Friday, October 16, 2015

Dinner in the Souk

 There are 3 Amels berthed here in Rabat and we are all 3 on the same pontoon.  One is BeBe, a Super Maramu 2000.  Another is Libertad, a Maramu and also USA flagged, owned by Dennis and Virginia Johns from California.  We have seen a lot of Dennis and Virginia the past couple of months.  And the third Amel is Kali Mera, a Santorin model which is Austrian flagged, owned by Herbert and Tadeja.  This is the first Santorin we have seen and it is an identical smaller version of our Super Maramu.  The main saloon interior is more like the Maramu but that is understandable because of the size difference, cannot have all the extra storage space and conveniences that are in the larger Super Maramu.  But I think the main saloon on both the Maramu and the Santorin are more comfortable than our Super Maramu. As always, there are trade-offs in every model yacht.  We first met Herbert and Tadeja when they came to visit us when we were in Gibraltar.  They arrived in Rabat almost a week before us.  And they are more adventurous than we would be if left on our own.

A whole new meaning to boat boys
Shortly after we arrived here, they invited us to join them for a visit to the souk in old Rabat. An evening visit.  We would have ventured there on our own during daylight but probably would have been reticent about going there after dark.  They showed us that it is okay to venture out locally in the evening hours.  They also introduced us to the small wooden boats that ply back and forth across the river ferrying people between Sale and Rabat in the same manner that has been used for centuries.

25 cents gets you rowed across the little river

We walked from the marina along the northern side of the river back towards the sea entrance for a block or so to find a dilapidated wooden dock where the small wooden boats tied up.  Passengers are directed to which boat to board and the rower steps on.  He stands in the center of the boat to handle the oars.  Same method used for centuries.  It costs 2.5 dirham (MAD) per person one way crossing.  That is about 25 cents USD for someone to row you across the little river.  What a deal!

Peaceful river near sunset
It was enjoyable watching all the men and small boats along the river.  And then people-watching once on the Rabat side.  One of these days we should take a boat over there and walk the old walled city near the river/sea entrance.  Simple entertainment.

Herbert showed us how to find a doorway leading into the souk.  We likely would never have found this opening without his help as it is not visible from the street.  This opening led to an alleyway/street on which were many metal shops.  Several were making wrought iron gates and door coverings.  Lot of welders here.  That street continued uphill and became the 'shoe street' of the souk.  This street was lined with tiny shops selling shoes or purses or intricate small wooden boxes or ceramic ware or souvenirs, but mostly shoes.  Herbert was on a mission to find some bright yellow leather pointy toe shoes like are made in Fes. Success!

Waiting for dinner to be served.
Herbert and 
Tadeja of Kali Mera, and Judy

At the end of shoe street we turned left and followed a wider 'street' that soon led us back outside the souk to a main street where the light rail was located, which we are calling the tram.  This tram runs very near our marina; a tram ride one way costs 6 MAD (60 cents) per person.  Another deal!

First dinner in the souk.  Tadeja, Judy and Bill
We turned to the right and walked along the outside of the souk wall for a good distance, past hundreds of sidewalk vendors.  Some were the blackest-of-black Africans but most had the lighter skin tones of Moroccans.  I overheard all kinds of unusual languages as we walked past all these guys and noted all the different types of garments worn.  And they were all guys; not a female vendor to be seen on the main street sidewalk.  But once we turned inside the souk again I noticed several female vendors.

Bill with Herbert and Tadeja

Now we were on a 'food street' of the souk.  I usually have a good sense of direction and it seemed to me that if we had continued on the 'shoe street' rather than turning left way back there that we would have eventually intersected with this 'food street.'  But going out and coming back in was the easiest way to find what we were looking for --- dinner!

These roasted peppers are so good!
The rickety ultra-steep stairs to upstairs
dining area.
There were fruit vendors and bakers and all kinds of foods sold along this street/alley.  Many of the hot food vendors were selling some kind of ground meat mixture inside a kind of bread circle which had been cut in half and filled.  These were prepared when ordered, not prepared and left to sit until sold.  The ground meat mixture (beef? It was a reddish color.) appeared to be seasoned with chopped herbs added and was kept in a mound inside a glass container.  When someone ordered a sandwich, the meat mixture then was cooked on a griddle or grill.  Bread circle was cut in half and one-half was split in the center and filled with the cooked meat mixture.  One sandwich was one half of a bread circle.  These were plenty large to serve as a meal and the bread was substantial enough to be eaten while held in one hand.  People were walking all over the place eating these sandwiches.  I have no idea what these were called.  We did not sample one.  We have a healthy respect for quality and freshness of any kind of ground meat.  These look good but we will not be trying one.

What do you think they might be selling?
Beneath that plastic wrap is a roasted camel's head.
Teeth and all.

Next thing we noticed were the camel heads.  Yep; roasted or baked camel heads, teeth and all.  There were vendors lining both sides of the 'food street' selling roasted camel.  All the camel heads that I saw were covered in a plastic wrap so these did not photograph well because the plastic reflects lighting of the camera flash.  Whether these were covered in plastic wrap in attempt to keep the meat moist or whether to keep flies off, I cannot say. Either could be plausible given the location.  

