Thursday, April 8, 2010

Morocco: Fez Pt. 2

After getting that little taste of Morocco from Jenelle's first post, we knew you'd be back for more. As promised, here are the rest of Jenelle's tips for your visit to Fez:

3. ‘THESE MINT LEAVES TASTE GOOD” – Visiting The Tannery

Speaking of leather, another must-see is the tannery.The tannery in the medina is the oldest leather tannery in the world, and features leather-making techniques unchanged since the Middle Ages. It is composed of numerous stone vessels filled with a range of dyes and liquids. From above, the vats and colors look exactly like a painter’s pallet. Workers use a mixture of ingredients, including bird droppings, to help the leather take the dye more effectively. It’s a really amazing scene to see, but you’ll probably be a tad distracted by the strong smell of animal hide baking in the sun.

You should definitely try to visit early in the morning before the sun hits the tannery and the smell starts rising. If you’re not so lucky, have no fear, because you’ll most likely be offered a sprig of mint leaves. But, as tempting as they may look, they’re not for munching!

On my first visit, I thought the mint was a snack. Although it seemed slightly odd, I still happily munched away on my sprig until I realized I was the only one eating it! So, save yourself the embarrassment, and use the leaves to take your mind, and your nose, off the smell.

Either way, the stench is definitely worth braving as the view over the balcony allows you to witness a practice that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. It is all achieved manually, without the use of modern machinery—just some good ol’ elbow grease and foot stomping, to help you get the picture.

After your tour, you can lose yourself in the tannery store, where you’ll find a gorgeous array of goods including shoes, belts, jackets, bags, and other trinkets.

Don’t forget to put your poker face on and put those newly acquired bargaining skills to good use!

4. FIT FOR ROYALTY –Getting A Good Night’s Rest

After spending a day in the medina, you’re definitely going to need a restful place to lay your head. When in Fez, I recommend staying in a restored house, called a riad. Many are considered too expensive for the locals, but it’s about the same price as a stay in a Western hotel.

My sister and I stumbled upon Riad El Yacout after it was recommended to us

by a Moroccan train passenger.

Although someone from the riad met us at the train station, I have to admit that upon arrival, we were a bit wary of the location—it was nestled in a narrow, dusty alley on a random street on the outskirts of the medina. The street was even too small for our taxi to fit through! We were just about ready to turn on our heels and run screaming back to the train station when they opened the heavy, Moorish door and led us inside.

The best way to describe the riad is simply: paradise. There were birds chirping and flying across the hallways, and the trickle of the rose petal-laden indoor fountain was most relaxing. The noise from the hustle and bustle outside was inaudible, and it was much cooler inside the walls than out on the street. The riad even featured a roof that could be opened during the day and closed during inclement weather.

As with any hotel, each riad is different and unique. However, they commonly feature suites ranging in d├ęcor and layout, each exquisite in its own right. They are lavishly decorated with textiles embroidered in the colors of the rainbow, stained glass windows and doors, as well as intricate tile work. As an added bonus, they also come equipped with air conditioners and television sets.

While there, my sister and I were lucky enough to be the only guests present and we not only felt like royalty, but were treated that way as well. Every morning the waiter waited for us to emerge from our room, and brought us a breakfast that could feed at least four people. It included assorted sweet breads (Moroccans love sweets!), fresh orange juice, eggs made however we liked, and endless cups of coffee and tea. Dinner was another banquet—we rarely ever finished our meals.

Being the only guests also allowed us to roam the riad freely. We explored each suite and made many a visit to the rooftop. We also became friends with the workers there and knew each by name by the time we left.

Even if you’re not as lucky as we were, you’ll leave wondering why every hotel in the U.S. isn’t modeled after a Moroccan riad.

5. CULI! CULI! (EAT! EAT!) – Native Dishes You Must Try

You haven’t truly experienced all a country has to offer until you’ve tried their food. Moroccan food is delicious and a treat—as long as you don’t eat from the street vendors. We’ve all been told never to drink the water in an unfamiliar country, and Morocco is no different. Speaking from a not-so-pleasant personal experience, you might just want to stick to bottled water and hotel or restaurant food only.

That being said, Moroccan food is known for its savory flavors and many ingredients, and will definitely be a pleasant experience for your taste buds.

Although not a dish, the most popular, and my favorite, is the green tea with mint. Making good mint tea in Morocco is considered an art form, and the drinking of it with friends and family members is one of the important rituals of the day. The technique of pouring the tea is as crucial as the quality of the tea itself. Moroccan tea pots have long, curved pouring spouts, which allow the tea to be poured evenly from a height. Properly poured tea results in frothy bubbles, which is preferred.

Other staples dishes to try include Tajine (Tagine)—the national dish, Pastilla, and Harira.

Tajine is a dish which is named after the special pot it is cooked in. The traditional tajine pot is made of heavy clay, and is composed of two parts; a base unit which is flat and circular with low sides, and a large cone or dome-shaped cover that rests inside the base during cooking. The dish itself is a stew slow-cooked at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce.

Pastilla is a pie dish which unexpectedly, but deliciously combines sweet and salty flavors; a combination of crisp layers of a thinner form of the phyllo dough, savory chicken cooked in broth and spices, and a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and powdered sugar.

Harira is the traditional soup that is usually eaten during dinner in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to break the fasting day, and is considered a meal in itself. It can also be served to relatives and friends after a special celebration, such as the morning after a wedding night. Luckily for you, you won't have to wait until Ramadan to taste Harira. Just visit any Moroccan restaurant to get your fix.

Would I Lie To You?

If you love exploring new lands and meeting warm, friendly people on your travels, then Morocco is for you. And any trip to Morocco would not be complete without a stop in Fez. If you miss out on Fez, you will have missed a chance to take the exciting and rather colorful step back in time that it provides.


  1. A girl after my own heart. If I wasn't already convinced by the time I got to number 5, you definitely got me with the food.

    "You haven’t truly experienced all a country has to offer until you’ve tried their food." It's soo true.

    I don't know when I'd be able to make a trip to Morocco, but it's definitely on my todo list. In the meantime, maybe I could get a little taste of Morocco. Do you know of any recommendable Moroccan restaurants in New York?

  2. Miss Journey- There's a great place called Kif on Dekalb Avenue in BK. It boasts a cozy "French Morrocan" flare. The brunch menu is pretty reasonable, but I had a prix-fixe dinner during BK Restaurant Week and that's when I suggest you should venture for dinner as it can get a little pricy during any other season.


  3. I also just found out about another Moroccan restaurant in Manhattan: Tagine. From their website, it looks like they offer more than just food, they have belly dance shows, Moroccan dance classes, cooking classes, dance parties, tastings. It looks like a great time. I would definitely like to check it out.