Review: Fuel Jar in Muscat

 

Fuel Jar Muscat

Though two years have passed since we first left Oman, we’re still the only vegans we currently know in Muscat. We’re looking high and low, searching the web, but only finding…ourselves. Thankfully, vegan options are becoming more accessible and affordable, so we can sustain our own engine until the veggie trains pulls in to Muscat. In our pursuit, we have found a few local businesses who understand what vegan food entails and that– in it of itself– is an accomplishment.

Fuel Jar Muscat

One local business that understands and sells vegan products is Fuel Jar. The owner, Zahraa Ali, is a professional lawyer who discovered overnight oats and chia pudding when she needed her own morning fuel to get through the work day. When curious co-workers gave her breakfast jars a try, they encouraged her to go into business.  After a few nudges, Zahraa took their advice and now her evenings are filled with concocting tasty grab-and-go jars that customers can pick up or have delivered every evening.

Fuel Jar Muscat

On the surface, one might ask who in the world can’t make their own overnight oats or chia pudding, but Fuel Jar takes the experience to a whole ‘nother level. Zahraa uses organic non-dairy milks, pure nut butters, and fresh fruit spreads made by her very own hands. The time, attention, and quality of her product exceeds any homemade chia pudding I’ve tasted to date.  I had the opportunity to taste her top-selling trio: Peanut Butter and Jam, Raspberry Pomegranate, and Banana Chocolate chia puddings. To pick a favorite was a challenge and to save them for breakfast was even harder. Each jar was naturally sweet, rich, and filling in its own right. Fuel Jar definitely gives you a reason to look forward to breakfast.

Fuel Jar Muscat

For orders, contact Zahraa via Whatsapp or Instagram.

With many thanks to Fuel Jar for our complimentary samples.

Review: Ege Günlüğü in Ankara

Olive oil cooking

Aegean cuisine has a reputation for being one of Turkey’s most vegan-friendly regions. Along the fertile coast, a plethora of beans and vegetables grow abundantly and are traditionally slow-cooked with cold-pressed olive oil, fresh herbs and seasonings. Red lentils and bulgur wheat are combined to make mercimek kofte, the vegan version of a ground meat burger. We have yet to visit Turkey’s Northwestern coast, but thankfully Aegean food has come to us by way of Ege Günlüğü.

Ege Cuisine in Ankara

In Armada Mall, an imposing shopping center, Ege Günlüğü is a welcomed oasis. The open dining hall sits at the end of a busy corridor with white, painted wooden furniture and soothing pastel pillows and cushions. The aqua and blue hues invoke a calmness that I don’t usually find in a packed mall. When I asked one of the managers, Maliha, about her recommendations for vegan diners, she instinctively directs me to their cold food bar where out of more than a dozen dishes, only several include yogurt and none of them include meat. Being able to see all of the entrees makes it easy to pick and point at the dishes I want to fill my platter. With the option of a büyük large plate or a küçük small plate, the choice is obvious. I want to taste as many dishes as they can fit on my plate, centered around my absent dish of yogurt.

Vegan Meal at Ege Gunlugu

Most of the dishes are Aegean versions of familiar ingredients: black-eyed peas, brown lentils, and green beans but the flavors are unique. I recognize the taste of dill, leeks, and olive oil, of course, but the others are harder to distinguish. Regardless, everything tastes fresh and wholesome. When Maliha tells me that they don’t use any frozen vegetables, I’m not surprised. As soon as their produce arrives, it must be washed, chopped, and prepped. Some of the unfamiliar dishes are a variety of green leafy dishes that I couldn’t identify, celery root, stuffed dried eggplant, and artichokes. My favorite dishes were stewed sundried tomatoes with walnuts and mercimek kofte. To complement the mostly gluten-free entrees, a bread basket full of sourdough olive oil and walnut bread rounds out the meal perfectly. The small rolls are not airy and fluffy but rather filling and mildly dense. Even though all of the zeytinyağlı (with olive oil) dishes are served cold, the hospitality was warm and satisfying.

Fresh, Aegean cuisine in Ankara

Ege Günlüğü is most popular during lunch hour, when health-conscious professionals seek out a meal that leaves them more fueled than full. With the cold bar ready and stocked every day from 10am to 10pm, anyone can grab a meal without having to wait or order hot foods from the menu if time allows.  And, with the prices so reasonable, you can easily make eating here a healthy habit.

