Whether herbivore or omnivore, most would agree that consuming fresh produce is essential to good health. In Western countries, we find small sticker labels on produce to distinguish conventional from organic, but how do you know the difference in the rest of the world? Are the “dirty dozen”and “clean fifteen” lists relevant outside of the United States? Because fresh fruits and vegetables make up the majority of our diet, this issue is critical for us. We don’t want pesticides circulating in our family’s bloodstreams, so here’s our strategy for securing organic (or near organic) produce when traveling abroad.
In Lil’ Z’s own words, Morocco is “too goofy”. Her Morocco actually means Casablanca where we’ve been living for the last month and a half. This revelation came up during breakfast when she said that she wants to return to Nizwa for a long time. I asked if she wanted to stay in Morocco for a long time and her answer was clearly no. When I asked her why, she said there’s too much noise, fighting, and begging. Unfortunately, I can’t really argue with her and have been feeling that Casablanca is a little too goofy for us too.
No matter where we live, we always miss our family, friends, and the amazing vegan foods that we leave behind. However, Oman is a place that we all really miss living in. Like a contagion, the homesickness spread quickly through the home and we were all recalling our favorite people and places in the Sultanate. Leaving Nizwa was a sound decision that we still don’t regret but it was disappointing that we couldn’t find a way to stay in or near Oman.
We’ve met North Africans who were openly critical of Oman and the Arab Gulf in general. Some find the conservatism of their societies restrictive and impractical to the point of hypocrisy. They peer through the façade of ornate mosques, national dress codes, and strict gender segregation to unveil closeted sinfulness and perversion. Like any place and people, we all fall short of our purported ideals and values but the difference between broadcasting these shortcomings and hiding them are like night and day. The presence of immorality in the social landscape as a comfortable resident versus a lurking visitor is dissimilar in their effect on society as a whole. Maybe living in conservative societies for so long has sensitized us, but we still prefer that sin be a private manner, not a public one.
There are times where Casablanca feels like a country separate from Morocco. Passing an open bar filled with people in the middle of the day or watching people place bids on horse races seems so out of place. While I prep my cousin for her first visit to Morocco, I find the generic advice about appropriate dress and social conduct in a Muslim land consistently abrogated by Moroccans themselves and better observed by well-meaning tourists who read their guidebooks before coming. Thankfully, the institutions of Islam still exist, the call to prayer is still made, and people can practice their faith to the extent of their desire without any public pressure or reprimand.
Regardless of how we might feel living here, nothing can take the love for Morocco and Moroccans from our hearts. The history of this land is one of struggle, triumph, and faith. Call it strange but regardless of how Casablanca stresses us out, we still believe that there is an underlying blessedness in this land and we’re determined to find it and benefit from it while we can.
Hello superstars! This is Urbndervish. One of my lifelong—okay, maybe not ‘lifelong’ in the sense of ‘since birth’—goals was to visit the tomb of Moulay Idriss. Anyone familiar with the history of Morocco knows that one of the most prominent personalities, if not the most prominent personality, is Moulay Idriss. He is so famous that there are two of them! Okay, let me explain. The name Moulay Idriss could evoke the image of the 8th century, saintly founder of Morocco, Idriss bin Abdullah or it could refer to his equally significant son, Idriss bin Idriss. Despite which Idriss you mean, the name conjures a sense of awe and pride among Moroccans—young and old.
It is unfortunate that the circumstances regarding the elder Moulay Idriss (henceforth known as Idriss I) founding of Morocco were less than ideal. The decades and centuries following the death of Prophet Muhammad—May Allah bless him and his family—witnessed the unjust oppression, pursuit and slaughter of his descendants. The would-be sultans who oversaw the rule and expansion of Muslim kingdoms deemed the offspring of Prophet Muhammad as a threat. This, in part, can be attributed to the failed attempts on the part of many shareef imams to secure authority whilst riding the posthumous charisma of their grandfather. Even politically quietist imams who were descended from the Prophet became victim to the onslaught of the powers-that-be. This forced many sayyids (descendants of Prophet Muhammad) into exile and hiding. One of the hapless victims was Idriss I. Pursued by the Abbasid caliph, he left his homeland to find solace in the warm embrace of the Maghreb. Indeed, not only did he find in the indigenous people the willingness to protect him, but he also found in them loyal followers who would pledge allegiance to him as their imam, or leader. We touched upon the significance of the Prophet’s Family in a previous post. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that Idriss I found a new home in the lands of the West and the hearts of its people.
