Wake up at dawn and you will find starving cats lazily laying on the still fresh pavement, shy rays of sunshine making a way through, and quiet shady streets that seem to move in slow motion: aging hands fold the dough for Msemens, men carry trays of produce into the souks and barely perceivable smells start to fill the air.
Give it another two hours and you will be faced with an entirely different world : the sound of motorcycles slaloming the oh so narrow streets of the Medina, buzzing the many tourists who stand in their way, an intriguing blend of the most appetizing and aggressive smells alike, charming smiles and angry shouts.
Marrakech is a city of contrast that lives in many different rhythms, from the busy souks filled with merchandise to peaceful indoor courtyards and stylish rooftops hidden away behind thick clay walls and faded doors.
To guide us through this beautiful mess of a city, and most particularly, through its Medina, we met up with Emma, who took it upon herself to take our little group on a street-food tour. Despite being 100% English, Emma looks almost like a local, acts as one, and moves around effortlessly from hole in the walls to cramped rooms.
The first dish she had in mind for us was dchicha : a cracked wheat porridge of some sort, leaning on the savory side, which we ate sitting on the stairs of a shop not yet open in the early morning. The wheat, she explained, is simply cooked in salted water, a lot of it, making it sort of soupy, in the best way possible. It is to be eaten with a healthy dose of olive oil poured on top and extra (extra) cumin. Though, like most porridges, it is a perfect blank canvas where we could also imagine adding some nigella seeds or smoked paprika for example. But there was a lot more food to be had for us that day, so we had a hard time deciding whether to lick the bowls clean or keep some room for the next stop.
This one was all beans: some bissara, a fava bean soup, silky creamy and loubia, a stew of white beans in tomato sauce with harissa. Forget about spoons: the way to eat here is by grabbing a big chunk of moroccan bread and use it to dunk it in whatever your bowl holds. Cramped around the tiny plastic table in the middle of the street, we looked at each other with content, rejoicing in the garlicky and slightly spicy taste of the stews, and trying to ignore the jealous starving cats staring at us.
Three stops might seems like a short lived tour, but the food was so satisfying and filling that there really was no way we could have added one more. Enters the last step of our walk : grilled sardines, eggplant dip, fries, and more tomato. Lined up against a wall in the room filled with moroccan men, we passed around dishes and switched plates to get a taste of everything. This was no-nonsense food, simple but with a delicious fattiness and smoky char from the grill that takes any dish to the next level.
Full bellied and light-hearted, we made our way back through markets, looking with envy at all the spices, and seriously considering taking a bag full of dried favas back in our suitcase to make bissara back in Rotterdam. Turns out you can find those in any decently stocked moroccan or turkish shop, should you want to try your hand at it. We washed the food down with fresh juices on a rooftop, talking everything from business starting to moving abroad with a whole family before Emma had to run back to her busy life.
In the midst of all the food and conversation, we fell in love with this beautiful mess of a city, with the fast paced streets and unassuming street-food, with the faded colors from another time, the shadow-filled walls and burnt skins. We found there what fascinates us most : contradiction, paradox, complexity. For while we see beauty in the heavy blue of the Majorelle gardens and perfectly tiled walls of El Fenn, we also find it in the tiny nooks with unassuming looks, in the piles of trash inflated with a life made of flies, or in the acrid smell of rotting flesh.
Words by Lucie Moley @ Studio Unfolded
More about Emma on: emmalouisesophia.com