When someone asks me to tell how is Morocco I often get lost. It’s so hard to define that gorgeous place, with its chaos and its colorful bazaars. The culture is even harder to define, not to mention the diversity of the people, who still follow their ancient Arab, Berber or African traditions. Morocco is a wonderful melting pot!
But where I have troubles painting a picture of this place in words, my niece summed it all up for me, after listening my experiences in Morocco. For her, Morocco is tagine, hammam and henna.
Honestly, these three things do capture the essence of Morocco, but I would add to the list mint tea and the wonderful bazaars.
Tagine is the iconic Moroccan meal you can serve anywhere, at any time. The Berber dish takes its name from the dish they used to cook: a conical clay pot with a conically shaped lid. The shape of the lid allows the steam to rise and condense, cooking the meal inside the pot. A tagine can be made from anything, from lamb and beef to vegetables and fish. The local cooks add a lot of spices, as well as olives and lemons, which enhance the taste of tagine.
A visit to Morocco without a visit to a hammam doesn’t count! The hammam is the Turkish equivalent of the Roman baths. In fact, the hammam and the Roman baths were probably the only types of warm baths before humanity invented the actual bathroom. Anyway, it’s an ancient habit which is highly popular nowadays and for good reasons.
A bath at the hammam leaves you clean and glowing. It provides a mix of steaming, bathing and vigorous exfoliation, as well as skin treatments. At a public hammam you need to bring your own towels, soaps and other cleaning products, but it’s worth the hassle.
Henna is a natural dye obtained from the henna plant. In Morocco and India, as well as other parts of the world, henna is used for body painting. Henna is semi-permanent and it can be applied on the skin with a syringe. Talented artists can paint intricate designs, inspired from nature or traditional designs. Henna body paint is believed to protect the wearer from illnesses and bring them joy.
Everywhere you go in Morocco you will receive a cup of mint tea. Tea is a sign of hospitality and it is usually served to travelers and visitors of a household. Mint tea is also a prominent figure in all meetings, including formal business meetings. At the local bazaars, the vendors will offer you tea when you enter their store, as a sign of hospitality.
The tea itself is rather special: made from Chinese green tea, fresh mint leaves, sugar and water, it is rich in antioxidants. The way tea is served resembles a ceremony.
Bazaars (or souks)
Moroccan bazaars, called souks, are rich in spices, clothes, rugs, handicrafts and many more items. You can literally get lost in a bazaar, as they resemble a labyrinth. The chaos and the colors will give you a special type of high, similar to the one you get from drinking too much champagne. But it’s wonderful!