Archive for the travel Category

Moroccan women banned from Saudi Arabia

Posted in culture, morocco, people, travel, women on August 30, 2010 by kenzilisa

Saudi Arabia is denying visas to Moroccan women based on the fear/stereotype that they will remain in the country to live as prostitutes.  Oy!!!

Essaouira—and an ode to its blue doors. (via Bazaar Hopping)

Posted in art, culture, design, history, morocco, travel on July 8, 2010 by kenzilisa


Essaouira—and an ode to its blue doors. Essaouira features many of my favorite things: immaculate beaches; bright, glamorous scarves; impossibly fresh seafood; astounding views; splendid kaab el ghzal (at the corner of Rue Allan Ben Abdellah and Rue El Hajjali)… and blue doors. (HEADS UP: Watch for the lovely, delicate zellij above some of the doors) Oh the blue doors of Essaouira! When you visit Essaouira, its blue doors inevitable stay with you. They make you remember Essaouira as a … Read More

via Bazaar Hopping

The Secret of Pigeon Poo (via Human Planet. On location with this landmark BBC Earth production)

Posted in culture, morocco, people, travel on July 7, 2010 by kenzilisa

Like most travellers to Fez I have been to the tanneries. The guides/shills always take you there because it’s such an overwhelming experience, plus they take you to leather shops afterwards to get you to part with your money (and get their commission).

The Secret of Pigeon Poo   By Patrick Murray, Technical Co-ordinator, Human Planet     Morocco is a land steeped in a history as rich and as colourful as one of its most prized commodities – leather.  We made our way to the ancient city of Fes (or Fez) where men have been tanning leather for over six centuries. This elaborate process has barely change … Read More

via Human Planet. On location with this landmark BBC Earth production

Morocco, An Ode to Mint Tea (via anna cotta)

Posted in cuisine, culture, food, morocco, travel on June 28, 2010 by kenzilisa

Morocco, An Ode to Mint Tea I need a word for the opposite of homesick. For missing places that aren't your home, but you sort of really wish they were. Like such as Fes. I really really really really liked, aka loved, Fes. The whole time we were there I dreamt of being a local, of learning Arabic-y French and traipsing down to the market each morning, past Ali at the marzipan shop, down along chicken row, live and dead birds stuffed into cages and hanging from the ceiling, … Read More

via anna cotta

Finally! A very happy announcement!

Posted in algeria, amazigh, art, ceramics, classes, critique, cuisine, culture, design, food, henna, history, jewelry, jewish, language, mauritania, moor, the book, morocco, music, people, politics, sahara, tattoos, textiles, traditions, travel, tuareg, tunisia, Uncategorized, weddings, women with tags on June 1, 2010 by nictharpa

We are very pleased to announce that “Moor: A Henna Atlas of Morocco” is now available for purchase!

Moor: A Henna Atlas of Morocco

Moor: A Henna Atlas of Morocco

The first book of its kind, “Moor” is the story of henna in Morocco, giving you a first-hand account of how the Moroccans use henna for magic, beauty, and protection. After more than a decade of research, Lisa “Kenzi” Butterworth and Nic Tharpa Cartier are proud to present their findings in this groundbreaking book.

“Moor” contains more than 40 pages of text covering the history and culture of henna in Morocco, as well as an in-depth design manual that gives step-by-step instructions for learning Moroccan design elements and creating authentic and beautiful Moroccan-style henna work. The book also features more than 20 full-color photos of Moroccan-style henna work, as well as over 100 pages of Moroccan henna patterns from traditional and modern sources. “Moor” is the first comprehensive manual covering all aspects of Moroccan henna, and will be invaluable to henna artists, fans of Moroccan culture, and anyone interested in the beauty and rituals of exotic lands.

The book is currently available as a digital PDF download, for $43, from at the following link: or as a full color printed and bound copies  through at the cost of $52 for a softcover printing and $70 for a hardcover.

B’saha! Wear henna in good health!

The same dirt that grows henna also grows edibles

Posted in cuisine, culture, food, morocco, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2010 by kenzilisa
I can’t believe I haven’t yet written about food in Morocco because it’s one of my favorite aspects of my time spent there (apart from henna, of course).  With regard to food I was luckier than most casual travelers to Morocco who only experience restaurant food when eating in Morocco.  I lived in Morocco for a year and a half and also visited every year for 13 years.  I have visited all the big cities and explored every nook and cranny of them, and I have combed the countryside, looking for local markets, interesting sights, meeting extended family members and eating…a LOT!  I have eaten in haute cuisine restaurants in elaborately decorated palaces, I have sipped tea with Polisario wives in their refugee camp tents, I have eaten tagine in desert truck stops, snacked on lung sandwiches in the old part of the capital Rabat and I have broken the Ramadan fast with tea and dates with my ex’s family.  My food experiences are vast, interesting and mostly delicious.

