Treasures of the souks (Marrakesh)

Author: Anna Pelova
Featured image (above) © Craig Jenkins

Shopping in Marrakesh is such an adventure that it will turn even the most indifferent tourist into a passionate explorer looking for treasure. Within this colourful frenzy there are a few items that are worth the hunt. Morocco is a place not dominated by globalisation and thanks to this there are many small shops with hand crafted goods, natural remedies, berber cosmetics and unspoiled  food.
Here are Great Nomad’s top 10 treasures:

10. Sellou and Khoul danjal
Sellou (tikawati in Berber) might look like chocolatey, moist and sweet cake but it is actually quite spicy and dry. It is made of cinnamon, galangal, ginger, clove, cardamom, massis, nutmeg and star anise topped with a hint of cocoa. As it is a bit dry, sellou is served with khoul danjal – spicy tea with a similar taste. Moroccans believe that eating sellou improves their general heatlh and gives them more energy. Sellou and khoul danjal can be found at Djemma El Fna near stall 69 where locals are queuing for small portions.

Photographer © Craig Jenkins
Tikawati at Jamaa El Fna / Photographer © Craig Jenkins

9. Moroccan mint tea
Shop owners often offer mint tea to tourists just to make them hang around longer or simply to socialise. I was drinking 4-5 cups of mint tea a day that was served for free. Moroccans never use tea bags and this is why their mint tea had a great natural taste with some added sugar. Going to Morocco and not drinking mint tea is impossible. Even if you don’t want to drink mint tea the offers to do it are so kind that you won’t be able to resist. If you think otherwise then go ahead and try to resist – I challenge you.

8. Fresh juice and food from Djemaa El Fna
Although Djemaa El Fna goes alive at night always get a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice that is very sweet and tangy for only 4DH (0.30-0.40 cents). There are many juice stalls during the day with traders calling tourists from each corner. The juice is simply amazing but be careful as some of them put sugar in it and if you don’t want to spoil the goodness just say that you prefer sugarfree. Avocado milkshake is also a sweet and filling must-try made of fresh avocado, milk and sugar. The best avocado juice is at a cafe called Dallas (Le Prince street opposite Bank Populaire) and it costs 10 DH (1 Euro).

Djemma El Fna is the best place to have dinner in Marrakesh where the food is fresh, cheap and it is also quite an experience to eat at these smoking stalls decorated with various dishes, brochettas and vegetables.

7. Spices
Looking at the way Morroccans had laid spices in their shops I was wondering ‘Are these for eating or for looking?’. These vivid cones were a true sight that looked more like a form of art rather than something that should be used for cooking. The most widely used spices were saffron, cumin and ras el hanout (a mix of 35 spices). Tumeric was another spice used mainly by poor people to colour to their food.

Photograher © Apel.les Lopez

6. Couscous, Tagine and Moroccan soup
Couscous and Tagine were the two most famous dishes in Morocco that are served as a portion of slowly cooked fresh vegetables with meat in the centre (except for vegetarians). Couscous and Tagine tasted differently everywhere which was great as otherwise eating the same dish can get a bit monotonic. Another favourite of mine was Moroccan soup which is very light, thick and tangy and it is made of rice or barley, water, parsley and spices.

Bread always goes with all three dishes and using the right hand to dip bread into soup, couscous or tagine (instead of using forks and spoons) gives a more authentic experience when eating.

5. Kohl
Kohl is a natural mineral powder that comes in two colours: black and grey. This one is for the ladies who want to highlight their eyes with a 100% natural ‘eye liner’. It is sold as powder in a small glass bottle with a separate antique looking tube to apply it on the eyes. There is an ancient belief that darkening the eyes can protect against the strong sun rays in the desert but Moroccan women also use kohl as a beauty tool.

4. Argan oil, Amlou and Argan honey
Argan is a tree that grows only in Morocco from which locals make oil, amlou (argan butter) and honey. There are two types of argan oil – one type is used for cosmetics and the other one is used in food. Applied externally, argan oil can make skin and hair softer and help for skin conditions such as acne and eczema. Argan oil that is put in food and argan honey have a very aromatic, nutty and light taste. When mixed together, argan oil and honey form amlou – a delicious creamy substance similar to peanut butter that is very good for healthy digestion.

Amlou(left), Argan honey (middle), argan oil (right) © Keisuke Watanabe

3. Berber remedies, perfumes and cosmetics
The most interesting berber item I found on the spice market was berber lipstick (see below). It is simply a piece of clay covered with a layer of vegetable red dye. All I had to do was wet my finger and touch this lipstick that gave me a beautiful and long-lasting red colour on my lips. There are also many natural perfumes suitable for men and women. My absolute favourite was pure musk extract sold in a small bottle.

For those who feel unwell there are plenty berber herbs and roots. Here are some of them:

Black cumin – for hay fever, asthma (to put in a small piece of cloth and sniff)
Lemon grass – to sleep well
Mint crystals/ Cardamom – for cold
Saffron – to cure herpes
Galangal/ Anise – ‘Berber viagra’
Khartuzu – for diabetes

Photographer © Linda De Volder
Berber Lipstick / Photographer© Linda De Volder
Shop at the Spice Market / Photographer © Linda De Volder
Shop at the Spice Market / Photographer © Linda De Volder

2. Halua and Moroccan pastries
Halua are candies made of blended nuts (usually peanuts or almonds), glucose, pastry and lots of imagination. They come in many colours and shapes and are a great snack with tea. Moroccan pastries are a fresh, light and delicious alternative to halua. Both halua and Moroccan pastries cost about 2DH each (approximately 0.20 cents).

Photographer © Craig Jenkins
Halua / Photographer © Craig Jenkins

1. Berber jewellery
Berbers believe that silver brings good luck (unlike gold) and they can tell a lot of stories about the meaning of every piece of jewellery in their culture. Hand-crafted, unique and antique berber jewellery is a real treasure and a symbol of femininity. However, every shopper must be careful when buying silver goods as there are quite a few fake items on the market.

Photographer © mwanasimba

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