Tag Archives: markets

Morocco Journal 6: Essaouira Faces and Places

The melting pot of Essaouira attracts Anglos and Moslems from throughout the western and African world. This week I met a Parisian couple, both professionals, whose parents immigrated from Tunisia and Algeria.  Their gorgeous children captured my eye.  The mom of these children, Saoud, speaks four languages fluently — French, Arabic, English and Spanish.

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We are meeting people who have left France and the U.S. to find comfort and an easier lifestyle in Essaouira.  Many have been here since the 60s and 70s when pop-rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens visited.  Stardom is not far.


I also found delicious Italian food prepared by a Moroccan who has a 10 seat restaurant called Vague Bleu.  It’s on a little side street off the road to the Bab Marrakech (the Marrakech Gate) and recommended by ex-pats who have been living here for years — he from the U.K. and she from Long Island, NY.  The gnocchi topped with a pesto spinach sauce was heaven.  So was the aubergine (eggplant) rolls, tender melt-in-your mouth morsels of puree.

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And, the fresh fish topped with curry spice couldn’t have been more tasty.

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Our lunch companions included Parisian antiques collector Richard, local resident Rachid whose father was a silversmith, and a young woman with a great smile.  Je ne parle pas francais, I say, and launch into Spanish only some understand.

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Henna painting is a big thing here.  Street corner artists set up shop to paint fantastical designs on any part of your body.  Or, pick up a tagine clay cooker to bring home to prepare one of Morocco’s most famous pyramidical foodie dishes — veggies, seafood, chicken, lamb or goat — seasoned with cumin, coriander, cinnamon and peppers.

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Along the early morning avenues before the shops open, the egg man pushes his cart to vend brown, fresh from the hen goodness as shopkeepers sweep the 17th century cobbled streets to prepare for the tourists who are the town’s economic lifeblood.

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Our favorite morning past-time is to take a seat at a cafe, sip a rich cup of fresh ground and brewed Cafe Americano and people watch.  Maybe accompanied by a croissant filled with chocolate, too!

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About 70,000 people live in Essaouira and they need to eat.  (Once, 40 percent of the population was Jewish.) There are thriving fruit, vegetable, fish and meat markets intermingled with tourist shops selling Berber jewelry, handwoven rugs, antiques, pottery, and organic argan oil. Everywhere is a hammam or spa.

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On every corner there seems to be a patisserie or bakery offering delectable French and Middle Eastern treats made with figs, dates, honey and pistachios.  The French influence is strong.  You can’t go more than 20 feet without coming upon a creperie stand turning out handmade delicacies drizzled with chocolate.

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The people are warm, friendly and helpful.  We met Nora at the local coffee shop owned by her family.  In addition to serving an incredible cup of cafe Americano, she led us to her favorite hammam where we made an appointment for the real deal — the traditional communal (same sex) experience with body scrub, sweat bath, masque, massage and hair wash for under $25 USD.  My skin is now soooooo soft.

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What’s a babouche?  Pointy-toed shoes of course!  The traditional style for Moroccan women and men.  The original ones intended for outdoor wear are treaded with car or truck tires, I’m told, and last forever.  The ones for inside the house are more like slippers.  Then, of course, there’s the jewelry shopping and this happy salesman (above right) made the sale of a lovely Tuareg silver and carnelian pendant and was eager to show it off.

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I’ve not succumbed to the many sweets yet, but the temptation is very strong.   Now, I’m off for my morning cup of coffee.  Only one or two required.

Morocco Journal 2: Marrakech–Oaxaca Connection

After a 24-hour journey from Raleigh, North Carolina to Marrakech, Morocco via Madrid, Spain, I headed out on Day One with my guide Fadil into the labyrinthine Marrakech souq (souk).  I was forewarned. It is easy to get lost. Don’t even think about going in without a guide, advised a U.S. State Department friend who lived in Rabat for years.  I took him seriously.  Opinions vary on this, but I decided to be cautious and get the lay of the land.

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It was early morning after a rainy night.  Only the cobra snake charmer greeted us on Jemaa el-Fnaa, the city’s main square.

Then, we entered the souq.  Except for the minarets, Arabic script, women wearing djellabas, and narrow arched and cobblestone alleys, I could have been in Oaxaca’s Abastos Market where I have often lost my bearings among the tangle of vendors. 

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My priority today was to see the Dyer’s Market.  But, as usual I got sidetracked. Temptations are many.  As in most international markets, craftsmen congregate by trade.  Here, there are sections for jewelry, ceramics, shoes, leather bags, traditional clothing, food and spices, cookware, and even a goat skin auction.

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Marrakech–Oaxaca Connection

Natural dyes.  Here in Morocco, indigo, poppy, saffron, mint, kohl, henna, and other plants and minerals are used to dye wool for rugs and fibers for clothing and shawls.


