Respect in the Form of a Sheep Head

Trip Start Nov 01, 2006
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Friday, November 17, 2006

Marrakech is the most cosmopolitan and developed city in Morocco. It is populated by the Moroccan elite, French retirees and celebrities. Marrakech has all of the usual suspects: a massive medina, a sprawling ville nouvelle and a luxurious palmerie filled not with farms, but with pricey homes.

At the centre of Marrakech is the Djemaa el-Fna (literally translated as "Place of Death"), a giant square on the outskirts of the medina. In ancient times it was the place for executions. Now it is the staging area for a nightly circus/food extravaganza. As dusk approached we watched from one of the roof top cafés that line the square as the numerous vendors and performers begin to congregate and set up with efficient precision all of the stalls and apparatus required to put on the nightly explosion. At its frenzied peak the Djemaa el-Fna is like being hit by a surging, frothing wave of sights, sounds and smells-snake charmers, acrobats, fortune tellers, healers, magicians, peddlers and water vendors jostle for attention while countless food vendors sell everything from boiled sheep head to giant vats of escargot to feed the hungry masses that congregate around the steaming stalls lined up row upon row. We waded in.

Our prize for the night was the boiled sheep head--a traditional delicacy. The head is cooked in a rich stew of meaty goodness. All of the tourists hovered around the food stalls gawking at all of the strange offerings. We joined the throng, strategically studying each of the sheep head booths, looking for the gem in the rough. We worked in a circle from the outside in. Food stall #76 served its head from a massive steaming pot. The locals clamoured for seats at the trough. Once seated they ate with determined efficiency. The table was a blur of hands deftly picking up the succulent morsels which were washed down with bread used to sop up the head juice. We had found our gem.

We studied the simple menu: Grande Tête - 60 Dirham, Petite Tête - 50 Dirham, 1/4 Tête - 15 Dirham. Our rusty French came in handy--tête = head. We grabbed a spot on the steel bench and motioned for two orders of tête. The potbellied cook easily picked us out as foreigners, gave Mel a quick glance and asked incredulously with a dismissive wave, "Mangez?"  He met our enthusiastic nods with his own nod of quiet respect.  The bread was handed out generously and we delighted in the tender and flavourful goodness--a true delicacy.

The rest of our time in Marrakech was spent shopping in the medina--bartering and hunting for bargains and gifts to bring home. We loved the time we had to spend in Morocco--the people, the culture, the food-all things we came to appreciate and enjoy.
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