Bab Doukkala is the name of a mosque, the neighborhood that surrounds it, and the main street that runs through the neighborhood. It is bookended by the old city gate (bab) at one end, and the mosque at the other. Beyond the bab lies the newer part of Marrakech, with the train station, super markets, and broad, regular streets in a more European style. But inside the bab, down the street to the mosque, is the older Marrakech, and also, as it happens, our riad.
The charming Riad al Nour has been our home for 3 nights, and will host us one more night when we come back from Rabat, before we head to the airport. It’s the place where we’ve rested our heads the longest, followed by our lovely riad in Fes. Unlike in Fes, however, in Marrakech we have felt much freer to wander around on our own without getting lost, and without needing a guide just to get to our restaurant for dinner. In just a few short days, Rue Bab Doukkala has started to feel like home.
Riad al Nour, our home in Marrekech
The street is lined with merchants, but not the touristy kind – the everyday kind, who sell vegetables and olives and teapots and desserts. And yes, even couscousiers. There are donkeys pulling carts, women selling bread, and even a man pushing around a cart with pots of mint tea, selling them to the folks who call the street home each day.
Behold, my magnificent couscousier
On my birthday, we had asked Youssef at the riad where we might get a decent lunch nearby, and he recommended a newer café towards the end of the street, on the left side, nearer the bab. The food was not only delicious, but at a fantastic price to boot – we each got a great meal for under $3. After a week of being shuttled from one tourist-focused restaurant to the next at $15/person, we were ready for something more casual. We loved it so much, we’ve returned 3 times, met the chef, and the staff now recognize us. When Keith and I stopped on our way to the train station this afternoon, one of the waiters said, “Oh no, are you leaving already?” We assured him we’d be back, albeit briefly, in a few days.
The evening we returned from Essaouira, the weather was overcast, and we were tired. We had planned to go to Jemaa el-Fna for dinner, but just couldn’t muster the will to go beyond our street. With the weather, and me still recovering from my cold, all we wanted was soup (harira), and something light. I asked Youssef if there was a place to buy harira on Rue Bab Doukkala, and mentioned that I had seen what looked like a huge pot of soup simmering at a café near the mosque. “Oh no, that guy’s crazy,” Youssef said. “Don’t go there. Hmm… where to send you… hmm… ahh yes! There IS a place that sells harira on the street, but you wouldn’t know it. Hmm. How to explain to you how to get there… Ok, you go down the street.”
“Towards the bab?” I clarified.
“Yes, towards the bab. And then, maybe halfway down the street, on the left, there is a little stall that sells only 2 kinds of sweets. You know the Moroccan sweets?” (yes, I did.) “Ok, so they sell the 2 sweets, and there is an old man and an old woman and a young guy, and THERE they sell harira. But they don’t advertise it; you have to ask.”
And then he brought us a tupperware container, bowls, and spoons, and wished us luck.The courtyard of Riad al Nour, where the resident cat, Bon-Bon, holds court
And so we set out on the street with our Tupperware, not at all confident that we were going to find the old man and the old woman and the young guy with the 2 sweets and the harira. We found a stall with sweets, but there were too many kinds. We found a stall with only 2 sweets, but the people behind the counter were too young. And then, sure enough, we saw another stall with 2 sweets, and behind the counter 3 people – an old couple and a younger man. I asked, hesitantly, “Do you sell harira here? Our riad sent us. We have a container.” And Keith held up the Tupperware. “Ah yes, we will fill it for you.” The younger man said. For 2 bowls of harira and a few sweets, we paid 8 dirham, or $.80. We continued down the street towards the bab, looking to round out our dinner with some bread and some food from our favorite café. While Keith waited at the café I scanned all the bread sellers. There were so many, and who to buy from? Whose bread was freshest?
Then I saw a bread cart that had several other patrons around it, and figured it must be good. I approached, and sure enough, the bread was still warm. I got 2 small round flat loaves for 2 dirham. Combined with our sandwiches from the café for 50 dirham, we had an entire 3 course meal for about $6. Life was tasting pretty good on the Rue Bab Doukkala.
It’s funny how little every day triumphs can make you feel more at home – finding some hidden harira, or the hookah vendor who sets up shop in the chicken souk; eating like a local and not overpaying; beginning to haggle with a cabbie, who breaks into a grin, gives up, and says “Pay what you like, madame.” As we near the end of our stay in Morocco, I finally feel like I’ve gotten the hang of it. Isn’t that always the way of it? Just when you get comfortable, it’s time to leave. But, as the kind people I’ve met in Morocco often say, “A la prochaine!” (Until next time!)