The new imam established the eponymous town Moulay Idriss Zerhoun which was home to a well-known Amazigh tribe (ed. We prefer Amazigh to Berber, because the latter term is a misnomer applied to them by invading Arabs who saw their language as berber, or gibberish). He married into the family, which solidified links between him and the people. This marriage of Arab with Amazigh forms the bulk of the ethnography of Morocco’s people—many of whom are ethnically either or both. He also conquered many other towns and cities, which amalgamated these small hamlets into a unified state. Such success provoked the Abbasid caliph, Harun ar-Rashid, to put an end to this fledgling dynasty; the caliph had Idriss I poisoned.
The poison was enough to end the life of Moulay Idriss I; however, it was not enough to quell the flames of love and honor for the Idrissid legacy. Idriss’ son, Idriss II, later took up the reigns and became the second imam. Although the young Idriss was only two months old when his father left this world, he was prepped and primed to take his father’s place. Being a noble from both Amazigh and Arab descent, he was protected by the Amazigh tribes, who saw him as their own. They were able to successfully shield the young Idriss from the malicious designs of the Abbasids.
Although, he never met his father, he was able to attain much of the same status and honor that his father had. Indeed, Idriss II was able to successfully establish his base in Fes, a place that his father had previously founded. There is a mosque in Fes established in honor of Idriss II. It houses his tomb and is the site where many Moroccans visit and pay tribute.
The number one place we wanted to visit in Morocco was Fez. This old medina is so rich with culture and history that it is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a truly carless walled city, every winding road and alley has its own story to tell. With only a day to spend in Fez, we didn’t expect to unearth all of her secrets but we left savoring the taste of what makes Fez so sweet.
To begin our journey from Casablanca, we took a train to Rabat where routes to Fez depart regularly. While waiting for our connecting train, we stopped by al-Fanous to stock up on provisions like hummus, falafel, and foul moudammas (mashed fava beans) for the three hour ride ahead. Slowly and steadily our trained crawled into Fez just before sunset. By the time we exited the train station, the call to prayer was echoing through the city. We arrived to our guesthouse, Bab al Madina, and turned in for the night.
Our morning in Fez started with breakfast: several types of bread with honey and jam. Thankfully, we were able to heat up some leftover foul from the day before to supplement our meal. On our way to enter the historical city, we passed a neighboring guest house called Hotel Tijani where an English-speaking gentleman offered us a warm welcome and business card for future reference. We continued into the city and found the marketplaces slowly waking up to the day. The shopkeepers we encountered were warm and friendly, pointing out directions and sights of interest at no cost. The same service by an opportunistic passerby would merit a tip for their time and expertise.
One by one, we checked off the list of mosques and sights we wanted to visit but found the historical Qarouine mosque closed in the morning. With still another hour or two left before the opening of the mosque, we exited the old city and found an Andalusian-styled garden called Jnane as-Sabeel. The respite was welcomed after sharing narrow paths with residents, tourists, donkeys, horses, and market wares. From the gardens, we put a call through to our newfound acquaintance at Hotel Tijani and asked if their restaurant could prepare a vegan meal for us. With total assurance, we made our reservation for the late afternoon.
In the meantime, Lil’ Z and I needed to make a little pit stop. We decided to make our way to the very veggie-friendly Café Clock for a snack. Having eyed their menu online many times prior, I was familiar with their selection but still undecided. Their vegetable pastilla turnover was tempting because I only heard of it but never tasted it. Their gazpacho with avocado toast sounded appetizing but out of place geographically. Alas, I went with my first inkling and went for the harira soup with shebikiyya and dates. This popular threesome is a Ramadan staple for many Moroccans. The flavorful tomato-based soup is loaded with chickpeas, parsley, and rice. The combination of spices was overpowering for me, so my palate was grateful for the sweet, sticky dessert and dates.