Silk of the Agave Cactus.  Just like in Mexico, the agave leaf is soaked and pounded, the fibers separated and spun, and used for weaving and embroidery embellishment.  We call it pita in Oaxaca and sabra in Morocco.  It has the shiny texture of raw silk.

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Fruit of the Agave.  Lo and behold, I’m walking through the market and see a street vendor selling tuna, which is what we call the fruit of the agave cactus.  He peeled the skin and offered the fruit to me and Fadil.  We each got two for 5 Dirham.  That’s about 15 cents each.

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Sesame seed snacks.  The women who balance the baskets on their heads filled with sweet sesame treats on the Oaxaca Zocalo and the souq pushcart vendors have a lot in common.


Donkeys.  There are beasts of burden in every culture, thankfully. MarocSouq-32

Weaving Techniques. Men weave on the heavy floor loom.  Women weave using a lighter weight vertical loom that looks more like the Navajo loom.  MarocSouq-33

And, then there are the rugs.  Stunning rugs, just like in Oaxaca.  Too many beautiful rugs to choose from.


Market life for the staples of life.


Photography: Traditional people do not want their picture taken!

Moorish influences in tile work, craft, food.

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Construction:  Buildings are made of adobe, earth’s raw materials.

Of course, so much here is different, especially in food and beverage.  The whiskey of Morocco is mint tea.  We are getting used to dining without a glass of wine in this alcohol-free Moslem country.  Couscous and tagine are culinary gifts.  The hammam, or sweat bath, and the spa life are integral to the culture.

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Vendors of Oaxaca: On the Streets, in the Markets

Whether it’s the selling of food at a street corner, hand woven palm hats from a seat at the edge of a high concrete planter box, or from behind a market stall, commerce is alive and well in Oaxaca.

At night, returning from a delicious dinner of coconut shrimp at Los Danzantes restaurant, we turned the corner to get to our hotel and found this:  Burger Movil (the moving burger) and Equito Elotes (corn on the cob).  Think Food Truck, which I believe must have been invented by Mexicans!


Some of my favorite street vendors are the hat weavers. It’s catch as catch can with them. If you see them one day, you may not see them again for weeks. They move from place to place depending on the traffic.  Her fingers are like flying shuttles, I could hardly keep up with them. Handmade hat: 220 pesos and photo with permission!


The women from the red clay pottery village of San Marcos Tlapazola, southwest of Tlacolula in the mountains, are part of a cooperative that makes almost entirely utiliarian ware, primarily comales or griddles, bowls, and jars. The Zocalo in Oaxaca city provides a ready market for approaching prospective buyers who sit at outdoor cafes.  Small comal was 20 pesos. I had to buy one in order for her to stop long enough and to agree to get a photo of her.

Little bags of potato chips and crunchy cheese rings drizzled with chili sauce make a great portable snack. After about 20 minutes, when he had no takers sitting in front of the Catedral on the Zocalo, he picked up and moved on. I saw him later that day at another spot closer to Santo Domingo Church.


And how does she balance those gardenias and roses on her head? 

At the Benito Juarez Market and the 20 de Noviembre Market just two blocks away from the Zocalo, there is a buzzing corridor where men put chorizo and salchicha and flank steak on the grill along with fresh veggies.  The corridor is lined with cafe style tables and benches filled with hungry families.


Tlacolula Shopping List: Oaxaca’s Sunday Market

The Sunday Tlacolula regional tianguis (indigenous market) is where locals go to buy everything imaginable: furniture, cookware, light bulbs, plants, vegetables, fruits, meats, rebozos, live animals, jewelry, aprons, CDs and DVDs, clothing and plumbing supplies, just to list a few!

Portable stalls, covered with blue plastic tarp, line the streets for blocks on end.  Interspersed are some interesting tourist collectibles: finely woven baskets, lacquered gourds, Mitla tablecloths, embroidered blouses, carved wood figures, fancy shawls, and more.

I love Tlacolula.  The colorful indigenous dress, women carrying babes to their breasts wrapped in shawls securely tied around their necks and midriffs, wheelbarrows filled with honey dripping from hives, pushcarts with piles of fresh strawberries and guayaba so ripe that the air is like breathing a smoothie.  Men pull goats by coarse ropes.  Old women cradle turkeys under their arms.  Hawkers call out the daily specials at improvised street cafes where rotisserie chicken spins as diners eat at makeshift tables.

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This Sunday I had a shopping list.  No tourist dawdling for me.

I started out late, hopped on a 3 p.m. bus from Teotitlan del Valle (TDV) to Tlacolula.  The 10-minute ride is 7 pesos (that’s about 50 cents).  On Sundays, that’s the only destination for the TDV bus that makes numerous round trips all day ending with the last one returning at 3:30 p.m..

