Marrakech And Fez For Vegetarians

Travel is not normally a part of this blog, but hearing how vegetarians and Indians travelling to Morocco have a hard time with food, we thought we would share our positive experiences and suggestions. The secret to good eating lies in the home-style cooking of riads. The spices used are very similar to Indian cooking (coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, ginger, fresh herbs).  Fez is a little more challenging for vegetarians than Marrakech. Hopefully our recommendations will be helpful as vacations on an empty stomach are not much fun!

Hotels and riads serve good breakfasts (usually included but check) and it is a good beginning to the day. Moroccan oranges are abundant everywhere and  are wonderfully flavorful. You will see orange juice served all over the place. At Riad Dar Dmana (see below) we had the best orange juice ever. You can request the excellent Moroccan mint tea or coffee nuss-nuss (half coffee, half milk). There are plenty of breads served: one is a cross between a crumpet and a pancake. It is eaten warm with lots of butter and honey. Another is the Indian paratha made of plain white flour (maida). There is a flattish semolina bread and little fennel flavored buns. Yogurt and fruit are often included.

Food served at eateries around tourist sites is very restricted for vegetarians–vegetable tajine with seven vegetables, couscous with seven vegetables, or vegetarian pastilla (layers of filo encasing a mixture of vegetables and sometimes cheese). Ask if the harira soup is vegetarian. Many places serve a three-course meal for MAD 60-70 (MAD 8 to US $1). This would be a soup or salad, tajine or couscous, and fruit and possibly mint tea. It is fine to share a meal. But the food is usually mediocre and there is not much variety.

So tourists need to explore other places. There are plenty of Italian and French choices, especially if you leave the medinas and go to Ville Nouvelle in the various cities. For us, riads were sources of varied and good vegetarian food but you have to know which ones and they may serve just dinner. Most places only accept cash. A good tip is about 10 percent. Taxes are included in the price of the dish. The price-ranges below do not include any drinks besides water.

Here are some of the places that you may not find anywhere else (Riad 58 Blu) and they are the ones we really enjoyed:

Marrakech
Riad 58 Blu is  not only a charming place to stay without blowing your budget, it also serves fabulous vegetarian food made-to-order. It is not a restaurant and riad guests place an order the night before dinner the following day. It is home-style cooking and it was by far the best vegetarian tajine we had–nothing like what is served in places around the medina. The salad was very generously portioned and fresh with lots of flavor. Even if you stay elsewhere, you can call and eat in this pretty riad with gracious service. It is an easy walk from the medina and you can speak to, or e-mail, Mohammed or Paolo (the Italian owner) about your dietary needs. For four of us, two dinners were enough but we feasted on three. Our tab for four adults was MAD 600 plus tip.

On our way to the souks, a short walk from this riad, was a lovely French cafe where we ate a delicious dinner one night (soups,  salad, spring rolls).

Pepe Nero is a five-minute walk from Riad 58 Blu. The restaurant is part of a stunning riad (upscale prices). The restaurant is open to other guests for lunch and dinner and is incredibly beautiful. This is not a cheap place and reservations are essential (the day or morning before). However, you can still eat well by choosing carefully. Also you don’t have to be all dressed up–we saw people in shorts, jeans, as well as dresses and jackets.

The restaurant has a Moroccan and an Italian menu (vegetarian pasta and risotto) and you can choose a la carte–ask for it. We chose to share two vegetarian mezzes between the four of us and then had four orders of soup–two harira and two cream of leek. The soup portions are very generous and I could have been very satisfied with just soup and the fresh bread. We then had Moroccan pastries, really cookies, and they are simply delicious here–cornes de gazelle is light with barely sweet marzipan inside. Other concoctions are also stuffed with nuts sweetened with honey, rosewater, and orange water.

Remember you can share–our tab was MAD 800 plus tip for four people. Our waiter Said was charming and thoughtful, always smiling, and we had impeccable service. By New York or London prices, this is about $25-$30 for an outstanding meal in a luxurious setting. Pepe Nero accepts credit cards.

Cuisine de Mona‘s owner Mona told us that for the last two years when movie stars flock to Morocco for the International Film Festival, the Indian heart-throb Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) calls her to place huge take-out orders. Moroccans adore Shah Rukh Khan and people mention his name everywhere if they think you are an Indian.

Well, if SRK orders from here, he knows good Lebanese food. It makes a welcome change from Moroccan food. And Mona is a passionate cook. She served us six different mezzes–you need four orders for four hungry people. Every dish was fresh, well prepared, with very clean flavors. One member of our family wiped every bowl and dish clean with pieces of really thin and light pita. I am still waiting for Mona’s beet spread recipe for Mahasri Yoga. Expect to pay around MAD 600 (or more) for four, plus tip.

Mohammed from Riad 58 Blu ordered us a grand taxi (MAD 250) to take us to Cuisine de Mona and back–this was very helpful as it took a little time to find the restaurant and not knowing French or Arabic we would have had a hard time in a taxi from a taxi stand. Also it is not easy to find a grand taxi to get back–petite taxis only take up to three passengers.

Read before you go. It is helpful to know what you like and read recommendations from other tourists–read Tripadvisor, travel guides, newspaper articles, and travel magazines..

Fez

Riad Dar Dmana is inside the medina in a quiet alley. It is a family owned and operated, comfortable, and relatively large mid-range riad.  The owner, R’chid, is very helpful and we ordered dinner for two nights. The order must be placed the day before as this is not a restaurant. Haayat, a family member, practically lived at the riad. She made and served our breakfasts. She also cooked our dinners. One night we had excellent, home-made harira soup served with dates and a little sweet called shebbakiya  (similar to Indian jalebi). This was followed by a delicious tajine of vegetables stuffed with rice (eggplant, squash, peppers, potatoes, onions, carrots). The meal ended with a platter of fresh fruit. The second night we had  seven to eight cooked Moroccan salads (little side dishes that fill you up as a meal) with bread. These were very well prepared. Then came a buttery couscous served with powdered sugar, cinnamon, and chilled milk. R’chid explained that this is a dish served at the beginning of a wedding feast. Children may enjoy this more than adults. The meal ended with Moroccan oranges and bananas. Expect to pay MAD 400 to 500 for two to three shared vegetarian dinners, plus tip and water charges.

Clock Cafe in the medina was not a big hit with our family even though it had several vegetarian and vegan dishes and it was recommended in many places. The falafel was overcooked and dry. The tabbouleh was also dry, tasteless, and was mainly cracked wheat with just a sprinkling of herbs. The tapas platter was passable.  The beans and lentils we ordered had no flavor.

Maison Bleue was pricey at 60 euros per person. As we negotiated (yes, you can in many places), it came down to 20 euros per person for a vegetarian dinner but by this time we  were turned off this well-rated place and opted to eat at Riad Dar Dmana. This upscale riad is a five-minute walk from Riad Dar Dmana and if you choose to go, remember to reserve. Riad Fassia is also an upscale place, well-rated for food,  five minutes away.

Hotel Merinides is perched near the tombs of the same name. It is very pleasant to sit out on the terrace with a spectacular view of Fez. We thoroughly enjoyed our pizza as a welcome change. It is also great to just sit out for drinks, coffee, tea and take a break from the souks and the medina. The cab ride from the medina cost us MAD 5-6 per petite taxi. So it is very cheap to take a cab and there is a taxi stand a short walk from the hotel for a ride back. The pizzas were MAD 60-75,  coffee and tea MAD 30.

If anyone has other good suggestions or recommendations, please share them to make for a better experience for vegetarian tourists.

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