Thereafter, we made it to the Qarouine in time to pray our mid-day prayers. We had hoped to stroll the halls of this institution, considered one of the world’s oldest universities. We were eager to see the product of Fatima al-Fihri’s philanthropy and vision, dating back to 859. Unfortunately, our timing was off once again and we were asked to clear out the prayer hall following our prayers. I took a quick glance at the elaborate central courtyard and exited quickly.
Making our way back to our guesthouse by walking through the Fez medina a second time, we were impressed by how well Lil’ Z handled hours of walking with no complaint. Instead of climbing up to our room, positioned some five flights up the building, we stopped at the neighboring Hotel Tijani restaurant to see if our meal was ready ahead of time. Immediately we were seated and brought olives and bread as an appetizer, followed by a large helping of stewed lentils, and single serving tajine platters of vegetable couscous with raisins- a most fitting meal for a Friday. Still not the best Moroccan cooking we’ve had but much better than the last. After paying just 200 MAD or $23 USD total, we were even more satisfied with our early dinner. We spent the remainder of the afternoon uploading photos and using our guest house’s WiFi service before retiring to bed.
After breakfast the next morning, we packed up our belongings, paid about 440 MAD or $50 USD for our two-night stay and returned by train to our cozy little apartment in Casablanca.
For our first taste of Morocco beyond Rabat and Casablanca, we ventured to Meknes. We decided to travel by train, which for second-class passengers, means sharing an eight-seater car. Most of the cars were full when we boarded but, to our advantage, a snoring one-legged man sprawled across four seats repelled most passengers. This left one seat to a quiet young man in the corner and three seats for us. We slowly rolled through the countryside in relative peace.
For our accommodations, we selected a riad, a traditional Moroccan home-turned-guest house in the old city of Meknes. Though difficult to find along the winding alleyways, Riad Amazigh was quiet and serene. Our first point of attraction was the name—Amazigh. This appellation is typically preferred over the misnomer ‘Berber,’ a name used to designate North Africa’s indigenous population. The reviews we read gushed over the owner, Fatima, and her cook, Hassan. We were anxious to meet them both. Unfortunately, Fatima was away on business, but she called to apologize for her absence and assured us that the woman she left in charge would take good care of us.
After arrival and completing intake forms, we were served hot Moroccan mint tea and shebakia, a traditional fried dessert coated in honey and sesame seeds. Our spacious room on the upper level invited us with warm earth tone hues and copper-toned fixtures. We took a moment to rest before navigating our way through the maze of streets to exit the old city medina. A short stroll took us to a strip of cultural sites like the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, an art museum, and the Royal Palace. Lil’ Z was tempted by the decorated horse and carriage buggies offering tours of Meknes but rode her father instead.
For dinner, our riad caretaker prepared a lovely vegan meal at our request. On the roof terrace, a table was set for us on earthenware and colorful cloth napkins. A panoramic view of Meknes surrounded us. We started with a pureed carrot soup and bread, followed by a vegetable tajine stew with lentils and chickpeas served over piping hot couscous. It wasn’t our tastiest meal in Morocco but it fed us and served its need. For dessert, we took fresh fruit to our rooms to avoid the rainfall.
Moroccans don’t have much of a reputation for breakfast. Bread is certainly the staple at every meal but for breakfast, it can be paired with jams, honey, olives, olive oil. eggs, cheese, etc. Our beverages were freshly squeezed orange juice and Moroccan mint tea. After our modest breakfast, we paid our lodging bill of about 750 Moroccan dirhams or $85 USD and continued on our way.
While reviewing the experiences of vegan travelers in Morocco, I noticed that many of the meals they shared didn’t look very filling. A colorful vegetable tangine over couscous or fresh baked breads with olives are tasty and meat-free but not very satisfying for us. Some bloggers mentioned eating protein bars at the end of the day to round out what their meals lacked. It is true that a stash of almonds would do a vegan traveler well here in Morocco, especially outside of big cities, but we’ll document the hearty, plant-based meals we find along the way.
