Marvellous Meknes Market
I may have been a little hasty in my initial assessment of Meknes. Since the last post we have discovered plenty of good stuff. In addition to the architectural splendour previously mentioned, it’s been the lack of faux guides and the superabundance of fantastic eats that have encouraged us to stay a little longer.
The most discernable difference between Meknes and our last stop, Fes, has to be the amount of touts – or should I say the lack of them. Although we’ve become almost immune to the relentless barrage of keen helpers and their offers of cheap rooms, good restaurants and brother’s rug shops, it still comes as a breath of fresh air to be able to disembark from a bus and just saunter into town without having to negotiate a throng of eager guides intent on blagging your Dihrams. The tout-free transit came as a most welcome respite.
The second discovery, and the one I hold closest to my heart, or should I say my stomach, was the impressive variety and quality of Meknes’ gastronomic offerings. In short, the nosebag here is second to none. Meknes, although no longer Morocco’s premier city, has so far proved to be the gastronomic Capital of the nation. And, interestingly enough, the superb quality and wide selection of fare didn’t just stop at the restaurant doors. The source of the produce within Meknes – the markets and stores and food halls – were equally impressive. Lying just beyond the eastern edge of the main plaza, through and archway obscured by a curtain of handbags, one such discovery immediately springs to mind.
After bobbing under the bags and dropping down the briefest flight of steps, we found ourselves in the far corner of an incredible covered market. Along the opposite wall, about, say, 50 yards away, lay a long rank of Morocconese deli stalls, all shoehorned in so tightly it was nigh on impossible to make out where one stall finished and the next began, and all meticulously stocked with, among the other delights, olives of every kind. These 4 foot high, sloping barricades of deliciously plump olives – in greens, blacks, pinks, reds, yellows and every shade between – drew us further into the hall. But before we reached the savouries, we would first have to negotiate the sweet stalls. The scene was absolutely extraordinary. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it in my life.
Now, before we go any further, I must expand upon my penchant for sweetness; it’s not unknown for me to gleefully dispatch a tin of condensed milk, from a hole the tin (there isn’t time to faff around with an opener and a spoon), in one sitting – and still wish I had bought 2. Also, during my last visit to Canada, I discovered a thoroughly enjoyable pastime – drinking maple syrup. I particularly enjoyed supping it from those large (read bumper family sized), plastic flagons. In fact, I enjoyed it right up until the point where one of my teeth cracked and a filling dropped out. Yes, I’m serious. And yes, curiously, I have several fillings. Some of which, even more curiously, are post-Canada.
Lining the approach to the far wall were at least 8 huge tables, each about the size of Albania, and each piled giddily high with a magnificent array of hand made confectionary. In the singular, these creations were marvels in their own right, but collectively, the numerous mounds of hand-crafted stickiness were absolutely tremendous. I have never seen such a welcoming site in my entire life. I was in heaven. As I purveyed the spread of all things sugared and sickly I felt a certain foreboding rush – a surge of emotion generated by a combination of exhilaration and angst. I was elated that such a place actually existed (anywhere) but somewhat fearful in the realisation that the next 10 minutes would probably be my most expensive in Morocco.
Adopting a stance not dissimilar to that of a rhinoceros preparing to charge a safari jeep full of happy snapping tourists – of whom several would, in the forthcoming seconds, secure a large-than-average laundry bill and something to tell the grandchildren – I prepared to take candy corner by storm. Standing between me and this sticky heaven were a handful of ladies, most of whom were in their autumn years, and most of whom were managing to amble with such negligible urgency they appeared almost stationary. Did they not understand what was on these tables? And, more importantly, did they not feel the storm brewing behind them? I made a bee line for the largest mound of sweets, it was a dentist’s holiday fund in its own right. It was so large, in fact, you couldn’t be sure if the peak had seen a dusting of icing sugar or just some recent snowfall. This was all quite incredible.
I didn’t know where to begin, but “two of each, please” seemed a pretty good opener so I started with that. Somehow managing to suppress the urge to jump up and down, clap my hands and howl “More! More!” in a slightly deranged and rather girly fashion, I watched intently as sweet stall man turned the innocuous, empty cardboard box into a dentist’s worst nightmare. I was delirious.
Before the elderly ladies – the regrettable, yet unavoidable, casualties left in my rhino-wake – had even stopped spinning, I’d slipped the laden goody box into a carrier bag and carried on my merry way. I’m not sure how or why I continued looking through the souk, though, as all I wanted to do since making the purchase was to find a quite corner somewhere and start stripping tooth enamel. For both Lauren and I, our remaining time in the market had become tainted by our new preoccupations. Whereas Nathan could think of nothing else but his rather large box of sweets (that he now cosseted like a new born child), Lauren, being infinitely more sensible and longer sighted than Nathan, became wholly distracted by the inevitable outcome of him swiftly dispatching his rather large box of sweets. You see, Lauren has seen it all before. On numerous occasions has she witnessed the excitable build up, the euphoria during the feeding frenzy, the ensuing jittery animation throughout the sugar rush, and, inevitably, the subsequent, incapacitating crash. And, after devouring over 1lb of high calibre glucose in less time than it takes to soft boil an egg, let me tell you this: it’s a long, long way down.