Guy 1, smiling big, comes over (sans snake) and says hello, extending his hand. You reach out to shake his hand, exchange a few pleasantries, and voila, Snake Guy Sidekick (avec snake) is suddenly right next to you, wrapping a snake around your neck. In Jon’s case, there are now two snakes – one that Jon holds by the head so it doesn’t whip around and bite him, and another that the Snake Guy holds.  Moral of the story – don’t shake hands with strangers in the Djemma el Fna.

Alternatively, if you, being the friendly person you are, do shake someone’s hand, be on the lookout for a Snake Guy Sidekick lurking nearby.

Snake Guys come in many varieties. Some of them are scattered around the square putting on little snake shows. We’re talking huge-ass anaconda-looking snakes slithering around (*shiver*) while cobras “dance” to some gratingly high-pitched flute music.  Question: are these snakes drugged? I mean, you’d think the snakes would be making a break for it as fast as they can (at least to gobble up some unsuspecting child – or maybe one of the many sad-looking monkeys controlled by the close relative of the Snake Guy – aka the Monkey Guy).

There are miles of souks in Marrakesh. The souks are seemingly endless alleys (warrens) that twist and turn and seem to tunnel in every direction off the north side of the Djemma el Fna.  Jon and I have seen a few “maps” of the souks that tell you generally where all the pottery vendors congregate, where to find the tapis (rug) sellers, shoe sellers, wood carving sellers, leather sellers, etc., but really, unless you want a million people offering to give you somewhat biased directions, just put the map away and wander around. If you really get lost, you just ask for the Djemma el Fna, and you’re all set.leather drying in the sun, marrakesh

We started with the leather souks today because you can’t escape the leather industry when you’re in Marrakesh. You round a corner and encounter dozens of animal skins, drying in the sun, and every other souk seems to offer leather goods – shoes, belts, bags, picture frames, ottomans . . . even leather bellows. When was the last time you saw a bellow, really?

Most of the vendors work out of narrow, stuffed-to-the-rafters spaces (see photo below), but every now and then, you duck through a tiny entrance and find yourself standing in a cavernous shop with (generally) At a woodcarving souk shop in Marrakeshhigher-quality inventory. The souks are surprising this way.  The bargaining can get exhausting, but when I step back and think about it, these guys (no women shopkeepers spotted yet) have a grueling job. There are hundreds of stalls selling hundreds of pieces of identical inventory. I can see why the shopkeepers work hard to squeeze every last dirham out of their customers (the foreign ones, anyway).

Although Jon and I checked out this morning the “fixed price” government-run craft shop on rue Mohammed V to figure out the “high end” of negotiating for goods, we didn’t have a good run today. For example, I negotiated for a pretty run-of-the-mill, casual leather belt for 120 dh ($15 US), which seemed like a bargain until I noticed “opening prices” by other leather sellers started at 150 dh. Oops.

We encountered a particularly tough father-son duo at a leather bag shop. Even though I suspect we got a raw deal, I can’t help but be impressed by their tag-team approach, especially because the son looked like he was maybe 12 years old.

Son: “My father, he scrapes by after he pays the craftsman and the dealer. Best quality leather! You want shoes with that?”Father: “My son, he speaks French so well, no? This money – it sends him to school.”

Jon and I clearly need to come up with our own expert patter to have a fighting chance in the souks. Our “we’re just poor students” line doesn’t seem to go over too well. Suggestions, anyone?

Our limit for haggling today happened at one of those cavernous souk shops I described. The seller had a few gorgeous, unique-looking pottery pieces that had an asking price of 1100 dh (~$155) according to various price tags (price tags are when you know you’re not in a typical souk shop).We were interested in picking up three bowls as gifts, and before even getting down to negotiating for the bowls (rule of thumb in Marrakesh according to Lonely Planet is to start at 1/3 the asking price and move up from there), the seller starts freaking out on us when we ask what kinds of shipping options he offers. He’s pointing fingers at me, gesturing wildly and *telling me* that I should just carry these three heavy-ass bowls on the plane, and I’m explaining to him it’s not possible given (1) how strict EasyJet limits are; and (2) how strict EU limits are, generally, after the 10 August flight scare in the UK. We went back and forth about this until Jon signalled that I was having a meltdown and it was time to go home.

As most of you know, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s someone telling me I’m wrong! : ) [Seriously, I'm so right. I mean, I *just flew on a plane* the other day. Tell me when this guy last got on a plane to the UK! Besides, I'm the customer!]Jon and the fireplace at Riad l’Orangeraie  As you can see, the haggling ceased to be about the goods. It was indeed time to call it a day, so we walked away and came back to our cozy little riad and sat by the fire. All better now. Time for a home-cooked dinner chez Riad.

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Jon in MarrakechClearly, after putting in almost three weeks’ time at work since the Christmas holiday, Jon and I were in dire need of another vacation.So at 5:15 am, we headed out on a snowy, dark London morning to Gatwick Airport. After waiting two hours on the runway because of the unusual half-inch of snow on the ground, our EasyJet flight finally took off. Two hours after take-off, we landed in sunny, 60-degree Marrakech.

