Over the mountains we go – eating our way through the High Atlas in Morocco

Ha, I bet you thought I forgot about these posts. Never fear, I’m not stopping. I’m just slow!

We left Marrakech for a long trip through Morocco’s High Atlas mountains. After several hours driving on narrow, windy roads we stopped at a little town that I think was called Toufrine (I could be mistaken) for lunch.

Leaving Marrakech, Mark piled us into a car and we headed into the High Atlas Mountains. After windy roads and a long morning drive, we reached the small mountain town of Toufrine where we met our local guide, Mohamed.

Our gracious host and local guide was Mohamed, who started us off with a refreshing (and super sweet) cup of mint tea.

Mohamed pours mint tea

Mohamed pours mint tea

These almonds and pecans were from nearby trees. Don’t you wish we had this kind of local food in our backyards?

tea and snacks

tea and snacks

The main meal was a lamb tagine, with tender olives, tomatoes and potatoes piled high.

lamb tagine

lamb tagine

my plate

my plate

loaves of fresh khobz (bread)

loaves of fresh khobz (bread)

After stuffing ourselves, Mohamed took us to a nearby mountain town for some sightseeing. We were supposed to go to a town renowned for their waterfall, but the abnormal amount of rain in the area washed out the road and so instead we went to a totally different town called Tighfiste.

On our way there, after talking to someone on an old cell phone, he suddenly asked Mark, our regular guide, to stop the car and he climbed out. And then up. Straight up, in the pouring rain. Wearing only sandals. Trying to find him in the photo is like playing Where’s Waldo. Mohamed is the striped blur somewhere in the middle of the photo. I took this picture while sitting in the car and looking straight up.

Part mountain goat?

Part mountain goat?

He came back with reused water bottles and giant jugs of honey from someone who lives at the top of this cliff. And yes, he carried all of it down that same cliff.
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Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

Sheep’s head, anise flavoured snails and cinnamon are three things that immediately flood my memory when I think about Djemaa el Fna and Marrakech.

Djemaa el Fna is the main square in Marrakech’s medina quarter. Bustling and filled with merchants and performers all day and night, this area inspired the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity UNESCO project, where they identify cultural history such as music and performances, rather than physical buildings and places.

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

During the day, stalls sell orange juice, dates and nuts. Performers wander around with poor Barbary apes on chains and snake charmers try to lure in tourists.

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

There are a number of cafés facing the square.

doughnut seller and cafe

doughnut seller and cafe

merchants

merchants

snake charmers

snake charmers

And then, before sunset, the snakes move out and the food carts start moving in.

food carts

food carts

To me, this is when Djemaa el Fna really comes alive. At night the square is filled with food stalls, hungry people, singers, drummers, dancers, storytellers, women doing tattoos with some dubious henna and people selling traditional medicines.

nuts and dried fruits

nuts and dried fruits

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Café du Livre, Marrakech

Café du Livre is a bookstore/restaurant that specializes in international food and is often visited by ex-pats and book lovers. Located outside of the medina in the French colonial area of Marrakech, it is hidden away around a corner and is a quiet place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the streets. Here you can eat a meal, peruse their bookshelves, and take advantage of their wifi.

Café du Livre

Café du Livre

water and bread

water and bread

I had a Brasserie Lipp salad – arugula (rocket), lettuce, beets, walnuts and hardboiled eggs, with an olive oil dressing and garlic bread.

Brasserie Lipp salad

Brasserie Lipp salad

I can’t remember precisely but I think this was a club sandwich.

sandwich and fries

sandwich and fries

Shared appetizers with crusty bread – hummus, baba ganoush, and I think the last was a tapenade.

appetizers

appetizers

Café du Livre
44, rue Tarik Ibn Ziad
Marrakech
www.cafedulivre.com

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

Harrod’s food hall, London

While in London I made a quickie trip to Harrod’s food hall. This is only a tiny portion of what you can find there.

pizzeria

pizzeria

Easter chocolates

Easter chocolates

When I saw this one I got excited. And then I saw the “jelly” part and I cringed a little inside.

Cured ox tongue with jelly

Cured ox tongue with jelly

bakery and a Krispy Kreme

bakery and a Krispy Kreme

We bought a loaf of this to share. I think it gave us mild food poisoning. 😦

foccacia

foccacia

These Princi Rustici were yummy – basically mini stuffed croissants.