Istanbul Express in Agdal, across from Badr Mosque
This is a basic Turkish diner with a few vegan staples like lentil soup, hummus, baba ghanoush (eggplant dip), salads, and fresh-baked bread.
Al Shami and Yamal Sham near Bab el Had Tram Station, Rabat Medina
On opposite sides of the Tram station you’ll find these two Syrian/Lebanese restaurants. Yamal Sham has better ambiance and décor but the findings in both are comparable in quality and price.
Al Fanous, 107 Avenue Allal Ben Abdellah, near Rabat Ville Train Station
Similar to the abovementioned, this restaurant serves salads, hummus, foul moudammas, falafel, etc. It’s the only place I know to eat near the train station (up the road pass McDonald’s).
Le Mandarin (Vietnamese Restaurant) at 100 Abdel Karim al-Khataabi Street, el Mohite
This restaurant feels out of place on this busy road, down the road from Mosque Shuhadaa. Most often the shutters are down because the very limited dining hours are from 12noon to 2pm and 8pm- 11pm, every day except Wednesday when they’re closed. They have several tofu dishes with noodles and vegetables, all of which are reasonably priced. The flavors didn’t really impress us but we’re not big fans of Vietnamese cuisine to begin with.
L’Ocean Pharmacy, Abdel Karim al-Khataabi Street, el Mohite
A few blocks away from Le Mandarin, this pharmacy has a small organic section where you can find quinoa, goji berries, muesli, raw vegan bars, etc.
Gluten-Free Supermarket near Dar Naji Moroccan Restaurant on Jazire Arabe Street
This store is actually unmarked but has a banner inside that reads “Sans Gluten”. Inside, you’ll find organic and gluten-free products like soy milk, almond milk, peanut butter, cereals, corn and rice couscous, etc. Their vegan milk and cereal variety is better than the larger supermarket Carrefour, near Bab el Had Train Station.
If you find other vegan-friendly eateries, please add them to the comments. Thanks!
For our first Eid holiday in Morocco, it was quite an event. From weeks prior, we saw charcoal and bales of hay for sale in the streets of Rabat. In Carrefour supermarket, employees donned red fez hats and hung banners of Eid greetings. Sheep were bought and sold everywhere. We tried to brace ourselves for what was to come though we were in the process of relocating.
We moved into Casablanca the night before Eid, with just enough time to tidy up, eat dinner, and rest before the next day’s Eid prayer. A new friend of ours kindly offered to take us to Hassan II Mosque where the largest congregational prayer in the city would be held. Straddling the sea and land in grandeur, the mosque stood like a light tower amidst a sea of congregants. Most attendees wore traditional Moroccan attire—hooded djellaba robes with pointed leather slip-on sandals—but all fashion statements were welcomed and expressed. On light-weight palm mats, we sat in wait for the start of the prayer, reciting words of God’s praise and remembrance with the congregation.
The Eid prayer in Morocco is much like it is in any other country. However, this time we enjoyed the North African style of Quranic recitation which gave the familiar holy verses a nice Moroccan twist. A stark contrast from our earlier Eids as new Muslims, it’s a blessing to now savor the added sweetness of knowing and understanding the verses of Qur’an recited in Arabic. Lil’ Z prayed alongside the daughters of our new friend, and we left the mosque refreshed. We went for breakfast and returned home later that morning.
The rest of our day was mostly spent at home. Everyone else seemed to be preoccupied with the tradition of animal slaughter. On this particular Eid, the faithfulness of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) is commemorated. When the blessed prophet saw in a vision that he should sacrifice his son, Ishmael, he proceeded in obedience, but God made a ram appear for slaughter in the place of his son. While slaughter in Islam is not for atonement or sacrifice, it is an act of obedience and charity that is shared with family members and the impoverished. Even though we don’t eat meat, our new landlord’s family brought us skewers of roasted mutton and a bag of fresh meat, which we happily shared with a homeless man and our new neighbor.
