Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Travel is a personal thing. Like music, tastes vary. There are some who would like to spend time staring at the Eiffel Tower. And then, there are those – like us – who go for the quaint and undiscovered, where a very few eccentrics like us flock. Morocco definitely falls in the latter category.
Much has been written about the magical Jemaa El Fna of Marrakech – a massive flea market by day that transforms into the entertainment and food epicentre of the city by night. The transformation is dramatic. The night sky is lit up with bright gas lanterns forming abstract smoke art from the numerous food grills. Grilled meat served with fresh salads makes a delightful meal and if you are adventurous enough the steamed snails are a delicacy!
For me it was the orange juice that pushed the buttons. The streets of Marrakesh are dotted with orange trees and when in season – we were there bang in the middle of it - are laden with fruit. There are stalls selling freshly squeezed juice that is cheaper than water. The rich, sweet-tang combined with full bodied, pulpy fruit juice is beyond refreshing. Its loaded with fragrance and flavour and was my hydration therapy for the few days we were there. I think we drank a gallon a day. Each.
But the cherry on the Moroccan holiday was Essaouira. There is something about the colour blue and the national psyche. Maybe it is the Mediterranean sky – stark, cloudless Cerulean blue that they paint everything with. Essaouira is the finest showcase for this – from the doorways in the narrow lanes of the medina that house the traditional grocery stores to the boats that flock the jetties - everything is painted with same blue shade.
The citadel on the harbour dotted with ancient, cast iron cannons has formed the backdrop of many Hollywood movies but it is the seagulls that bring your attention to more pressing matters – lunch. The fishing boats crowd around the harbour like a school of hungry fish, edging for a preferred spot to anchor.
Having got there early and wandered around the sights, the gulls' frenzy led us to a row of blue and white painted tents, or shacks. The bobbing boats had unloaded their catch and the fisherman had put on aprons and transformed into restaurateurs, coals ready, waving and calling customers, who didn't need much cajoling.
This is the freshest seafood you have ever tasted, grilled on red hot coals, no marination, no spices added. Just a squirt of a fresh lemon - and a sprinkling of salt if you are fastidious - on the fragrant, juicy prawns will play mind games with your palate. The sweetness in fresh seafood is epic, a minute or two on the grill and voila! - it is on your plate and in your tummy in a flash! The sides are bread and a salad, but the eyes do not stray beyond the plates that don't stop coming.
There is something about the colour blue and the national Moroccan psyche
Conversation was zilch between us, only the facial expressions conveyed what was one of the most surprising and flavourful dining experiences. No cutlery, all ten fingers grabbing at succulent pieces of fish and then the satisfied sucking of finger tips ensuring every last morsel was ingested.
There is only one downside. You are not quite sure whether the fish are actually dead before they are put on the coals. You guiltily avert your eyes from the grills, say a silent prayer for the departed souls and reach out for another mouthful.
The guilt passes quickly as the sweet flesh dissolves in your mouth.