This one looked like his mouth was open
Based on the varying amounts of meat visible on the various heads, it appeared to me that the entire head is baked or roasted whole (brains intact?).  Then when a customer orders a plate of camel or a sandwich of camel, the cooked meat is cut away from the skull and heated on a griddle or grill before serving.  Camel head meat appeared to be very popular with the local people.  There were no other tourists anywhere we went this evening so cannot speak as to popularity of roasted camel heads to others; but the local people enjoy it.

Most of the meat on this one had already been sold.

We will not be sampling roasted camel heads.  When we visited Peru in September 2006 I ate alpaca because it was a local favorite and I always try some of the local foods wherever we travel.  An alpaca is a member of the camel family, so guess I have already eaten the same thing as camel meat.  That alpaca steak tasted just fine.  It was almost like a beef steak.  Except for the smell.  I could eat only 3 bites of that alpaca steak because I just could not get past the smell.  Same for these roasted camel heads.  Neither Bill nor I cared for that smell.  By the way, I would really love to see how these heads are cooked.  They are far too large to fit into a normal oven.

Everything one might want for dinner.  Swarma on the right.
Camel's head in center.  And all sorts of meats to be grilled behing
the seated man.  And the sign says they have pizza too.  All these
places has stairs to a tiny eating area above the vendor stalls.

Grill at the place we decided to eat.
After awhile we spotted one vendor who had rotisserie chicken on spits and Bill instantly decided that this should be our 'restaurant' of choice for dinner.  Luckily, one of the men manning the grills spoke a few words of English so ordering for the 4 of us was simple.  Bill obviously ordered the chicken and I opted for grilled chicken livers with grilled onions.  Each was served with some form of yellow rice and a large portion of raw chopped onions and tomatoes.  None of the food was spicy hot.  Herbert also ordered a plate of the small red lamb sausages which were a tad spicy hot; very good.  And some small white meatball type chunks of meat which were cooked on the grill.  All accompanied by plates of baked tomato, grilled non-hot but tasty long green peppers, grilled eggplant and some kind of small orange patties which were deep fried.  I think these might have been part potato or sweet potato; never could figure those out.  All this was served with small bowls of a clear red sauce with chopped herbs in it; sweet and not at all spicy or hot.  Herbert ordered some chile sauce, something with some heat to it.  That was really good.  No beer for the guys since no alcohol is served here, so we shared a liter of Coca-Cola.  

Herbert, Judy and Bill waiting for the tram home

All of that food, more than the 4 of us could eat, cost a whopping 205 MAD, or about $5 per person.  Thus far it seems that money goes a long way in Morocco.  Quite the bargain.  However, this dinner was a treat by Herbert to repay Bill for some things Bill had helped him with on his boat.

We stopped by a baker on the way out for a few goodies.  Then walked to the nearest tram stop to hop on for the ride back to the marina.  Many thanks to Herbert and Tadeja for treating us to this local dinner and for showing us how to navigate the river boats, the souk and the tram. 

How canned soft drinks are served here.  With a
paper napkin inside the glass instead of ice. Of course,

you do not want the ice anyway; that is a good way to
get sick as the ice is made from local water.

The next day we joined Dennis and Virginia of Libertad for a tram ride into Rabat city.  We needed to buy train tickets for a trip planned for next week.  That was easily accomplished and then we walked that area for a bit.  Bill found a Maroc Telecom store and kiosk and purchased a sim card for our mi-fi.  The sim card and 15 GB data cost a whopping $13 USD, by far the least expensive internet access ever for us in any country.  So, now we finally have shared internet access on the boat once again.  Color me happy.

Dennis and Judy being rowed across river

That evening we showed Dennis and Virginia all the places and things that Herbert and Tadeja had showed us the previous evening.  Paying it forward.  We duplicated exactly what we had done the previous evening.  Even eating at the same place.  

There was nothing especially Moroccan about the foods because rotisserie chicken is always just rotisserie chicken.  The English-speaking guy messed up our orders but that did not matter.  I ended up with chopped grilled chicken livers mixed with those grilled white ground meat chunks, which I suspect was lamb.  I think the best liked item on the table were those tiny red grilled spicy sausages.

This cat would not leave us alone.  She would climb onto
the window sill and attempt to get our food off the table
through the open window.  Bothered us both nights.
Persistent little thing that I wanted nothing to do with.
We stopped by the baker stalls again and also bought a few figs from the fruit guy.  Each purchase is an adventure for us because we speak not a word of any common language with the vendors.

Caught the tram back to the marina.  And now Dennis and Virginia know as much as we know about this area.  Which is not very much.

Weather between here and the Canary Islands is bad this week.  There is a circulating pattern with LOW pressure of 1001 just ENE of the Canary Islands with sustained winds in the 35-knot range.  One prediction is for 50 knot winds out there.  But over here at Rabat those winds should not exceed 20-25 knots.  At any rate, that weather will close the entrance for any incoming or outgoing boats.  There are 3 or 4 boats here that wintered last season in Marina di Ragusa, all Dutch.  When we arrived it was like an 'old home' reunion for a few of us.  They are all headed to the Canary Islands with intentions to cross in November, but they are now holed up here until weather changes.  We will use this time to make a little land trip. will not be one of those desert trips that have been so highly recommended.  Nothing could entice me to ride a camel.  Or to sleep in a tent in the desert or at an oasis.  I'm sure that is fun to lots of folks but after my experience of riding a spitting elephant in Thailand there is nothing that could convince me that riding a spitting camel could be a good idea.

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