Aside from the religious aspect of slaughter, Moroccans find it very culturally significant. It seemed like an act of machismo to sharpen your knife before slaughter, walk the streets after the slaughter with bloodied clothes and machete in hand, and roast the sheep’s head in the street. The urban adaptation of animal slaughter seems less reverent than it might be on a farm where the sheep roam freely. There is nothing sacred about sheep skins lying on the sidewalk or entrails hanging on your neighbor’s clothesline. Watching people try to manage a large, furry beast on their balcony or terrace seemed unfitting for an apartment domicile.
It was disturbing to hear my friend share that some sheep attempt to take their own lives or run away before the slaughter. It would be more humane for their lives to end in familiar green pastures versus unfamiliar concrete and pavement pathways. On the other hand, I have to give people credit for facing and embracing the reality of what eating meat entails and not divorcing themselves from the cost, work and responsibility that comes with taking an animal’s life.
Once the roasting ended and the streets were cleaned up, we ventured outdoors in search of strawberry sorbet to end our day. The streets were sparse with people and cars, which made walking around our busy neighborhood much easier than usual. We didn’t have the time or resources to decorate our new apartment or prepare a sumptuous meal, but we spent the day together as a family and that’s what matters most.
Today is our last day as residents of Rabat. Morocco’s capital has been kind to us and gave us a good first impression of what the next year has in store for us. The neighbors in our old building aren’t the most sociable, but we share our common space with respect. We learned to make our way around town with ease and most people are helpful when we ask for directions. In our few short visits to Casablanca, we already see the contrast between Rabat and will certainly miss the friendly people and trustworthy taxi drivers.
With special thanks to the following neighbors who made our stay memorable:
-The elderly lady who chided me for taking up to much clothesline space. I didn’t understand the words you said but I got the message loud and clear.
-The elderly lady’s husband who patiently walks with crutches everyday to sit outside of a storefront. Every day he is dressed in a white turban, long brown robe, with red-framed glasses and prayer beads in his hands. He never hears our greetings but his warm smile lights up our day without fail.
-The quiet chicken seller who only has two chickens for sale every day.
-The new storeowner next door who carried a full gas tank to our doorstep.
-The cyber café owner up the road who helped us to stay connected to our friends and families and helped us figure out Moroccan coinage.
Now that we’re back in North Africa, we have to come to terms with how much harder it is to be vegan here than it was in Oman. Yes, there is more locally source produce at a fraction of the cost, but the variety of plant-based protein sources is lacking. We’ve been eating a lot of lentils and hummus, along with the occasional dish of fava or white beans. If we had red lentils and black-eyed peas to alternate, we would probably fare better, but we can’t help our unsatisfied craving for tofu and brown rice. We haven’t found either in Rabat, and our apartment-hunting trip in Casablanca was our only hope for a lentil or hummus-free meal.
Not too far from where Urbndervish will be working, we found an international Asian franchise that recently arrived to Morocco. They streamline their menu to encompass a simple stir fry. You pick a base of rice, noodles, or veggies. Then you add a variety of ‘favorites’ like tofu, extra veggies, seafood, or meat. Finally, you pick one of six sauces and voila, your meal is served in a Chinese take-out box, whether you’re dining in or taking your food to go.
We all chose brown rice with tofu with a variety of different sauces. Vegans should note that the Beijing sauce is actually oyster sauce and that you must customize your order to exclude egg. (Update: According to the local franchise manager, the only vegan sauces are their Tokyo/Teriyaki, Hong Kong/Sweet Sour, Bali/Peanut, and Hot Asian sauces). With a few scattered shreds of cabbage and carrots, the meal was unimpressive in appearance but so satisfying in taste. At less than $5 USD per serving, they keep their culinary direction extremely focused and work those woks in record timing. The portion sizes were perfect for lunch but a double helping would make a more wholesome dinner. Needless to say, this little eatery raised our optimism about what life in Casablanca has to offer.
Please Note: Wok to Walk is not a purely vegetarian eatery, but they do wash and scrub each wok between use in full view. In the United Kingdom, some of the franchises are certified halal but we are not certain about their Casablanca restaurant.
