Food city: Fes (Fez), Morocco
Whether you spell it the English way or the French way (as they do in Morocco), your tastebuds will be thrilled with Fès.
Some of the best eating comes in the dining rooms of the city’s best boutique hotels (you’ll need to book in advance):
– Dar Roumana: Vincent Bonnin’s talents in the kitchen can’t be missed. The menu changes daily with whatever is freshest in the markets. You can count on a Mediterranean style with Moroccan and French influences and several choices for your entrée, main and dessert (trust me, you will want to have all three!). 350 dirham ($35 US) for 3 courses, 275 dirham for 2, excluding beverages, service and taxes.
– Dar Seffarine: communal dinners — meet some new friends! — focussing on fresh seasonal ingredients for 200 dirham ($20 US).
– Karawan Riad: Chef Outhmane creates delicious menus, both traditional Moroccan and international with a strong French influence. Pastry chef Mahmoud will make you wish you’d packed roomier clothes.
There’s a handful of stand-alone restaurants that offer great food too:
– Restaurant Numero 7 (linked with Riad Numero 9): this may be the only restaurant of its kind in the world. No. 7 features chefs-in-residence, on sabbatical from somewhere else in the world. During their 3-month stint they learn about Moroccan cuisine, ingredients and culture and share their culinary talents with the lucky diners who can get a table in the small, chic space. Menus change almost daily. I was thrilled to discover Canadians Oliver Truesdale-Jutras and Phoebe Oviedo in the kitchen, and swooned over their manta ray salad and Montreal-Moroccan influenced beef ribs. Reserve in advance so you won’t be disappointed.
– Maison Moi Anan: real Thai food in Morocco. Chef (and clothing designer) Anan Sorsutham brings in some ingredients from Thailand, but needs to improvise (deliciously) with others. Ideally reserve in advance.
– Chez Rachid: if you’re after a casual, quick meal, try Chez Rachid. Run by the charming Ayobue, you’ll be seated and served quickly and affably (assuming there’s an empty table at this popular spot), and you’ll eat simple but delicious Moroccan food. Go through the Blue Gate into the medina, and take your first right. Chez Rachid is on your right, a couple restaurants in — there’s a clear sign and a smiling Ayobue greeting you.
– Ruined Garden: Fabulous food, labelled “creative Moroccan”, in, yes, a ruined garden. Mains are 60 to 120 dirham ($6-12 US). Easy to find as there are signs pointing you in the right direction in many parts of the medina, but they’ll pick you up and walk you home if you like.
– Café Clock:. A fun international / Moroccan vibe and menu, with free concerts on Sundays. Cooking classes too! Near the Blue Gate, at the water clock.
Don’t forget to shop the markets — the strawberries, nectarines and fresh peas were incredible during my visit. Your hotel will provide delicious morning pastries, but you might want some snacks later in the day (the sweet shop across the “street” from Chez Rachid is favoured by locals). And ask your hotel where their kitchen buys their spices and stock up for your house and your friends’.
Of course there’s more to do in Fès than just eat.
Shop: Fès is famous for its artisan goods, but as the country’s best artisans age and retire, your opportunity to purchase a hand-designed and hand-made craft is diminishing quickly. I was incredibly impressed with the work of the coppersmiths in particular — not believing that such intricate designs could be made with the human hand. A knowledgeable guide can be very helpful if you’re looking for something specific, and be sure to look at CultureVulturesFez.org for insights into the city’s artisnal products.
Sadly, as a nomadic travel writer, treasures like hand-made copper serving trays are off-limits for me. I contented myself with some brightly coloured cotton scarves (and was tempted by the large collection of Berber cushion covers) from Chez Hamidou. The owner is a charming man with a small selection of his products on display in the street. Find him near Palais Amani and the Chowara tannery in the Blida quarter, in the covered part of one of the main streets. He can be a bit tricky to find in find in the maze of the medina, so contact him at 06.62.34.77.82 and Hamidou.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donate to the children’s library: Three women from Fès’ fabulous expat community — Suzanna Clarke, Kim Fritschi and Cathy Bellafronto — founded a children’s library in the medina to help improve literacy (while many Moroccans can speak two, three or more languages, Morocco’s literacy rate is low). Pack some Arabic books in your suitcase, and bring them to this little library; you’ll be thrilled with the kids’ eagerness. When it opened in January 2015, most medina kids had never even heard of a library, let alone read a book inside one. It is filled to capacity every day. If you didn’t bring any, ask at the library where you can purchase some Arabic books (support the local economy!) or, better, donate some cash (for the cost of an extra night in most of the hotels we feature, you can pay for the monthly librarians’ salaries or the library’s rent!). But please don’t mail books from your home country — the cost of postage alone could purchase many more books than the ones you send. Sometimes the library needs volunteers too — check their Facebook page for the latest.
Take a tour: There’s a wide range of tours both within Fès and day-trips nearby (though some of them deserve more than a day-trip … read more of my advice about Mèknes, Volubilis, Moulay Idriss Zerhoune and, further afield, Chefchaouen; and don’t forget the Atlas Mountains and the desert). I met the wonderful owners of Chriftrans.com/ and learned an increduble amount from their fantastic driver, Mustapha Moutaj. I’d highly recommend Chrift Trans for any out-of-town tours or driving needs you may have. If you’d like a tour nearer to town, Plan-It-Fez.com has lots of ideas to keep you enriched and entertained.
Check out the latest: The website The View from Fez always has the latest Fès news and happenings, including the festival schedule (plus great recipes!). It’s run by Suzanna Clarke, the author of A House in Fez, and her husband Sandy McCutcheon. Suzanna’s book is the fascinating story of buying and restoring an ancient dilapidated riad, and of getting immersed in and falling in love with life in Fès. I was lucky to have a look inside the now stunning riad, and was amazed by its humble origins and the work they put into it. The View from Fez also provides this handy list of what you need to know for travelling to Morocco.
Enjoy Fès, and be sure to share your experiences and recommendations with us too!