In Honor of Friday Couscous, Notes on a Moroccan Classic

Thursday, October 29, 2009 | Ar-Ribat, Morocco (map)

My favorite couscous in Morocco? Definitely couscous tfaya from Carousel Cafe in Agdal, Rabat. It's sweet but spicy, served with hardboiled egg, salted almonds, and a glass of cool leben (sour milk) on the side. Perfection.
Before I came to Morocco, I rarely ate couscous (كسكوس). My mother—ever the adventurous and talented chef—had made it now and then throughout my childhood. But although certainly no picky eater, I had never liked the dish much. At home or in restaurants, it always seemed a bit too mealy, too dry, and too bland to really be enjoyable.

In Morocco, of course, couscous is the national meal. Without fail, the kingdom's entire population eats it every Friday at lunch, by hand or by spoon, at home or in a restaurant. It is a nationwide rite unparalleled in America. (Catholics' fish-only-Fridays comes to mind, but Friday couscous in Morocco is on a whole other scale, approaching universality. Finding a restaurant or cafe that serves anything else on Friday afternoons is a rarity.)

Given Moroccans' enthusiasm for the grain-based pasta—which they both grow and consume in

Jemaa el Fna: Bring Your Appetite

Sunday, October 25, 2009 | Marrakesh, Morocco (map)

Few places in Morocco have as much energy as Marrakech's Jemaa el Fna at night.
After ascending and descending Jebel Toubkal—Morocco's highest peak—in less than 48 hours, Chris, Susannah, and I were famished. We met several other friends in Marrakech and hit the food stalls of Jemaa el Fna square. After gorging ourselves on various meats, grains, and salads, we wobbled on shaky legs through the nighttime crowds, stopping to watch the snake charmers, storytellers, and acrobats that draw local and foreign onlookers alike each night.

Toubkal: A Climb to the Roof of North Africa

Saturday, October 24, 2009 | Jbel Toubkal, Morocco (map)

Victory! A triumphal shot from the top of Jebel Toubkal, with Chris at left, Susannah in the middle, and me at right.
The mountain had been on my list since we first arrived in Morocco. Jebel Toubkal (جبل تبقال), at 4,167 meters (13,671 feet), is the highest peak in the Atlas range and in all of North Africa.

By a stroke of luck, I managed to get last Friday off work, just as my friends Chris and Susannah were planning an ascent of the peak. I packed and provisioned, and made the 3:15am train to Marrakech with them. After a few hours of lousy midnight train sleeping, we took a winding grand taxi ride from Marrakech to the town of Imlil, at the foot of the Atlas.

It was late in the morning when, stocked up on water, Chris, Susannah, and I shouldered our packs and began to shuffle up the trail, tired but energized by the challenge ahead. Susannah had reached the summit a few months earlier, but Chris hadn't quite made it on his own trip. Many hikers used mules to carry their gear; we were going it alone.

The Final Countdown: Asilah

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 | Asilah, Morocco (map)

Asilah proved to be one of my favorite Moroccan towns, not least because of its beautiful murals, like this calligraphy-based one.
This past weekend, in our continuing effort to see as much of Morocco as possible before our impending departure, Jacqueline and I hopped aboard the northward train, and disembarked several hours later beside the town of Asilah (أصيلة), on the Atlantic halfway between the ports of Larache and Tangier.

Asilah itself remains, nominally at least, a fishing port. But its charmingly colorful medina attracts so many European tourists—including many who have settled permanently—that tourism has clearly eclipsed the town's traditional trade.

In Asilah's bright murals, immaculate streets, reserved shopkeepers, and relaxed atmosphere, Jacqueline and I felt we had escaped Morocco. It was unlike any other town we have visited here so far. Where tourism seems only to increase resentment, racism, and crime in most Moroccan cities,

The Final Countdown: Moulay Bousselham

Thursday, October 8, 2009 | Moulay-Bousselham, Morocco (map)

The beach at Moulay Bousselham, where life is good.
As our final months in Morocco tick slowly away, Jacqueline and I are doing our best each weekend to visit some of the many sites that we haven't yet hit.

Several weeks ago, we headed up the coast to Moulay Bousselham (مولاي بو سلهام), a quiet fishing village poised between the Atlantic and a large inland lagoon. The nearby Merdja Zerga ("Blue Lagoon") is a major pit stop for migratory birds traveling between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.

We checked into the Villa Nora, a friendly bed and breakfast perched high above the beach, and made ourselves comfortable.

While I love animals, I'm no bird watcher. In fact, I almost always prefer to watch bird watchers than to actually watch birds. With no such entertainment in sight, I opted to skip the lagoon this trip. Jacqueline was equally uninterested, probably more out of a desire to avoid haggling for a boat

Looking Back on a Year in Morocco

Monday, October 5, 2009 | Ar-Ribat, Morocco (map)

In 12 months, we have managed to cover a lot of ground, but Morocco is larger than you might think, with more to see and do.
For Jacqueline and me, Ramadan's passing had another, more personal significance: it marked a year since our arrival here in Morocco.

On first reflection I feel like the year has rushed past. But then I recall all that we've done and seen and survived. In just our first few months, we found a first home in Fes, learned to navigate the old city, road tripped through northern Morocco, visited Spain without leaving Africa, mastered shopping à la marocaine, expanded our culinary horizons, helped butcher a sheep on 'Eid al Adha, dragged my family around the country, skied the Atlas mountains, and suffered Fes's endless street harassment.

Those nearly six months in Fes, while probably the defining epoch of our Moroccan experience, were trying, to say the least. The palace in which we ultimately settled had no roof over its courtyard,