Vegan Oasis in Armada Mall

With special thanks to Ege Günlüğü for hosting our visit.  All opinions are our own.

Review: Wuyang Chinese Restaurant in Ankara

Wuyang Restaurant

A little known fact about me is that I’m part Chinese–one eighth to be exact. If you’ve ever seen my grandmother, Ms. Chin, our lineage would be evident. But her decision to marry my grandfather, a tall, dark-chocolate man, makes our Asian features hard to identify. Interestingly, my grandmother only remembers a few words of Cantonese, but she has an undying affinity for Chinese culture. Any product made in China was made by her “cousins”, she jests. From art to fashion, she wears her father’s legacy with pride. I have fond memories of attending Chinese cultural events in Jamaica with her and dining on the delicious cuisine. Authentic Chinese food is nothing like the remixed fast food that is popular in urban America. At the recommendation of a friend, we tried out a restaurant in downtown Ankara, and I’m glad to report that my grandma would been pleased.

Authentic Chinese Restaurant in Ankara

On a busy street lined with restaurants, Wuyang stands out with red lanterns and stringed lights decorating the entrance. When we arrived, the dining hall was mostly full save for two tables near the door. At a glance, we see Turkish waiters in uniform but Chinese managers, cooks, and diners–all very promising signs for a good meal. The menu had the weight of a short novel but we eventually found our chapter of choice: the vegetarian dishes. The price of each dish was also hefty, so we placed our order wisely: Tofu Stir-Fry, Sweet and Sour Tofu, Simmered Eggplant, Vegetable Noodles, and Steamed Rice. No budget for appetizers and desserts today. Water quenches the thirst just fine, so we pass on fruit juices and teas.

Appetizers at Wuyang Restaurant in Ankara

Our waiter had a good enough command of English to answer our questions about the dishes and convey our dietary preference. After topping up our glasses with bottled water, he brought us a platter of fried wonton noodles with a sweet dipping sauce and kimchi, Korean-style fermented cabbage. We appreciate the show of Pan-Asian solidarity and enjoy the spicy appetizer before our meal arrives.

Sweet and Sour Tofu and Stir-Fried Tofu

When the entrees reached our table, they all looked appetizing. Because the restaurant makes their own tofu, the portions were generous. Instead of relying on imported produce, the menu mostly revolves around what is locally available like eggplant and mushrooms, as opposed to bok choy and dasheen. Each of the dishes were uniquely flavored and complemented each other well. The service, food, and ambiance were all top-notch. The bathroom, not so much, but everything else made our meal enjoyable. If we have a special guest or an occasion worthy of fine dining, we now know where to go.

Simmered Eggplant

Hearty Vegan Finds in Istanbul

Istanbul

One of our family travel hacks is to manage our meal consumption. We pick a hotel that includes breakfast or has a kitchenette and eat out for a late lunch/early dinner. We usually carry a box of soy milk, peanuts, and dates to round out the rest. This plan worked exceptionally well for our recent trip to Istanbul where there were an abundance of vegan options to try out. I did my research beforehand because salads and hummus alone can’t sate our appetites and we were all satisfied with what we found.

Community Kitchen

Community Kitchen in Beyoğlu

Not far from the Şişhane Metro Station or the Tünel Trolley Stop, you’ll find this venue down a steep cobble-street road that feels more like home than a restaurant.  Oya is the humble owner who serves veganized traditional Turkish dishes like iskender, köfte, and lahmacun.  She also makes cold meze platters, pizzas with homemade cheese, and gluten-free desserts.  We were most impressed by the seitan she prepares from wheat and green lentils and can’t wait to order some for home delivery!

Minda

Minda Mantı & Ev Yemekleri near Taksim Square

Discovering this place was such a relief.  It was a cold, snowy night and our day’s meal was a little lighter than we anticipated.  For a night cap, we snuck into Minda after seeing fasulye or white beans on their open buffet.  We confirmed that their bulgur pilau, beans, and vegetable dishes were all etsiz or meat-free and dug in.  As the restaurant name indicates, their food is really good traditional homecooking and we couldn’t agree more.

