Riad Elizabeth, Marrakech

Goodbye London! After a cramped flight on a discount airline, we landed in Marrakech, Morocco. Our guide, Mark from Mad About Morocco, arranged for a driver to pick us up and deliver us to our first stop where we would spend the next two nights, the Riad Elizabeth.

Before I go on I should explain a couple of terms that you will see me use quite often in my Moroccan posts.

A medina is a section in North African cities that is sometimes referred to as “old town.” It is the oldest or older part of the city, and was built by the Arabs as a walled town with many narrow streets. The streets are so narrow that some, if not all, streets must be accessed on foot and by donkey. Cars usually cannot access these streets, and in some cases they also can be too narrow for carts, bicycles and motorcycles (not that this stops anyone from roaring their motorcycle down a narrow medina street). Medinas often are like mazes, with many twists and turns, and contain many places of historical interest like palaces, mosques and fountains. They usually have multiple gates, and sectioned off quarters. This is where all the tourists want to go, and where many Moroccans want to move out of, as the newer sections of the city are more modern and middle-class.

Marrakech medina, just outside of Riad Elizabeth

Marrakech medina, just outside of Riad Elizabeth

A riad is a traditional Moroccan home that has a central open-air courtyard and/or garden in the middle. The rooms of the house surround the courtyard, which is traditionally open to the outdoors, although many modern renovations now have retractable roofing to cover the opening. Many renovated riads now serve as hotels and restaurants.

Located in Marrakech’s medina, the Riad Elizabeth is unique in that it is relatively easily accessible by car (although you still have to walk for a minute or so).

Riad Elizabeth

Riad Elizabeth

One of the owners, an ex-pat Brit named John, greeted us and immediately sat us down for some lovely homemade cookies and mint tea. Hospitality is a very important part of Moroccan life; as soon as you enter someone’s home you are offered mint tea and some sort of snack.

cookies

cookies

Mint tea is a traditional drink in Morocco, and it is served in small glasses. It is made by brewing green tea (sometimes jasmine or gunpowder) and adding large amounts of fresh mint. And lots and lots of sugar. Moroccans love adding copious amounts of sugar into their tea.

tea set

tea set

In my small cup I added one sugar cube and it was plenty for me. John told us that Moroccans would probably have added 4 or more cubes of sugar.

my first taste of mint tea

my first taste of mint tea

The entire riad has been renovated, which made for a nice, easy transition into the culture and atmosphere of Morocco.

our room

our room

flower close up

flower close up

Wait, who's that in the mirror?

Wait, who's that in the mirror?

view of the courtyard from above

view of the courtyard from above

This riad can arrange for dinner, or can help you with taxis to restaurants. Every room comes complete with a full breakfast, served on the riad’s rooftop patio. Clockwise, starting at 12 o’clock, are toasted baguettes, Moroccan bread (named khobz and pronounced hobs in Arabic), fluffy Moroccan pancakes (named beghrir in Arabic), and thin Moroccan crepes (named msemen in Arabic). The crepes reminded me of Malaysian roti. The jam was delicious, and the orange juice was freshly squeezed and sweet. Oh and the oranges! I fell in love with Morocco’s oranges. Almost every orange I ate during the trip was sweeter and tastier than any orange I’ve had in North America. And these oranges were winter oranges; in the summer they are even sweeter!

breakfast, day 1

breakfast, day 1

The breakfast we had before we left Marrakech consisted of French toast made from baguettes (top), more khobz bread, and semolina bread (named harsha in Arabic). And more fruit. I gobbled the oranges.

breakfast, day 2

breakfast, day 2

John, his wife Elizabeth, the riad’s manager Kamal, and all their staff went out of their way to make our stay a pleasant one. It was an auspicious (and delicious) start to the Morocco leg of our trip.

Riad Elizabeth
Derb El Baroud, Hart Essoura
Marrakech Medina 40000
Morocco
www.riadelizabeth.com

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What I did on my long weekend, part 2

Welcome back to the continuing story of what I did on the Saturday long weekend! After my excursion to the City Market, I popped home briefly to drop off my farmers’s market goodies. Next up, the annual Edmonton Heritage Festival!