Tlacolula Shopping List:

  1. Clothes hangers.  The basic necessities are not what tourists are looking for, but Tlacolula has everything. 10 for 25  pesos.
  2. Oil cloth. This is not for the dining room table! I lit upon this solution to cover a window to keep the light out. Hopefully making for better sleeping.  2 meters for 60 pesos.
  3. Masking tape and picture wire.  The tape to hang the oilcloth and the picture wire to hang a beautiful clay sirena (mermaid) wall plaque I bought in Santa Maria Atzompa last week.  The potter made the platter with only one hole (a mistake) so no way to thread a wire to hang.  So I found a button at the market, too. (My plan, fit the button into the hole, thread the wire through the button holes, hang–it worked.) Tape and wire at the hardware store for 35 pesos.  Button from a street vendor for one peso.
  4. Hand-woven petate floor mat. Not on my shopping list, but who could resist the woman sitting on the curb weaving these mats from palm fronds. Indigenous people slept on these. Now, they make a perfect natural floor covering.  A steal at 40 pesos.                                         

La Dueña de Comedor Mary

5.  Late lunch at Comedor Mary. The most delicious food in the cleanest restaurant you’ve ever seen – anywhere.  I could write a whole post about Comedor Mary. Located on the street between the church and the permanent market. Chicken soup, chile relleno, accompanying plate of avocado, radishes, guaje, with a Coke Light for 90 pesos.


By the time I left the market, the TDV buses were kaput (last return trip at 3:30 p.m.).  So I walked to the Tlacolula crucero (crossroads) and picked up a collectivo (10 pesos) that dropped me off at the TDV crucero.  I sat next to the cutest 2-year old with her mom in the back seat and we made goo-goo eyes.  From there, I took a local collectivo (5 pesos each and sharing the cab with 6 people, 3 adult men in the front seat) into town.  My bundles went into the trunk, fortunately.   From there I walked home.

Overall, a great day I’d say.  Shopping list accomplished.



Pinatas Galore Plus Great Shopping at Mexican Market “La Cumplidora” in Sanford, NC

Drive by window-shopping is my weakness.  I was on my way to meet professor Robin Greene, who leads our Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice, at our mid-way breakfast diner in Sanford, NC.  Almost there, and I noticed some pretty remarkable, huge pinatas hanging in a store front on the highway.  The rubbernecking angels sat on my shoulder as I made a mental note to stop on the way back.

Which I did! making a quick (and careful) left-turn from the center lane on the highway.

La Cumplidora is filled with nooks and crannies of Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Columbian food.  The selection represents all nationalities of clientele who live and work in the area.

I was the only gringa!

And, I felt at home among people who I know work hard for the food they are buying and are conscious of cost.  Children were hanging on to the hems of mothers’ skirts as they shopped for fresh and beautiful produce:  limes (7 for $1), avocados (99 cents each), choyote squash (99 cents each), cilantro (59 cents a bunch),  plum tomatoes perfect for salsa, six different varieties of dried peppers, fresh habaneros and poblanos.

Tip: Save Money and Shop at Your Local Latino Mercado

All the produce was a fraction of the cost of what I find in the major supermarkets and much better.  I found perfectly ripe mangoes — 8 for $7.50 — a price unheard of at Harris Teeter (usually $1.65 each) where you might slice one open to find a dark center damaged by early picking and refrigeration even though the skin is ripe and it is soft to the touch.

At the way back is a full-service carneceria — butcher shop — with all types and cuts of fresh meats — beef, pork, chicken, and goat.  In the corner is the queseria — cheese shop — where the imported from Mexico fresh cheese is sold by the pound.  There is even some house made entrees  for carry-out.

Just like in Oaxaca, the pasteleria/panaderia (pastry and bread bakeries) section was doing a bustling business.  The fresh out of the oven concha rolls were exactly like those I see in the bakery on Garcia Virgil.  Several young men held aluminum trays in one hand, tongs in the other, opened display case doors, reached in and piled the savory mouth-watering treats onto the trays.

They looked liked confectionary pyramids: 

Pink rolls filled with sweet cream, sprinkled with chocolate.  Flaky pastry cones stuffed with vanilla custard. Alternating chocolate and white layered cake squares with mocha frosting.  Jelly rolls.  Sesame cookies.  It was all I could do to pass this by (I’m watching my calories.)

Food is so important to retaining culture.  It keeps us connected to our families of origin, the memories of growing up, our way of keeping our identities in our adopted homelands.  And, for keeping the memories of a satisfying vacation or travel adventure alive.

As I stood in line in a U.S. “village” 35 miles from my own North Carolina home among warm and friendly people, I was reminded of my own family’s immigrant status at the beginning of the 20th century.

And, if you are ever in Sanford, North Carolina, be sure to make a stop at La Cumplidora.  Or discover the local Latino market in a neighborhood near you.  A world of wonder will open up to you and you will save on the grocery bill.

Oh, and the pinatas:  huge fanciful animals and stars and dolls decorated with crepe paper streamers in bright colors, pictures of boys and girls, sparkles, perfect for containing the candy treats to celebrate a birthday.

La Cumplidora, 901 South Horner Blvd., Sanford, NC 27330, (919) 776-1060.