Bi Nevi

Bi Nevi Deli (now in Etiler)

This Sunday brunch was an indulgence but so worth it.  Tempeh bacon, tofu scramble, mashed avocadoes, seitan salami, artisinal nut cheeses, seitan salami, and chia pudding.  Need we say more?  Other than delighting our taste buds thoroughly, the meal inspired me to research where they found these foods in Turkey and how to get them in my kitchen.

Parsifal

Parsifal near Taksim Square

Opened since 1996, Parsifal is staple in the veggie scene of Istanbul.  Their menu is tried and true with a variety of veggie burgers, stuffed chard leaves, and vegetable side dishes.  Save space for their vegan brownie, which is more like chocolate cake, but still a sweet end to a nice meal.

Vegan Dukkan

Vegan Dükkan near Taksim Square

Though not a restaurant, this vegan shop has been going strong for more than eight years and is well-stocked with treats, non-dairy milks, and whatever you might need to do your own cooking.  The owner, a die-hard vegan, is hospitable and warm.  We order from this shop for home delivery regularly.

If you know of any other vegan-friendly eateries, please add them to the comments.  Thanks!

 

Review: Vegisso in Ankara

Vegisso Living Room

After a particularly taxing workweek for Urbndervish, we went out on the town for a family date. Having already frequented one of Ankara’s two vegan restaurants, it was about time to visit the second. Little did we know that the term “restaurant” might have been a bit misleading. Tucked into one of downtown Ankara’s neighborhoods, we made our way to a modest basement apartment. No sign or awning indicated its location, so we relied on the address and phone number provided by Happy Cow. After walking up and down a common residential street, we finally found the home known as Vegisso.

Greeted warmly by a young brother and sister, our coats were taken and we were ushered to a long dining table where two diners were already seated. We sat beside them and perused the menu. Somewhat distracted by the artwork behind us and the cozy living room in front of us, we decided on veggie burgers, Izmir kofte meatball, and a seitan sandwich. Worried that our appetites overwhelmed the kitchen staff of one, we waited patiently for our dishes to arrive. We were encouraged when the other diners received their table settings, a bread basket, and appetizing plates of food. Careful not to stare, I couldn’t help but wonder what they ordered since their Turkish menu offered no translation. Nonetheless, the sister that welcomed us spoke enough English to make some recommendations and tell us which dishes were not available.

Vegisso Living Room

Apparently a hang-out spot for mostly college students, the business tide of Vegisso ebbs and flows with the semesters. A singular vegan saw a need and opened his home to become a haven for young vegan diners looking for a welcoming place to hang out and eat up. The décor of his space is artsy with a unique vintage style and in true college fashion, an acoustic guitar sitting in the corner. I became nostalgic for my own college days, spending late nights on secondhand furniture while my roommates strummed their guitars after cooking meals together. The same relaxed vibe is felt at Vegisso without being claustrophobic or intrusive.

Kofte Platter

The professional presentation of our food was a telltale sign that our chef wants to be taken seriously. Our fresh, crisp salads were dressed lightly with olive oil and a sprinkle of black cumin and sesame seeds. The bulgur pilau was formed in a small mold and our sandwiches were wrapped partially in paper for easy handling.

Veggie Burger

The veggie burger had the reminiscent taste of falafel, one of the menu’s offerings, and paired well with crisp cucumbers, sour pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and a homemade creamy sauce.  The French fries that came with the sandwiches were hot and crisp. We enjoyed each dish so much that we ordered a second round half-way through finishing the first.

Seitan Sandwich

As is our usual dining habit, we just drank water before our meal and enjoyed both a lunch and dinner portion’s worth of a meal. I was anxious to try their chocolate brownie but none was available on the day of our visit.

Our host and chef, Yesin, chatted with us after our meal. As a green, three-year vegan he has a refreshing zeal about his diet. His business hours are long, but his customers seem more like friends than clients. They cozily filled the space around us and entertained Moulay while we ate. Yesin’s vision is to one day open a restaurant but in true DIY fashion, he’s starting with what he has, right where he is.

Moulay and Cat

Review: Spicy Curry House in Ankara

Spicy Curry House

On a cool fall evening last month, we ventured out to try something new. Our taxi wove us through and around downtown Ankara to reach Gaziosmanpaşa or GOP. From a main road lined with high-end restaurants and boutiques, we couldn’t see our destination but another taxi driver directed us to turn the corner where we found Spicy Curry House.

