Our time in Marrakech begins at the Amour de Riad located on Derb Jamaa near Derb Debachi. The Riad (hostel) staff is very welcoming as they give us a quick tour, show us our room, and provide us with some helpful recommendations. Riad technically means garden, but it also signifies a Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard, and although I have little to compare it to, I feel that our Riad has an authentic feel with many stories and rooms surrounding a central common area. In addition, the derb of our riad is relatively quiet and clean compared to much of the Old Medina. This is a welcome change compared to the hustle of the main square and its immediate branching derbs.
After changing into clothes to better prepare ourselves for the desert heat, we head out to find some food and to see the sites. I eat some delicious chicken tajine and set out with Adam to the Bahia Palace and Dar Si Said only to find them both closed. So, before getting our third strike, we decide to wander through the Old Medina and enjoy the Jemaa el Fna, its central square, and we save the other sites for the next day, both of which end up being a great way to see Moroccan architecture with their elaborate woodwork and mosaics. In addition, we end up going to a photography museum that has great old photos of what Marrakesh, the Old Medina, and Moroccans looked like in years past.
Tea has become an unplanned theme of my trip, so I might as well continue to weave this theme into my Moroccan experience. Requesting tea in Morocco always means requesting sweet mint tea, and labeling this tea sweet is an understatement. Sugar is easily the primary ingredient, but having the sweet tooth that I do, I never refuse a refill. Staying in the Riad de Amour in the Old Medina of Marrakech, Adam and I are offered tea one evening, and I use the opportunity to learn the intricacies of sweet mint tea preparation.
Predictably, the process begins by boiling water. A small amount of green tea is the steeped in a little tea pot. Meanwhile, mint leaves are crushed and washed. The steeped tea from the small pot is stylistically poured into a cup from an unnecessary height before returning it back to the small pot. The other rational reason I can produce is that a cooling process aids in something. Afterwards, the mint leaves are added into the small pot along with more boiling water to fill the pot to the top. The most critical ingredient ingredient, sugar, is then added by the cube full. In a pot that may have held about 200 to 300 ml, about 10 sizable sugar cubes are added. The small pot is then placed on the stove until the water comes to a simmer and threatens to spill over. After a little more fancy height pouring, some tasting, and adding more sugar, the tea is ready to be served. But just in case the tea is not sweet enough, it is served with more sugar alongside. My question, however, is given that the sugar can no longer stay in solution at the present moment, how is adding sugar going to do anything except to contribute to the bottom sugar collection.
The strong religious, Islamic culture in Morocco results in limited availability of alcohol. After all, one cannot drink alcohol while in eyesight of a mosque, and the country is not short on mosques. One evening, Adam and I try to find a local beer, and everyone we ask in the Marrakech Old Medina points us to Gueliz. The vagueness that is Guilez was a bit frustrating because it only signifies the new area of Marrakech, and we ask the cab to take us there, we end up in front of a McDonald’s. We complain and say we want to go to an area with bars, and we are soon dropped off at a building with the word “Bar” inscribed in bright red lights at the top, where we eventually find a Casablanca brew. More typically, in the evening, instead of seeing a group huddled around a bar, many locals relax at a cafe, sip tea and cafe noir. At the end of meals, tea is served. When negotiating in a rug shop, tea is present. After entering a home, tea is offered. When planning our southern Morocco excursion, we all sip tea. Tea is ubiquitous, delicious, the beverage of choice here in Morocco.
A juke to the left, and then I perform a spin move around a very aggressive restaurant employee so that I can explore more options before making a decision. And by restaurant, I mean a tent covering a stove alongside several tables, one of which is full of raw ingredients waiting to be cooked. The food is all traditional Moroccan and every restaurant prepares identical dishes with identical prices. That is probably why they all feel the need to tackle prospective customers as they walk near. The first night, after failing to understand the menu, which is written all in French, I stand up and point to vegetables and meats that are laid out on the table instead of guessing what each might be called on the menu. The food comes out hot and as soon as its ready. Adam and I eat like this for two nights, and over those nights I try the couscous with chicken, meat skewers, peppers, mushrooms, and potatoes, all of which are delicious. And after dinner, we wash down the meal with a glass of sweet mint tea before settling our very reasonable bill.
That all said, my favorite Moroccan dish is Tagine, which are slow cooked so that the meat, either chicken or beef, comes right off the bone and melts in my mouth. Unfortunately, the dish is very hot, so when it’s close to 100 degrees outside, a hot meal becomes slightly less appetizing.