Princi Rustici Ham and Princi Rustici Spinach

Princi Rustici Ham and Princi Rustici Spinach

These were yummy too. They were basically cheese flavoured, flaky and buttery short bread.

cheese straws

cheese straws

mini fondant cakes

mini fondant cakes

And which photos didn’t I take? Well there’s a sushi bar, ice cream, cheese store, fancy chocolates, charcuterie, a huge selection of teas and coffees, and so on. A one stop, expensive shop!

Harrods on Urbanspoon

New World Chinese Restaurant, London

This is London’s Chinatown. Well, a part of it, at least. It was still decked out for Chinese New Year, and was taken at the end of February.

Chinatown, London, England

Chinatown, London, England

We were assured that we could get authentic dim sum over at New World Chinese Restaurant, so we headed over there one rainy day.

New World Chinese Restaurant

New World Chinese Restaurant

We were greeted and quickly seated at a table upstairs. And unfortunately that was the extent of the good customer service that we received for the rest of the meal. The serving staff were rude, indifferent, and at times completely ignored us even when we waved our hands frantically in the air and called out in Cantonese and Mandarin. This is one of those places where you feel like you will get better service if you get up and fill your teapot with hot water yourself. Food is served on traditional metal push carts.

dim sum

dim sum

The dim sum available was pretty standard – spring rolls, duck, noodles, eggplant and shrimp, pan fried dumplings, xlb, etc. The food was fine but not particularly outstanding. In fact, I probably could get equal or better dim sum here at home. It definitely did not compare with anything that you can get from Vancouver.

more dim sum

more dim sum

There was one standout dish though – the curried squid. It was battered, deep fried and served as a dry dish, unlike most curried squid that is found at dim sum restaurants, which is generally not battered or fried and is covered in curry sauce. The batter was crisp and wasn’t greasy, and the curry taste was strong without being overpowering.

curried squid

curried squid

New World Chinese Restaurant
1 Gerrard Place, London

New World on Urbanspoon

Brick Lane’s salt beef beigels

Yes I said beigel, not bagel. If you’ve ever been to London’s Brick Lane, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. At one end of the street (far from the many Indian restaurants and sweet shops that frequent the Whitechapel High Street end of Brick Lane), sits two little competing establishments that specialize in hot salted beef served on a fresh beigel. Each has their loyal fans, and their differences basically add up to a Coke vs Pepsi type of argument. One, called the Beigel Shop, has a bright yellow sign and the other, the Beigel Bake, has a bright white sign. Both are open 24 hours, and are a favourite for fulfilling late night/drunk hunger pangs.

Beigel Shop

Beigel Shop

Beigel Bake

Beigel Bake

We stood there on the dark street, and looked at each other in puzzlement. Which one to pick? Both had plenty of people going in and out of them. In the end we went for the Beigel Shop’s yellow signs, as at the time the service seemed to be moving at a faster pace than the other one.

menu

menu

Just look at those prices! I think this was probably the cheapest meal I had while in London.

rest of menu

rest of menu

There are also a wide array of desserts. Nothing too fancy – mostly bars, cookies, cake, etc.

dessert case

dessert case

They assemble each sandwich on order, and tailor the toppings to your taste. (Although, more with a surly look rather than a smile, but that’s supposed to be part of the charm of these places.)

beigel sandwich assembly

beigel sandwich assembly

And here is the finished product. It was a good-sized sandwich… about the size of a hamburger.

salt beef beigel

salt beef beigel

The buns all have the traditional bagel hole, but that’s where the similarities end. These beigels are soft. So soft that they’re actually fluffy and more closely resemble a hamburger bun than the harder, denser bagels that we’re used to in Canada and the US.

beigel bun

beigel bun

Once your teeth sink past the soft bread, they hit the hot salted beef. It’s tender like true Montreal Smoked Meat but not as spicy. Mixed with the sharpness of the mustard and pickle, each bite of the beigel is sure to satisfy any craving for meat or salt.

inside the beigel

inside the beigel

I debated ordering another one or going to the other beigel place to try their version, but eating one was plenty of food for me that night.

Beigel Shop
155 Brick Lane, Spitalfields
London
(yellow sign)

Beigel Bake
159 Brick Lane, Spitalfields
London
(white sign)

Beigel Shop on Urbanspoon