The vibrant Indian décor warmed us instantly, and we were seated behind a young couple awaiting their meal. The windowsills were lined with potted plants and paintings adorned the walls. We sank into our cushioned booth and quickly scanned the vegetarian section of the menu which included a handful of vegetable curries and stewed legumes.

Pappadum

Worried that the portions would be small, we ordered generous helpings of chickpea curry, moong dal curried lentils, baigan bharta eggplant stew, and plain biryani rice. A very light and crisp pappadum wafer paired with tamarind sauce whet our appetites for the meal to come.

The spread

All of our dishes arrived to the table and we began to salivate.  Piping hot and freshly prepared, we started heaping spoons of each dish onto our plates.  I overlooked the parsley sprigs garnishing our food instead of cilantro but had to reorient myself when I tasted brown lentils mixed in with the yellow dal curry.  Undeterred, I hoped to savor flavors beyond the repertoire of my own cooking but each dish, though tasty in its own right, lacked the authentic taste of Indian cuisine. I know that it is quite common for ethnic foods to be toned down in spice to suit the local palate, but this was a bit like a reinvention of the cuisine. The exact same meal would’ve impressed me if it was served in someone’s home but for restaurant dining, I expected more.  It didn’t feel worth the cross-city trek that it took to reach the restaurant.  Nonetheless, the meal was satisfying and we looked forward to reheating our leftovers the next day.

Indian

With the dearth of Indian restaurants in Ankara, I believe that Spicy Curry House has an opportunity to remain unchallenged in the Turkish dining scene.  We didn’t meet the Algerian owner but the local manager is personable with an excellent command of English, so communicating our dietary needs was easy.  Maybe meat-eaters will leave with a different impression but our vegan palates noticeably missed the unique nuance of authentic Indian cuisine that we hope will eventually reach Ankara during our stay.

Our First Eid in Turkey

Ali Pasha CamiiAfter a few weeks of settling into our new home, our first Eid holiday weekend was upon us. We weren’t sure what to do or where to go but we wanted to take advantage of the four-day weekend, and that we did.

Empty Prayer Hall

The first day of Eid started quietly until Lil’ Z started writhing in her sleep. She woke enough to tell us she felt sick, and I knew that she needed to vomit. Her dad got her to the commode in time, and afterwards she felt much better. By the time we all got dressed and left the house it was about 6:50am. A taxi up the road saw us and swiftly transported us to the nearest mosque just in time for the 7:00am prayer. Everyone filed in casually without special attire or fanfare. The men’s prayer hall was full but not packed tightly and the women’s prayer hall was wide and spacious. From what I’m told, many Turkish women don’t attend the Eid prayers, so our children had plenty of room to stretch and wiggle without encroaching on anyone else’s space. After a lesson delivered in Turkish, followed by a reminder of how the bi-annual Eid prayer is performed and a sermon delivered in Arabic, we commenced the congregational prayer. We concluded with a collective supplication in Turkish and dispersed as peacefully as we entered.

Brunch

Returning home by bus, we were eager to prepare our special Eid brunch. We went on a special expedition to scout out tofu and thoroughly enjoyed it as a veggie scramble paired with chocolate pancakes. With only an hour to spare, we cleaned up the kitchen and packed our bags for Konya. Lil’ Z didn’t eat much before leaving, but I gave her a homeopathic remedy to calm her tummy. She slept on the bus ride and gave one healthy hurl on the subway floor before she was totally better and ready for the adventure ahead.

High-Speed Train

Traveling by high-speed train, the usually three-hour journey by road was shaved down to an hour and forty minutes. The check-in process was much like boarding a plane, complete with train stewardesses, in-train magazines, and on-screen entertainment. Upon disembarking, we took a taxi to our hotel and began exploring.

