A gorgeous, colorful, fragrant tableau of local ingredients, dishes, sauces, condiments and old-fashioned bottles of Coke, set out in a glass-enclosed display case was enough whet the appetite! The weekly Berber market held on Mondays in the town of Ourika, a gateway to the Atlas mountains, has hundreds of vendors that include Berber farmers and purveyors from within say a 20 kilometer radius, as well as merchants from other parts of the country. We had driven about an hour from our hotel to visit this market as well as take in other sights in the area.
This snapshot of the market from a nearby hill, barely illustrates the size of the market, with several hundred vendors at least. Reading up a bit on local culture and customs, I was surprised to see that taking photos of people, particularly older people in rural settings, was considered impolite, so for the first time ever, I was in a spectacular market with tremendous photo opportunities, but I didn’t feel comfortable snapping shots like I normally do. Our driver and guide asked a few vendors for permission to take photos but they declined, so I didn’t take any close-ups of people and many of the shots in this post were taken surreptitiously, literally shooting from the hip. :)
We arrived at the town of Ourika around 10 in the morning, an hour or two after the market had started doing business, but several vendors were still arriving by donkey. Goods were loaded into wonderful baskets that were draped over the donkeys.
We parked a few hundred meters away and walked to the market. Our guide was a bit protective in that two women, and tourists at that, would still be considered a rather unusual sight, and he took up the rear while I went ahead of Mrs. MM and the Teen. Never once did we feel unsafe, but we did feel like we were out of place. By the roadside was a vendor with boxes upon boxes of beautiful dried herbs and spices.
Another vendor had several varieties of teas, the leaves used to make the dyes for henna ink/tattoos, baked good and sweets, etc.
I was amused to see the local version of deep-fried doughnuts on offer, and doing brisk business.
Sugar in a solid conical form is apparently a big deal. For house warming ceremonies, birthdays, engagements, etc. sugar is brought as one of the traditional gifts… probably harking back to a time when sugar was a seriously hard to come by commodity in this neck of the woods (or is it dunes of the desert?)…
In one part of the market, there were mixed kebabs of all types, cooked to order… marinated first ins oil, herbs and other spices.
Local breads were for sale still warm, fresh from the ovens…
And freshly pressed home made olive oil was sold for some 10 cents U.S. for a cup or so, or maybe it was even less than that! I so wanted to take a photo of the olive oil vendor but he declined, and allowed me to shoot just the ladle with oil… Buyers came with their own glass bottles, so there was no plastic packaging and they bought their olive oil fresh every week…
Sacks filled with cloves, peppercorns, oregano, lavender and all sorts of spices were positioned right near the places where you could “rent” tagine cooking facilities. These guys kept the fires going, and you could cook and season your own tagine, walk away for an hour and come back when it was all done… Everyone seemed to have their own personal blend of spices and it all smelled so fragrant and appetizing!
In another part of the market, they had an extensive selection of nuts and dried fruit…
…these guys bargaining for dates. From palms, that is. :)
Cactus fruit were unusual for me, and apparently quite sweet, but I didn’t get a chance to taste one.
The produce section of the market was amazing, lots and lots of fruits and vegetables, and clearly just unloaded from their donkeys/carts/trucks and harvested within the last day at most. The oranges, melons and surprisingly, grapes all looked amazing. The area around Marrakech looks quite dry and not exactly arable, but towards the atlas mountains, the valleys are fertile and supplied with lots of water during the spring and summer as the snow on the mountains melts… resulting in extremely verdant patches of farmland that produces all of these fruits and vegetables.
It was a pleasure to spend an hour just wandering through the market. We didn’t spend too long nor do too much as the Teen was hobbling in her cast (barefoot) and her toes were occasionally grazing the sometimes muddy ground on which the market was set up…
With oranges in abundance, and so intensely sweet and flavorful, it’s no wonder the carafes of orange juice at the hotel are huge and you can drink as much as you want!
Humongous green peppers or capsicum, oranges, cucumbers…
…red onions, potatoes, carrots, zucchinis…
…green and red grapes, oranges, peaches and nectarines.
Unusual (for me) gourds or squashes.
Mountains of herbs such as mind, coriander, etc. Passing by an herb vendor gave new meaning to the word MINTY. The fragrance was intoxicating.
And finally, the mystery vegetable for Marketman. Our guide didn’t seem to know what it was called in English, nor how it was used. Any of you guys know what this is? Gener, would your Moroccan spouse be able to identify it? All in all, a wonderful hour-long visit to a countryside market. So much more appealing than anything in crowded Marrakech. On other days of the week there are markets in other towns outside of Marrackech. Highly recommended.