Archive for the ‘Morocco’ Category

Moroccan Chestnuts

February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Misadventures in African Cuisine – Volume 2

Several times during my journey through Morocco, I witnessed locals standing in the street, cooking small brown objects in large metal drums. Initially, I assumed they were simply roasting chestnuts, so I didn’t pay too much attention. After a few days, however, I began to realise these “chestnuts” were receiving a disproportionally high level of interest, so I decided to take a closer look.

It was at this point I discovered the objects in question weren’t chestnuts at all; they were, in fact, snails.

Now, I’m not averse to new culinary experiences while abroad – hell, just read the previous entry from Morocco – but I must say that these things did not look even remotely like something I would consider putting in my mouth. In fact, on a scale of snail edibility (admittedly, a fairly limited scale), these definitely seemed to belong more in the “garden pest”, rather than “fine cuisine”, category

From what I could gather, once a batch is suitably blackened, the custom is to spear them with a toothpick, detach them from their shells (disturbingly, they’re still attached by some type of internal snail goo), then consume them whole…along with the steaming bowl of smelly water in which they’re served.

Or you can do as I did, which is beat a hasty retreat to look for a dinner slightly less nauseating.

Categories: Morocco Tags: , , , , ,

The First Commandment

October 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Misadventures in African Cuisine - Volume 1

“Don’t eat anything. Don’t drink anything. Don’t f**k anything”.

This was the stern, yet rather crude, advice I was offered by a well-meaning work colleague prior to my trek from Tangier to Marrakesh.

While I appreciated his concern – and was well aware of the potential consequences of ignoring such a warning – the mouth-watering array of culinary delicacies on offer meant it was only a couple of hours before I completely disregarded the first of these suggestions (yes, just the first) and ordered myself a large plate of assorted Moroccan goodies. This scenario was repeated many times over the course of my trip and, as expected, the food was almost always amazingly good.

At least at the time of consumption, anyway.

Just as I was preparing to head back to the UK, convinced I had managed to break the first of my commandments without consequence, I began to notice a faint, yet ominous, gurgling sensation in my stomach. Although I tried extremely hard to ignore it, this faint gurgling quickly became a not-so-faint gurgling and was soon followed by an urgent and rapidly recurring need to, ahem, “use the little boys’ room”. Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, things rapidly went downhill and, by the time I returned home, I was able to declare myself the proud owner of a debilitating case of camplylobacteriosis.

If you have absolutely no idea what this is, well, be thankful. Most of the details fall well and truly in the “too much information” category, so I’ll just say that this rather nasty form of food-poisoning made me so incredibly sick that, for the next week, I literally had trouble walking the twenty or so metres from my bedroom to my bathroom without needing to lie down on the way (which, incidentally, is not a recommended position to assume when needing to eject large volumes of bodily fluid…but I digress).

As an added bonus, my body decided to protest against the exotic bacterial army setting up camp in its digestive tract, by breaking out in a rather freakish case of hives – and not in a small, inconspicuous way either. For three days, my arms, legs, chest and back were completely covered in a giant, inflamed rash, making me look as though I’d gone twelve rounds with a hive of angry bees. I certainly don’t recall that being mentioned in the travel brochure.

On a side note, if you ever want some privacy, it’s amazing how willingly people agree to leave you alone when you return from Africa with a scary-looking disease.

Fortunately, after several days spent discovering that making an appointment to see a British GP is only slightly less difficult than arranging a tea date with the Queen, I found a private medical clinic that was able to supply me with some kick-ass antibiotics and within a day or two I was completely fine again.

..and your parents tried to tell you that drugs were bad for you.

Note: It’s just occurred to me that I’ve made two consecutive posts concerning the involuntarily discharge of bodily fluids. I can assure the squeamish among you that this will not become a recurring theme of this blog.

No Standing Any Time

February 1, 2010 Leave a comment

No-one standing around here

Morocco is a fascinating place to visit, but the four incidents outlined below – all of which occured within the space of a few days – have led me to the conclusion that standing still for longer than five seconds is not advisable.


Incident 1

During a short wait to cross a busy road in Casablanca, no less than seven taxis pulled up to ask – all very persistently – if I wanted a lift.  The most determined driver even left, then reversed back to ask a second time, hoping I’d changed my mind in the intervening ten seconds.

Now, had I been staggering down Chapel Street at three a.m. on a Sunday morning, this level of service would have been extremely well-received. In this instance however, it seemed slightly unwarranted, given that I was simply trying to get from one side of the road to the other.


Incident 2

While waiting to cross a side street in Rabat (the chaotic traffic in Morocco means a lot of time is spent standing by the side of the road), a Moroccan man standing nearby decided to strike up a conversation with me. Despite a mild suspicion that he wanted to sell me something, I decided to reciprocate, mainly due to the spontaneous, acapella version of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” (complete with head-banging) he performed to demonstrate his familiarity with Australia.

As it quickly became apparent we were heading in the same direction, we continued our conversation after crossing the street, chatting amicably for several minutes in a mixture of broken English and even-more-broken French. Unfortunately, the pleasant, sociable attitude he displayed at first changed suddenly when I declined an invitation (quite politely, I should add) to peruse the merchandise at his nearby carpet store

Clearly offended by this unexpected refusal, he launched into a furious tirade that quickly attracted the attention of everyone in our immediate vicinity. Taken aback by his abrupt and rather drastic personalty change, I was momentarily speechless…although, once it became evident his diatribe would be limited to the only English obscenity he knew repeated over and over, the situation went from intimidating to comical. It’s best I don’t repeat his chosen word here, but I’ll give you a hint – it starts with “f” and rhymes with “duck”.

Not surprisingly, once I had recovered from the initial shock, I opted to make a quick getaway, continuing on to my original destination where fortunately there were no psychotic rug vendors to abuse me. What was surprising was that, later on, when I ran into him in the street again (I had to head back the same way to get to the train station), he greeted me as though I was a long lost friend.

Unfortunately, I chose to decline a second invitation to go and peruse rugs and, once again, received the same foul-mouthed, grammatically-limited tirade.


Incident 3

While wandering through the souks of Marrakech, I paused to inspect some Moroccan handicrafts and discovered that displaying even a passing interest in the merchandise is akin to signing an iron-clad contract that you would like your own personal shopping guide for the remainder of your visit. Consequently, for the next fifteen minutes, I was followed from stall to stall by a Moroccan teenager who offered his advice on everything in sight, clearly hoping he would receive a commission from a stall owner if I decided to make a purchase.

Unfortunately for him I left empty-handed, which meant that, despite his persistance, so did he.


Incident 4

Disturbingly, this fourth incident occurred on multiple occasions…but I’ve listed it just once as it happened the same way every time.

Several times while wandering around the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech (a.k.a. the main market square), I paused to look at something, only to be set upon by a wild, dishevelled-looking man insisting that I hold his snake.

I don’t think any further explanation as to why I found this unusual is required.


In conclusion, if you’re traveling around Morocco and wish to retain a small semblance of normality in your life, be sure to remember one simple rule:

No standing any time.

Note: Just so we’re totally clear, the phrase “hold his snake” refers, quite literally, to the small python he had draped around his neck.  Why, what did you think I meant?

Categories: Morocco Tags: , , ,