Sulemiye Camii

Being the day of Eid, most restaurants in Konya were closed and the few that were open didn’t have more than salad to offer vegetarians.  Near one restaurant, we saw a group of folks wearing thread-worn genie pants, gypsy skirts, and open sandals.  Some were speaking English, so we approached them about finding vegetarian food.  The prognosis looked dim, but they took us to a place around the corner where we could find other vegetarians and inquire.  Stepping into the dimly lit basement hall, we removed our shoes, passed a room full of backpacks, and found ourselves in the middle of a group dance lesson.  Giddy and noticeably hairy, the men and women whirled and spun ecstatically.  Fuzzy beards and matted locs swirled around us while we figured out that these young people were in town for a Mystic Music Festival taking place that week.  They offered to share some of their communal meal with us but it was not yet ready and we felt sorely out of place.  The loud sounds stirred Moulay from his sleep, so we took our cue to leave and try our chances elsewhere.

Roasted Vegetables and Rice, Salad, and Freshly Baked Bread

Our best attempt at a vegan meal was found at Mevlana Sofrasi.  The family-owned establishment welcomed our family, especially our children, with open arms and free treats and desserts. The meal itself was a modified traditional meal and was scarce in protein, though tasty. Overlooking the Mevlana Museum and surrounding garden, we had a spectacular view of the heart of the city.  We returned to our hotel to catch up on some rest before unfolding into the next day.Mevlana Museum

On our second day, we had breakfast at our hotel and headed straight for the Mevlana Museum where we saw artifacts from the early Ottoman period and relics from the famed mystic poet, Jalal ad-din Rumi, and the community that surrounded him. Making our way through the crowds we found ourselves with nothing left to do but drink fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Konya Tropical Butterfly Garden

The Konya Science Center was closed for the holiday, so we took a chance and headed to the Konya Tropical Butterfly Garden at the outskirts of the city. Totally deficient in any real amount of Turkish language skills, we braved two dolmuş minibus rides and a taxi to find Konya’s newest attraction similarly closed. Thankfully, the well-designed play areas were open, so the trip was still worthwhile. Thereafter, we made our way to a shopping plaza for dinner and took a bus and tram back to our hotel.

Play Area

For our third day of Eid, we took an early morning train back to Ankara. We wanted to stay in Konya longer, but the returning trains were scarce due to the holiday weekend. Instead of returning on Sunday, we returned on Saturday to meet with new friends of old friends. We were kindly invited to Gölbaşı where our new acquaintances have a lovely summer home nestled amongst a variety of resident fruit trees. With the perfect appetizer of freshly-picked, tree-ripened fruits, we had a lovely meal of bulgur pilau, roasted eggplant, and salad, alongside an assortment of baked goods and freshly brewed Turkish tea. We picked apples and grapes until the sun set, prayed our evening prayers, and returned home wholly satisfied by our first Eid in Turkey.

Welcome

Review: Bombay Palace in Casablanca

DSCF8648 (1000x750)

Finding Indian food is always a guaranteed satisfying meal for us.  We have yet to eat a bad meal because the ingredients and flavors are always so agreeable.  Back in Oman, there were an abundance of Indian restaurants ranging from high-end, five-star dining to small-scale, budget-friendly eateries.  We could always eat our fill without busting the bank.  But here in Morocco, as was the case in Algeria, the Indian food selection is limited and a bit pricey for the proportion sizes we generally eat.  Nonetheless, a traveler passing through Casablanca wanted to meet for lunch and I figured that after backpacking around Morocco and camping in the desert, she might be tired of the typical couscous and tajine fare.  Indian food was a welcomed change for her and a treat for Lil’ Z and I.

Papadum

Being my third visit to Bombay Palace, I already had an idea of what to expect from their menu and service.  A singular papadum fried cracker to share for the entire table, deliciously seasoned vegetable samosas, and the only legume-based entrée, a satisfying yellow split-pea dhal.  Even though the menu reads “dhal makhani”, it is not the black lentil and red kidney bean stew one would expect but a typical yellow dhal fry.

Dhal, Baingan Bhartha, and Basmati Rice

The lunch specials offer good value though portion sizes are petite.  It is especially surprising to see how small the dhal serving is because, as everyone knows, there’s no cheaper protein than legumes.  I often order an additional eggplant curry dish, baingan bhartha, just to sop up the mound of basmati rice and plain naan bread included in my meal.  My guest enjoyed her chicken tikka, shrimp masala, and cheese naan bread but needed to request pepper sauce as a condiment.  Their dishes are surprisingly mild and would be a total disappointment to the Indian palate.