Despite a greeting by what can only be described as an oh-so-French immigration official (she pushed my passport back at me and refused to look at it until I had carefully tucked my landing card into the front page of the passport), my excitement to be in Marrakech was undiminished.

The 15-minute taxi ride from the airport to the Riad de l’Orangeraie was easy peasy, and after getting out to walk the last 200 yards through narrow alley chaos (donkeys, piles of dirt, motorbike madness, etc.), we arrived at our quiet getaway hidden in the heart of the “old” part of Marrakech (the walled-in old city known as the Medina).

Riads are traditional Moroccan townhouses that are Riad l’Orangeraie entrance gardenbuilt around a central courtyard garden and facing away from the street. These days, many riads have been converted into small (and in this case, gorgeous) hotels. Our riad, for example, has just eight guest rooms and a courtyard that includes both a garden and a turquoise gem of a pool. (Cheers to Travellerblogue for pointing us to this riad).

While our room was Mint teaprepared, we sat down to some mint tea, which came served in a small silver teapot and gilt-decorated glasses. Even though I am a huge fan of the minty goodness, I have to admit that the pre-added sugar is a little strong for me. I’d rather add my own sugar, but based on my one day here, I’d say adding your own sugar is a no-can-do.

Jon and I spent the afternoon wandering through the Medina attempting to orient ourselves, which may end up being a losing battle considering (1) there are a million winding alleyways here; (2) there are no street signs; and (3) all the shops start to look the same after a while.That said, we greatly enjoyed the street food we sampled. There was the chicken brochette (skewer) guy who served the chicken to us hot off the grill in a flatbread (khoubz) and topped with “tomato salad” (spiced tomato and onion salsa). At first, I worried about eating that tomato salad, but it added the best bit of moisture and spice to the hot, juicy chicken – so obviously this is a risk we had to take. For just 20 dirham ($2.50 at 8 dh to the US dollar), it was also a great deal.Jon buys Orange Juice in the Djamma el fna

Other highlights of our street snacking today included Jon’s purchase of fresh-squeezed orange juice from one of a gazillion (why so many?) old-fashioned-looking carts found in the main town square, the Djemma el Fna; crispy and hot deep-fried dough at the tourist-inflated (but still bargain basement) price of 1 dirham ($.12); and fresh-from-the-griddle roti-like flatbread for 4 dh (see photo below right). Roti type bread in MarrakechAlthough we greatly enjoyed the aimless walking and street-food-sampling, we spent almost four hours walking in what was surely a series of circles. I think we’d still be walking in those circles had it not been for an executive decision at around Hour 3 to actually ask all sorts of people: “ou est le Djemma el Fna” (where is the main square?).  Almost everyone we asked was super-friendly and helpful – going out of their way to walk a few steps to point us in the right direction. When we got really close to the Djemma el Fna, we rookies got waylaid by some teenage kid (whom we hadn’t asked for directions, but who insisted anyway that we follow his directions to the Djemma el Fna). The kid was annoyed when we paid him 5 dh just to go away. He started following us around and saying we hadn’t paid him enough.

In the interest of promoting world peace and understanding, we traded a few choice f*ck you’s before he left us alone (he started it, I swear). You could say it was not an ideal exchange. Dining room at Le foundouk

We had a fun dinner tonight at a beautiful restaurant called Le Foundouk (55, Souk Hal Fassi, 024 37 81 90). The food is supposed to be French-meets-North Africa, but it’s more like French and North Africa exist side by side. There are Moroccan dishes and there are French dishes on the menu, and the two are separate and distinct. No fusion going on here.

The food was fine. What’s worthwhile about the place is the decor and service. My briouates starter came with five deep-fried goodies. Normally, as you know, I am all over the deep fried food, but of the five pieces on my plate, I could only identify lamb and beef as fillings. The lamb filling was tender and sweet from the raisins and cinnamon; the beef was good enough; and the other three fillings were unidentifiable mush.

My chicken tagine with onions and grapes was a little dried out despite the (overly) sweet sauce made from the onions and grapes

Jon started with harira, the traditional Moroccan lentil soup, which was hearty and meaty, so no complaints there. Chandelier at Le FoundoukHis pastilla was tasty, and because we’ve never had it before, we’re not sure if it’s supposed to be this dry, but that’s what we thought of it. The pastilla is a pastry-wrapped bit of pigeon filling. On top of the pastry is a honey-and-nut coating that adds a great sweet contrast to the savoury pigeon filling.

We’d try it again, but we’re not convinced it was worth the money.  What *was* well worth the 700 dh we paid for dinner were the soaring ceilings, iron filigree work, warm lighting and perfect soundtrack in the dining room. Together, it created both drama and coziness. We’d go back, though maybe for drinks and desserts. The mahia (fig brandy) in the cocktails, for example, was a nice treat.

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