This is my favourite Edmonton festival. The food, the sights, the culture, Hawrelak Park, the weather – they all combine to make a perfect day. I admit I have a soft spot for this festival; I was a frequent volunteer back when I was a student. I spent many years handing out maps at the information booth, and even spent some time drawing awkward cartoons on kids’ faces (“But I don’t know how to draw,” I cried. “That’s okay,” they said as they handed me a box of face paints.). One year I had a really fun job where I got to wander around the whole park and ask people to fill out a short survey about the festival. It was the best volunteer job I’ve ever had so far, probably because I wasn’t stuck in a tiny booth or in one spot for my whole shift.

After lathering on DEET (to fend off the mosquitoes that have invaded the city) and sunscreen, and carrying a bag of canned food for the Edmonton’s Food Bank, I headed off to Hawrelak Park. I was happy to see quite a lot of people in attendance; from my past experience Saturdays generally aren’t as busy as Sundays and Mondays, and I wondered if there would be a lot of competition due to all the other events happening in the city at the same time. Finding the Food Bank donation box was easy enough because they were everywhere near the bus drop-off, but finding a map or information booth proved to be nearly impossible. Who’s bright idea was it to stick them in white tents with only one tiny sign on the front of the booth? And why were they all open to the middle of the park instead of facing the pavilions?

All the pavilions were using bamboo or recycled plastic cutlery, and what looked like to be recycled plates and bowls. There were a lot of recycling bins around too, but it looked like people were confused as to whether or not they could recycle their cutlery and plates once they were finished with them.

My first stop was at the Thailand pavilion for some pad thai and sweet sticky rice and mango goodness.

Half eaten pad thai and sweet sticky rice and mango

Half eaten pad thai and sweet sticky rice and mango

And then the Boreno tent tempted me by offering laksa on their menu. It was ok but ultimately disappointing to someone who has eaten really good laksa before – the soup wasn’t coconutty enough, the shrimp was deceptive because it was only half of a piece, and there was barely any hot spicing to the soup.

laksa

laksa

A stop at Portugal netted me BBQ sardines and a pastel de nata. The pastel de nata was creamy and a little less sweet than the Chinese version that I’m used to, which I liked. The sardines were big ones, unlike the dinky ones that I’m used to finding in cans, and were a great value for the ticket price. They were delicious and a maybe a tad too salty, but I was a little bit disappointed that they weren’t gutted at all. The bones of the smallest fish were easy to crunch into, but the larger ones had to have the flesh picked off of them. I admit I did eat the heads. And they were yummy. Don’t knock fish heads until you’ve tried them!

BBQ sardines and pastel de nata

BBQ sardines and pastel de nata

I actually had a passing stranger stare at me and emit nervous giggles as I ate Peru’s offering of anticuchos (beef heart marinated in vinegar, oil, cumin). Tender and flavourful, this dish was one of the highlights of the day.

anticuchos

anticuchos

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Culina Highlands, Edmonton

For Mother’s Day, I treated my mom to a brunch at Culina Highlands. I’ve been wanting to try this place for a while now, and unfortunately never did make it there when the location was a previous restaurant named Bacon. Having been to Culina Mill Creek before, however, I knew that I could expect some good quality food.

Like their sister Mill Creek location, Culina Highlands is a small venue. It’s quite warm and comfortable, and with the sun shining through the large windows the place was nicely lit up. Many people ate out back since it was such a nice day.

tea and water

tea and water

For drinks we were served water in a wine bottle, just like they do in Culina Mill Creek. I ordered a pineapple, coconut and rooibos tea from local store Cally’s Teas, and my mom was given a complimentary Prosecco mimosa. The mimosa was very tasty and had a good balance of wine and orange juice. The tea wasn’t bad; you could taste a hint of coconut and fruitiness but otherwise it didn’t stand out to me compared to other teas I’ve had in the past.

Prosecco mimosa

Prosecco mimosa

Mom had a very filling tofu scramble with spicy tomato sauce, mushrooms, quinoa, chickpeas and cashew cheese served with vegan toast. The quinoa gave the scramble a nice texture and the whole mix tasted vaguely of curry. The toast was slightly crisp and was very light.

tofu scramble

tofu scramble

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