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.