Plain Naan

As for service, I wish I had more good to say.  The owner always seems perplexed by our family’s presence.  Perhaps he assumes like most other Moroccans and West African immigrants, we should speak French.  For us to be brown and Anglophone might be conflicting to him, as it has been to many Moroccans that we’ve met.  He takes our order in English but never offers the endearing warmth that other Western diners speak of in their raving reviews of the place.  When I ask for additional papadum wafers, he reluctantly gives us a second piece, as if I didn’t notice him serving a table of French businessmen one piece per person.  I don’t nitpick, but Lil’ Z loves those spicy little crackers and her little tummy can pack away at least two or three pieces easily.  While I’d prefer to go elsewhere, the only competing restaurant I know of is Indian Palace.  We ate there the night we moved to Casablanca and found their food to be tasty and their service excellent.  However, it is a bit more expensive and they serve alcohol, so we continue to frequent Bombay Palace but look forward more authentic cuisine and better service elsewhere.

Restaurant

Review: Shi Shang in Madrid

Shi Shang

After three months in Morocco with no residency visa, it was time to make our first run for the border.  We needed a new 90-day tourist visa and had the option of driving about five hours to the north of Morocco to a Spanish territory or flying out of the country on a cheap budget flight.  We opted for the latter which is how we ended up having lunch in Madrid.  We only had one day to spare for our adventure, so we needed a hotel with a free airport shuttle and a comfy bed, as well as a scrumptious meal to fulfill our vegan longings for the coming months.

Though I felt some guilt about going to Spain for the first time and not trying vegetarian Spanish cuisine, there was no room for churros or paella.  We didn’t have time for fluff and had to cut straight through to the vegan meat of the matter.  Ethiopian food was another tantalizing option but just the thought of an entirely vegan Asian buffet caused us to salivate.  We opted for Shi Shang with no regrets.

The Lion King

Because of our tight flight schedule, we planned to arrive just as the restaurant opened.  Their website mentioned opening at 11:30am, but the sign posted to the left of their closed shutters indicated 12 noon.  We strolled to the Plaza de España and sat for a while, reflecting on our very first trip to Europe.  Some of the brownstone buildings reminded us of Brooklyn but the Gothic architecture, statues, and fountains were what we expected to find in a major European city.

Don Jamon

Returning promptly at 12 noon, our hearts sank as the shutters were still down.  Would our highly anticipated meal fall flat?  We walked around looking for alternatives.  Don Jamón?  No, gracias.  Major fast food chains?  Not likely.  The Happy Buddha started to look enticing but we decided to give Shi Shang another few minutes to get their act together.  Confusingly, when we completed our lap around the block, the shutters were up but the lights were off.  One gentleman answered the door and indicated that the empty buffet tables would not be filled for at least another hour.  Our schedule couldn’t afford us an hour to spare, so we opted to order à la carte instead.

Why go veg

After receiving our menus, our brains retrieved some dormant Spanish vocabulary and we quickly decided on appetizers and entrees to get our meal going.  The staff busily mopped, folded napkins, and set tables around us while we sat content waiting for our order and hoping that we would finish in time to catch the metro rail to the airport for our 3:30pm flight.  But as we waited, we watched the buffet table start to fill up and began to wonder if the buffet would be ready before our own dishes.  The waiter assured us that the buffet would not be open until 1pm and brought us tofu salad as our appetizer.

Tofu Salad

At around 12:30pm, Urbdervish’s veggie fried rice reached our table first, followed by Lil’ Z’s veggie rice noodles and her single drumstick.  She was impressed by her vegan fried chicken but even moreso by the sugar cane “drumstick” in its center.  Last but not least, my sesame soy chicken and Urbndervish’s curried soy chicken came out and our order was complete.  Each dish was uniquely flavorful and freshly prepared.  We still lamented that we missed the buffet option but resolved that we would’ve been more prone to overeat and/or overindulge in the fried appetizers.  Also, the buffet didn’t finally open until 1:15pm and by then, we were out the door and on the way to the airport.

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Our brief waltz in and out of Madrid was fun.  The cleanliness of the streets, adherence to traffic rules and efficient public transportation options were a welcomed break from Casablanca, but now we are back until travel whisks us away once again.

Friday in Fez

 

Fez

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.

Breakfast

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.

Walking in Fez

Jnane Sabeel

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.

 

 

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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.

Qarouine

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.

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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.