Wow! If you have ever been to a Souk, you will know this feeling… Colours, smells, voices, languages … Overload! Come and join me through the labyrinth of the souk of Marrakesh.
Wherever I look I can see something that would fit perfectly in a wonderful living room of 1001 Nights. Pink and turquoise pillows with golden lace, silver portable lights, wooden plates with elaborate carvings, colourful pottery from little bowls to great kitchen aids. But what to choose? The choice is enormous and the owners of shops or booths have done their homework in marketing and advertisement. “Beautiful lady, I have the perfect dress for you!” Sure … Everybody seems to have the ideal goods for me … and of course, only for me!
“Where are you from?”
Everybody is interested in where these strange looking people in the middle of the souk’s labyrinth are from and what the hell they are searching for. We tell them that we are from Austria in every language we know. “Nemsa, good!” Okay, … what? Nemsa means Austria in Arabic and everyone has a friend in Vienna and Salzburg.
And for their new Austrian friends, everybody is willing to present their best products for best prices. The more you enter the labyrinth, the fewer tourists are seen, hence, the prices get lower. You should not be afraid of dark alleys or curious views from the people of Marrakesh, as you will for sure meet both.
Spice explosion and beauty recipes
In a small alley, shielded with various materials to prevent the sun to enter the narrow path, we find little peaked towers of colourful powders – what might be the ingredients? The Moroccan gentleman and owner of the tiny shop smiles at us and continues explaining the recipe of the typical Moroccan dish Tarjine to a visitor. Then it is our turn. Patiently he pulls out his samples of spices, rubs herbs between his fingers and lets us smell little bricks that look like soap, but actually are perfumes pressed in blocks. “If you want to cook Tarjine, you need to add this mixture of 35 Arabic spices!”, he smiles and hands us a sample to smell. For sure, there is the mix of curry in it, but we cannot identify anything else.
We take a couple of spices for ourselves and our friends and he gives us some goodies for free – because we are such nice customers. We are lucky to have found beautiful mementoes of Morocco and to have bought them at a shop, where the owner does not have a friend in Vienna and does not have a special offer, just for the blonde Austrian lady.
Running in circles
If you happen to exit the souk without clear directions from one of the shop owners, you are lucky! The huge place Djeema el Fna is widely known for its spectacular afternoon and evening “programme” of artists. Musicians, acrobats or people with animals are eager to show their talent for a couple of Dirham. If you want to take a picture or even a video, be sure to have a few coins ready, as all eyes are directed to tourists with cameras.
If you get hungry during your odyssey through the souk, don’t worry, you will find food everywhere! Little booths on the side of the streets prepare a special kind of kebap on their grill and fill pita breads with spicy ingredients. They add their own recipes of spice mixtures and have fun watching the tourists trying their first bites.
Enjoy the souk
Don’t be afraid to enter the souk and to dive deep into its aisles and paths. It is indeed a unique experience to bargain with the Moroccan business men for their goods. Always be polite and greet the people greeting you, have a smile on your face and everything will be fine. If you are not sure how to exit the souk again, you can also hire guides for the souk, but remember to tip the guides, otherwise they will keep your company for a very long time.
Let’s have a quick glance at the souk in a smaller city like Tiznit
We enter the souk and a local starts talking to us. He guides us through the confusing little streets, to silver manufacturers and other shops, where he will receive commission, as soon as a tourists buys anything there. Everything is okay with the young lad, he explains a lot, provides us with information but he also drags us to areas we don’t want to go to. We just took a different path, but as we were the only tourists in this area, it is not hard for him to find out where we are. He appears everywhere and walks with us everywhere we go. Finally, we tell him that we want to go for a cup of tea. Fine, he shows us a little café and takes a seat with us. Er yes, actually, we wanted to enjoy our tea on our own – immediately, his hands open in front of us and he expects a tip from us. Well, even though we never asked him for any guidance or help, we give him a little tip. Please expect that somebody will accompany you through the aisles – it is not too bad, as they find a way out of the medina for sure. Just be prepared to give them an adequate tip and be kind if they have provided you with valuable information.