Imagine you’re at a train station. With cash in hand, you’re prepared to go somewhere. You go up to the ticket counter and all of the trains heading to your intended destination are sold out. You’re not bothered because you’re flexible. There are at least several other places that you wouldn’t mind going as an alternative. They’re sold out too. There’s only one train departing from your station and its coming fast. You have to decide quickly to jump aboard or wait for a chance at a better destination. Time is ticking. The train is advancing. Your heart is pounding. You look at the other tracks and there’s not another train in sight. If you wait, you have no idea for how long. So, you quickly buy your ticket, grab your bag, and leap for the train, with a prayer that all will be well. You find your seat prepared for you. You know this is where you’re supposed to be though you’re still not completely sure how you got here. You close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ride on. Metaphorically, this is how we found ourselves where we are—in Morocco.
About a month ago, we had a critical decision to make about a study and work opportunity for Urbndervish. After months of job searching, interviews, near-offers, and pathetic offers, we were visiting our family in the United States with no idea about our next move. In spite of our best efforts to prepare for our post-Nizwa life, nothing at all seemed to be going according to our plan. We were still left with as few possibilities as we were many months prior.
When the idea of Morocco came up, it was met with little resistance. For years we’ve had plans of visiting Morocco, traveling throughout Morocco, but living in Morocco wasn’t really what we had in mind for now. However, at this particular season in our lives, we can afford a little hiatus. So, we decided to embrace this year as one of adventure and exploration. There are many sights and cities we want to see here and we’re already scheduling visitors and trips for the proposed ten-month stay ahead of us. While many of our friends and relatives had no idea about Oman, Morocco has certainly piqued their curiosity. Even their own friends light up when they hear the name of our exotic locale.
The last three weeks since arriving has been an easier adjustment than we expected. The weather has been sunny and pleasant. Here in Rabat, we’re getting much further with Standard Arabic than we imagined. We’re enjoying life as pedestrians with a well-connected tram and train system and frequent, fixed-rate taxis. Locally-sourced produce here is good and cheap like amazingly sweet peaches and bananas, some of the largest and tastiest pumpkins I’ve ever had, and the crème de la crème, creamy avocados. Even though our apartment and neighborhood is basic and simple, we have the advantage of living by the ocean–a first for all of us. The gentle waves both soothe and orient us when trying to find our way home.
On the days we’re shopping or exploring, life in Rabat is fun. On the other days, I struggle to come up with engaging excursions or activities for Lil’ Z. We spared room in our luggage for her drawing supplies, canvas, some books, and a few activities for her in-home learning environment. But we’ve yet to find a decent a park or other homeschooled children. Instead, I’m trying to make a lesson out of everything—the woman making bread on the street side, the crane lifting bags of cement to a roof top, and buying fresh produce from the market. By far, the hardest lesson to tackle is panhandling. In spite of Morocco’s apparent progress and development, you still see elders, mothers with children, and the disabled begging. This is what our scenario is like in Rabat, but our landscape and its options are likely to change next month when we move to Casablanca.
We haven’t been too thrilled about relocating to Casablanca because the city is huge and more socially and economically challenging than Rabat. French is more widely spoken there, and the class divide is more noticeable. A prime example is the Montessori school there. We briefly entertained the idea of enrolling Lil’ Z in their program but found the cost so prohibitive that it’s downright elitist. We worry that other recreational or extracurricular activities we consider to supplement Lil’ Z’s days at home will be too expensive or in the company of overly privileged children. Regardless, this is where our train is moving us, and we know with certainty that there is purpose in it. We’re trying to keep our hearts open to give and receive whatever lessons we are here for.
All of us are missing Oman in one way or another. We’ve shipped our coveted books to our parents’ homes. We’ve left behind kitchen goods, children’s books, and wooden activities with our friends and sold our beloved, faithful ride, Suzi. For now, that chapter is closed. We’ve had to swap the sights of black abaya gowns for hooded jalaabiya robes, speeding cars for trams and trains, and Omani biryani for Moroccan couscous. We’re going to make this move work for us, one way or another, because everything we need has been with us all along.