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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

Negotiating for Leather and Cooking Local

We continue to be delighted with Riad Alya.  Here is a photo of the living room downstairs.  The detailed tiles on the wall are original from when the Riad was built nearly 200 years ago.

And the plaster work in the garden area is exquisite.  Ahlam explained today that the way this is done is that they put the plaster material on the wall and let it dry a bit.  Then they carve the plaster with small tools to get the detail.

After breakfast Ahlam and Idriss took us to the market.  Melissa has a cooking lesson this afternoon, and the plan is to shop and buy all the things we need.  Along the way we discussed with them whether the locals also shop in the Souks.  She explained that yes, they have supermarkets here, but they like to buy fresh produce and meats in the Souks.  They have vendors that they typically buy from regularly, but if the quality isn’t there or those vendors raise the prices then they will go elsewhere.  Because Ramadan is approaching, prices are a little higher than normal.  But still the prices of produce are 1/10th of what we would pay in the US.  The peas we bought yesterday – 2 lbs for 50 cents is typical.  Bananas, artichokes, eggplant – all were typically 2 lbs for less than a dollar.  When we told them what we pay they were aghast.  Until we explained that everything is higher – including minimum wage at $15/hr – which would be a day’s wages here.

While in the market, a local asked to take a picture of Melissa, and she agreed.  Melissa later asked Ahlam why he wanted the picture of her, and she said it was probably so he could go home and show his wife a picture of the woman who came to shop from him today.  Guess the produce vendors don't get a lot of tourist shoppers.

When Ahlam heard Melissa had never cooked fava beans – that had to go on the menu!

The lemons here are enormous.

And the oranges are tasty.  The fresh orange juice they make from them is thick and the best we have ever had.

They sell everything in the market.  We found a giant cart full of snails.

When Ahlam heard another Riad had made us bread from rice, she got all excited.  So we stopped to buy rice flour, and flour made from chick peas.

Later that afternoon, the kitchen cooks showed us that they had made these small breads from chick pea flour, yeast, and salt.  They were very good.  Tomorrow we will get the little rice flour cakes with breakfast.

Then it was onto the meat markets.  This guy was a character and said that he wanted to make us a gift of a sheep head.  Apparently, they eat them here.  Along with the lungs you see hanging, and the stomachs.  Ok, not exactly appetizing for us.

Then it was onto another meat vendor to get the lamb for the tagine.

After that Ahlam and Idriss helped us to buy some dates to take home so we would get a good price.  2 lbs for $15 US dollars.

Then Ahlam and Idriss headed back to the riad while we went to visit the tannery.

As you walk into the tannery, a guide starts to explain how the tannery works.  We were sort of blowing him off because we are so accustomed to ignoring the scam artists in the souks that we didn’t realize his real purpose is to help you shop for leather goods when you are done viewing the tannery.  Our guy turned out to be pretty helpful, so after seeing the tannery in action, we followed him into the huge shop on the three floors below.  We’ve never seen so much leather in one place.  And the number of leather jackets in various styles and colors was staggering.

Melissa had considered whether to buy a leather jacket here in Fes – where the largest tannery is – and the best prices can be negotiated.  So we looked around a while.  And sure enough, Melissa found a couple of coats the style of which she liked.  But one was in the wrong color and the other was the wrong size.  They insisted that they could make them to order in a matter of hours.  So we negotiated them down from $500 each to $300 each and they promised to have them delivered to our riad by 6pm – despite it being almost 2pm by then.

Then they measured Melissa.

They took a credit card, so we figured that if they didn’t show up, we could cancel the charges.  And they promised if that when they were delivered we didn’t like them, they would give us our money back.  But as promised – though it was 7pm not 6pm – Omar showed up with two jackets that fit Melissa like a glove.  Amazing.

Then we needed a bit of lunch.  So we figured we would find a restaurant in the souks and get something quick before we headed back for the cooking lesson.   We spotted this sign, and the thought of a view over the souks sounded good.

We went up and sure enough the view was pretty good.

Alas, we made (yet another) rookie mistake and forgot to negotiate the price in advance.  So one serving of meat kababs along with the usual assortment of salads and a bottle of water cost us $12 US dollars.  It should have been about $7.

Then we headed back to the riad for our cooking lesson.  Both the breakfast cook - Amima, and the dinner cook – Fatima were there to help us cook.  That’s Amima on the left and Fatima on the right, with Ahlam and Melissa in the middle.

When Melissa arrived, the gals had already washed all the produce and set out all the ingredients.

Then for the next two hours the ladies cooked.  They were cooking so many dishes that Melissa spent the whole time just taking notes and pictures so that she would know exactly how to reproduce the recipes again.

At one point, Melissa was repeating back directions that Ahlam had translated from Amimi.  Amimi was listening and nodding.  Melissa realized that Amimi can at least understand English.  Then we had an interesting conversation about salt.  They warned Melissa that she wouldn't need so much salt because our salt is much denser and finer than what they use.  Melissa looks closely at the salt, and turns to Amimi and says "sal de mer?", and she nods her head "YES!" After which Amimi begins to converse a bit more with Melissa in English.  Turns out she speaks it quite well.

Near the end, Dave came down to visit and they made him an honorary member of the team.  And the ladies made a gift of packets of all the spices we used today!

All the recipes we cooked are in a separate blog post here.  All were amazingly delicious and Melissa will for sure make them again at home.  This whole day's adventure to the souks to find ingredients and the cooking class were $32 US Dollars.  Seriously, I would have been happy to pay three times that.

Here are all the salads we made, and the chick pea bread – when they served them to us at dinner.

And sure enough, despite the tagine having been made in a pressure cooker, they transferred it to the tagine pot to serve it to us.


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