Navigating the web of Tangier’s Medina is like falling down a rabbit hole. The dimly lit labyrinthine streets meander up and down the city’s sloping hills while locals hurry past in a flurry of multi-hued fabric and scents.
Tangier’s Medina is the first souk I’ve visited, and what an assault on the senses. With people waving their wares in my direction, voices calling from every angle and the sun beating down above me from between the looming houses overhead, it was a moment before I could take it all in. Every step, every turn revealed something new in the Grand Socco. A solid wall of Berber carpets, then a table overflowing with leather slippers every colour of the rainbow. Smiling faces surrounded me, their eyes creasing in welcome.
Along one street was the largest collection of fruit and vegetables I’d ever seen: bananas, prickly pears, apples, chillies, melons, carrots and onions – so, so many onions! A left turn and we were brought swiftly into the meat section, where tripe and lungs hung from vendors’ windows, the blade of a knife repeatedly collides with a table as it chops through a hunk of meat, and a man pushing a wheelbarrow full of cow’s hooves weaves his way past, nodding politely.
Led by Ahmed, our local guide, the fish market was next, and we smelt it before we saw it. Stepping down into an inch of fishy water, we joined the throng of merchants and buyers slipping this way and that. The goggly eyes of foreign fish stared like a stunned cat, bulging at the seams. Shoved beneath tables were tuna fish the size of dolphins, lying next to Moroccan sharks. Prawns, octopus, lobster, John Dory, more fish than I can name lay before us like a blanket of shimmering scales.
Taken to a local carpet store, my parents were lured into buying two Berber carpets, their Aztec patterns too delightful to refuse. “A happy mum is a happy house,” beamed the owner as his student packed up our purchases. Our next visit was to a spice shop where local produce is used for cooking and medicinal formulas. Treated to a presentation by the owner and a sniff of the products on offer, we were assured: “Don’t worry, we’re not in Colombia. In Morocco, sniffing is safe!” with a chuckle and a wink. Everything from Argan oil to musk, Ras Elhanout to amber lined the shop’s walls.
After an hour or two of wandering the maze, we ate at Mamounia Palace, a popular spot for local guides to bring their foreign punters which is found just beyond one of the Medina’s gates, just off of the main square of the city. Welcomed by the owner, we were shown into the dining area to the sound of a local band playing stings and percussion. Grabbed immediately, I was seated in the middle of them, a Fes plonked haphazardly on my head and a sitar thrust into my grasp. Smiling for photos and mimicking playing the instrument, it was an overwhelming yet amusing welcome. We dined on soup and bread, meat skewers and cous cous, the local ‘pricky pears’ (the fruit found on cacti) and my favourite, Moroccan mint tea – or ‘Moroccan whiskey without alcohol’, as it is locally known.
A day full of more eye-widening sights than I will ever be able to remember, I can safely say that my first experience of a Moroccan souk was one that met my expectations. It was loud, it was busy, it was full of life and colour, and I simply cannot wait to go back.
Have you been to a souk? Where was it? What did you think? Leave your comments below!
* Our trip to Morocco was organised by Blands Travel. For two nights at a five start hotel in Tangier’s city centre, a local guide and a day trip to Chefchaouen and all meals included, a trip for three people cost us £1461.