A typical Ramadan meal with harira and sweets.

What prompted me to write is having recently seen a few blogs about Moroccan food which I found a bit ignorant misguided.  One of these gave a recipe for the famous Moroccan dish “felafel” which isn’t even Moroccan.  Another blogger wrote about the food she ate in Morocco and it was clear from her statement—that there wasn’t much variety in Moroccan food—that she had only eaten in tourist-oriented restaurants around Morocco.  I feel it is incumbent upon me to set the record straight by giving you a taste of the variety of wonderful food in Morocco, from the haute to the low.  This is a huge topic so I will start by giving you an overview, and then subsequent posts will go into greater detail; I might even post some of my favorite recipes.

Food and Restaurants in Morocco

Most travelers to Morocco experience only restaurant food and don’t even realize how much they are missing by doing so.  They can’t really be blamed for this because it’s logical to assume that when one is hungry and doesn’t have a kitchen, one goes to a restaurant.  What most travelers don’t know is that average Moroccans don’t go out to eat in restaurants all that much and if they do, they don’t go out for Moroccan food.  They go out for what they don’t cook at home, like French or Italian or sushi. They know that the best Moroccan food is cooked in the home, usually by one’s mother.  From experience, I have to agree that anyone’s mother in Morocco cooks better than most restaurants.  In the West we often go out to eat for special occasions but in Morocco special occasions are marked by extra attention paid to creating wonderful meals at home, cooking certain dishes that are only for celebrations.  Going to a restaurant for a celebration is seen as a cheap and easy way out; whereas cooking something special at home shows that you really care.

That said, sometimes you really cannot eat at home.  A traveling salesman must eat his meals on the road, a post office employee can’t always run to her house to prepare a home-cooked meal.   For these kinds of meals on the go and away from home there are a lot of places that offer quite good food.  These places are usually off the radar for most tourists; they are found mostly where Moroccans work and live, not in tourist spots.  Their appearance is decidedly not fancy and they rarely appear in guide books, but they are often some of the best places to eat.

Butcher in Meknes, Morocco

In all my traveling around the country one stand-by for food is the ubiquitous pairing of butcher shop and small restaurant.  The idea is that you go to the butcher and pick out what you want. You can get ground meat mixed with herbs and spices for kefta kebab (like mini hamburgers on a stick), or just hunks of lamb (on a stick), or something the butcher recommends.  The butcher will wrap up your choice, you pay for it and then carry it a few steps to the restaurant which has a charcoal fire burning.  The restaurant will grill up your meat, serve it to you with fresh bread (possibly from the bakery next door on the other side), maybe some salad and a drink of your choice.  It’s a simple meal but the ingredients are incredibly fresh, cooked in front of you and served with bread that was made within feet of where you are sitting.  You can put the grilled meat in the bread and take it to go if you need to hit the road.  Almost every town or widening of the road will have a stand like this. When you travel by bus around Morocco the driver will stop at a gas station/truck stop that has one of these stands.  In larger cities, such stands can be found everywhere each one offering its specialty. It was in such a place that I tried lung sandwich, but only a taste.  I opted for a chicken sandwich which strangely enough was made with chicken still on the bones.  And the fries are served stuffed into your sandwich, an effort at gustatory efficiency which I applaud.

Tagine pot (click to go to original photo; used with permission)

It is also possible to find more elaborate stands that make tagine, a kind of stew that is prepared in a many different regional varieties across the country.  The stew is named for the cone-shaped earthenware pot in which it is prepared.  I have a bunch of recipes here which will give you an idea of what goes into the dish and how it is prepared.  The pot is put onto a charcoal brazier and cooked for a few hours; these stands usually have the tagines cooking out in front.  You can stop by and ask to see what they have cooking and pick what you like.  Again, you take a seat in the restaurant and the waiter will bring you bread (with which you eat the tagine), some salads and drinks.  This option is a bit more expensive than the grilled meat stand, but it is also more of a complete meal.

In addition to the above, there are always stands selling specialties like steamed snails, lamb and lentil soup (harira), fruit smoothies, dried nuts, bread, sweet, fruit etc.  Because Morocco is such an agriculturally rich and varied country, the food is all excellent and very fresh.  I’ve eaten an lowly, quotidien orange in Morocco that blew my socks off; I never knew an orange could be so delicious.  I was told that these were the reject oranges, the leftovers after they export the best quality oranges to Europe.  That ruined me for oranges evermore.


