Wednesday 18 November 2009

Essaouira Night Market

Cowie and I went on holiday to Essaourira at the beginning of September. We couldn't get out of Marrakesh fast enough. Within a day we had escaped the panic inducing heat and feral bustle in search of sun, sand, waves and fish.


We're going to take you on a culinary journey of tagines, fresh fish and Moroccan imagination but only once we've set the scene with some photos. The first couple are from the dock at night and the ones that follow are from the incredible market that electrifies Essaourira on a nightly basis.


Boats at night

As soon as the sun dropped an air raid siren announced the transition of day into night. Within seconds the narrow, bustling, twisting streets emptied as the residents all raced home for supper. Our holiday coincided with Ramadan which gave our week an extra cultural dynamic.

Half an hour later and the streets returned to their normal chaotic state and the night market kicked into action...

I became slightly obsessed with the graffiti on this doorway (which according to Joshua's comment is by a French artist called C215). It seemed weirdly out of place. But this is part of Essaourira's mystique. It's well known as an artistic and cultural hot-spot. Not only did Orson Welles film his epic tale of Othello here, but Jimi Hendrix also wrote a song called Castles Made of Sand inspired by Essaourira. It's a city that is buzzing with artists who flock here for the stunning light and never leave.

Graffiti face

 Graffiti face people

They take great pride in the way they present their wares. Nothing short of perfect pyramids is allowed. We watched from afar as young men carefully groomed their colourful tetrahedrons and wondered whether they'd better off not all selling exactly the same thing.


It seemed like the olive vendor must have come from the same stack is high sell it cheap school as the spice man. In fact they probably had the same geometry teacher.

Olives galore

This is one of my favourite pictures. I had to lean against a rickety wooden strut to keep the camera still enough to let the light in. It really captures the vibrancy of the colours and reminds me, in a silly way, of Rick Stein's "Coast to Coast" book cover. These preserved lemons made the ones you get in a jar from Belazu look very ersatz.

Preserved lemons

We were overwhelmed by the variety and volume of dates on display. It made me feel very ignorant to have thought that there might only be one type of date, when in fact there seem to be hundreds.

Dates anyone

Which is why I like this picture of the date seller looking forlornly out, over his stall, for customers...

Dates galore

... and this one that makes a necklace of dried figs look like a piece of tribal jewelry.

Strings of dates

I had to wait for ages for a break in the traffic to take this shot of a man selling mint by the bucketload. Mint tea is to Moroccan culture what a mug of milky, sweet builders is the Britain. No meal, conversation or negotiation is complete without it. We thought we'd prefer it without sugar, but soon learned it's a lot better laced with something sweet.

Mint man

We bought some deep fried cinnamon sweets that looked like worms. They were brittle, sticky and luckily not very moreish. Otherwise we could have been there all night and we'd both now be diabetic.

Deep fried cinamon squiggles

Cinamon sweets

But my favourite photo of the whole lot is of this boy holding what looks like a conger eel. In this context it is as natural as anything. But can you picture it happening back in London? Behind him is Essaourira's famous fish market where you choose your fish from the slab and they grill it for you as you try not to get freaked out by the fish guts that have seeped through your flip flop or by the number of of bugs that are about to find their way into your body! I'm sure it's where Mitch Tonks got his FishWorks idea from.

Boy with eel

Essaourira is a mesmerising place. Almost every vista is worthy of a photograph. We'll tell you about some of the amazing food we ate and experiences we had soon.


Joshua said...

In case you don't know that piece of graffiti is by a French artist called C215. There's lots of his work around London too.

catty said...

Wow Essaouira looks amazing... I was in Marrakech last Dec and didn't enjoy it either - disgustingly touristy and no real food option except tagines (which I loved for like the first three meals). Your Essaouira post reminds me more of Fes, not sure if you went there.. way more traditional and cultural and undamaged by tourism. Gotta put this on my travel list! LOVE north africa.

Browners said...

@Joshua - Thanks for tipping me off about C215. I love that image. Where can I find their stuff in London?

@Catty - Essaouira was brilliant. So much going on. We've been to Marrakech before and had a good time. But this time we just felt more claustrophic and dirty whereas Ess was a dream. The beauty of Essaouira is that you get fish as well as tagines... so you get bored les quickly!

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Lovely post. I adore Morrocco...particularly Fes, must go back, inspired by this...

Hollow Legs said...

I've never heard of Essaouira but judging by your pictures it looks like a wonderful place. Your pictures are, as usual, fantastic.

Ollie said...

These are stunning, Browners. The trompe l'oeil dates / jewellery thing is amazing.

Browners said...

@TheUndergroundRestaurant - Glad you liked it. I'm keen for a trip to Fez at some point. Sounds like a fascinating place.

@Lizzie - Glad you like the pictures! Was a lot of fun taking them.

@Ollie - Delighted you like the snaps. I was pretty keen on the date thing. The light was just right. And even more delighted that I've learnt a new term - trompe l'oeil.

Natural selection said...

Thank you for that journey I was a heartbeat away from going to Essaouira in September as well and we had a change in our work schedule!
I shall dust off my Tagine and get to work! or should I say pleasure!

Browners said...

@Natural Selection - Thanks for leaving such a lovely comment and for introducing me to your blog.

Janelle said...

Loved Essaouira and wanted to stay much longer on my recent visit. Saw that graffiti artwork as well, great to know more about the artist!

Browners said...

@Janelle -Hi. It's a great piece of graffiti. I'm delighted Joshua pointed out who'd done it. Istanbul probably had the most interesting graffiti I've seen along with Barcelona and Bristol.


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