Last Wednesday, I moved to Morocco for an internship in Rabat and study abroad year at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, near Fez. In the past 11 days, many aspects of Morocco’s physical and cultural beauty have surprised, struck and excited me.
Because of Ramadan, street food vendors aren’t out and most people stay off the streets. At times during this period, the city can feel like a ghost town. At night, though, many people visit the streets, and places like the medina (a term meaning “city” and used in Morocco to refer to old neighborhoods within larger cities) are teeming with life: children play soccer, adults shop in the souk (market) and groups of individuals eat late meals at cafés and restaurants.
For me, the most exciting part of Rabat so far has been the city’s medina. Another intern, who speaks much better Arabic than I and has been here longer, introduced me to this place during my first weekend in Morocco. After growing used to the calm and quiet of Ramadan days, I was struck by how noisy and lively the streets grow at night. As we neared the medina’s narrow streets, people going every which way crowded around us and I had to be careful not to run over small children or get hit by their soccer balls.
The medina was incredibly colorful, with vendors hawking glittering slippers, ornate djellabas, pots, pans, food and pirate DVDs. There, I discovered a cart of spiky pears, many so ripe they had burst. The vendor peeled the skin off of one and I, like other people crowding around him, got juice all over my hands while trying to eat it. Later I drank sugar cane juice, which tastes like foamy, incredibly sweet, watered-down citrus juice. My traveling companion and I eventually left the medina, only to be dazzled by a bright, whirling amusement park — cotton candy and candy apples included — that beautifully lit up the night sky and Rabat’s Bou Regreg River.
Another great part of Morocco has been the cuisine. Though I’ve never liked meat much, my favorite dinner food is Morocco’s specialty, tajine. Tajine is a kind of meat stew cooked in water or oil and served in a hot clay shell and often featuring prunes, raisins, lemon jam, olives and onions.
Most items in grocery stores come from the Arab world but some food, including chocolate, biscuits and dairy, is imported from France. I like fromage frais, a cheese like cream cheese but with the consistency of yogurt. Yaourt aux ceréales, a type of yogurt mixed with grains, is also interesting, as is yogurt made with goat milk.
I’ve also discovered lemon jam, which is very similar to lemon curd, and rediscovered the fig jam I used to consume in Lebanon. I also found a Casablanca-produced peanut butter, called Jessy’s Peanut Butter Crunchy, which tastes fine despite the name — the “crunchy” does refer to peanuts, and not to some sinister mystery ingredient.
So far, life in Rabat has been great! I do apologize for the lack of pictures – it’s very difficult to get any of the souk as it’s so crowded, but I promise I’ll try to take and post some next week.
From Rabat, with love,
For more Moroccan adventures, visit Nesting in the Necropolis: Birds and humans find peace at Rabat’s Chellah