Fish market in Essaouira (click to go to original photo; used with permission)

That brings us to the discussion of staples of Moroccan cuisine.  Protein comes from chicken (#1 most consumed meat in Morocco), beef, lamb and fish.  European fishermen vie for the right to fish in Moroccan waters, specifically the Atlantic coast.  In seaside towns there is usually an area near the port where you can buy fish directly from the fishermen and have it grilled right there, similar to the grilled meat places described above.  With fish that fresh you don’t have to do much but grill it and squirt a little lemon on it.

Vegetable market in Morocco (click to see original photo; used with permission)

Moroccan food is said to be spicy.  I would agree with that in the sense that they use a lot of spices, but it is not usually hot spicy.  The most common spices/flavorings are cumin, saffron, turmeric, ginger, garlic  coriander, pepper and cayenne pepper.  There is a liberal use of olives and olive oil, lemon, mint, tomatoes, onions, peppers and parsley.  Common fruits are oranges, figs, dates, pomegranates, apples and apricots. Sweets are often made with almonds or walnuts, mixed with honey and rosewater.  Bread is a very important staple, served with practically every meal, and never wasted.  When bread goes stale it isn’t thrown away, but instead ground into a sand-like meal from which tea biscuits are made.  Couscous, a fine-grained pasta made from semolina, is another staple which is the basis of the national dish of Morocco of the same name. Needless to say the marketplaces in Morocco are dazzlingly colorful, highly fragrant and mouth-watering.

My favorite Moroccan cookbooks

Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes from My Moroccan Kitchen by Kitty Morse

Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert

Mediterranean Street Food: Stories, Soups, Snacks, Sandwiches, Barbecues, Sweets, and More from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East by Anissa Helou (this is more than just Moroccan food; I love it for all the breads)

Thanks to the following for use of your great photos:

Sunshine Hanan

Robbie’s Photo Art


Kenzi’s Moroccan Library

Posted in culture, henna, history, language, morocco, people, traditions, travel, women on April 20, 2010 by kenzilisa

In my years of living in and visiting Morocco over the past 15 years, I have read a lot about Morocco.  When I was digging through all my books to write Moor, I was stunned at how many books I have read on the subject.  All those trees and all those hours spent reading should not go to waste.  If you are interested in learning more about Morocco or taking your passion for all things Moroccan a little deeper, I will list, and briefly review, some of my favorite books here.

Culture Shock! Morocco: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette
When I first started doing business with Morocco I read this book and found it enormously helpful in explaining a lot of the customs of Moroccan culture, especially business culture.  Despite having lived in Morocco I realized I still had a lot to learn about how to function in the country.  If you are travelling to Morocco you don’t have to read this book but it will certainly help.  For travellers, I think that the Lonely Planet Guide to Morocco does an excellent job of giving visitors advice on Moroccan customs, traditions and language.

The Spider’s House by Paul Bowles
This novel is one of the best representations of Morocco that I have ever read, touching on faith, politics and culture, as seen from the inside as well as through the eyes of an outsider.  Its uncommon authenticity comes from the role of the author and his main character as outsider, but one who loves Morocco; the author/main character aims to see into the heart of a country and its people and and then must realign his beliefs with the reality of what he sees.  I would recommend anything Bowles has written about Morocco.  No other author has so accurately and movingly represented the intricacies of this country.

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi
The author, a well known Moroccan feminist, writes of her childhood living the cloistered life of a girl of a certain class.  Her book is not so much an autobiography of her youth but rather an important part of the puzzle of feminism in the muslim world. 

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir
Like Mernissi, Oufkir led a life of luxury behind closed doors, but in Oufkir’s case those doors were the walls of the King’s palace.  Her father—a high ranking general who was close to King Hassan II— is asked by the king to allow his eldest daughter live with the King’s family, specifically his daughter who was about the same age as Oufkir.  The inside view of palace life is fascinating especially in contrast with the life the Oufkir family leads after the General Oufkir is implicated in a plot to assasinate the King.  The sequel to this book is also quite interesting but not nearly as gripping as this story of girl going from palace to prison, where she spent 20 years of her life.

A Street in Marrakesh by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea
This fascinating book was written by an anthropologist but never becomes a dull, academic report on the minutiae of life in Morocco.  Her account of a year living in Marrakesh with her family reads like a novel and provides a unique window onto life in my favorite city.  The author details her stuggles to understand the society in which she lives and recounts her journey to get her kids to school, travel around the country, getting along with neighbors and even includes some mentions of henna.  I also strongly recommend her book, Guests of the Sheikh, about her life in an Iraqi village in the 50s.

These are the books that have been extremely important in my quest to learn about Morocco and better understand the culture of this wonderful country.  I’m sure I will come up with more and will post them here.  Please feel free to add your favorites in the comments.   Enjoy!