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Saturday, 01 July 2006

Tangier: The White City - A City Full of Color - Page 3

Written by Michelle Won Belanger
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I should be picturing scenes from Casablanca as I sit in the catamaran, which ferries from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier: the so-called White City of Morocco. Instead, I’m imagining Raiders of the Lost Ark with turban-wearing, swash-buckling fighters carrying fez-wearing monkeys on their shoulders running down a dusty dirt road, which is strange, since Raiders of the Lost Ark


Let me mention that I highly suggest hiring a tour guide in Tangier. A reputable guide will take you to great local, scenic and historic sights, and offer insightful knowledge, if not just memorized facts – like the fact that Morocco was the first country to recognize America as an independent nation. Or the fact that Arabic is the official language and more than half the population can speak French, which is often used in business.  On our third day in Tangier, we stroll into a ritzy resort for the rich and famous as if we are paying guests, and Amine points at an elegant, young woman: “That is the Princess of Hungary,” he says.  I’m not sure if Hungary even has a princess, much less whether this is her, but I don’t question him.

Looking from the patio down to the shoreline, we see the void that is the pristine beach below.  There is absolutely no one on the beach, and no condos or hotels creeping onto the shore.  We are told that Muslims are not keen on wearing swimming suits or being seen in them.

Next on the itinerary is a trip to the old town, where we visit a community oven Down a steep flight of stairs that leads to a sparse, compact room, it gets 10 degrees hotter.  We are invited to look into the immensely huge oven, which is not unlike a pizza oven.  The loaves, which are brought in from the families in the community, are baking and rising.  They also roast nuts here.  Once out of the oven, we hear bells ringing from a nearby mosque.  It’s prayer time.  We look up at the minaret and realize that the mosque is probably visible from all parts of the city.  We note that there are also Catholic churches and Jewish temples throughout the city, as well as mosques, and determine that Morocco must be a tolerant country.

We are certain nothing can top the previous day’s sumptuous lunch, but we are gladly mistaken.  It starts with an appetizer called pastille: a jumbo, hockey-puck shaped, deep fried…thing topped with a snowflake design of powdered sugar and sitting on a bed of lettuce.  Damon and I look at each other, thinking, “Should we tell Amine they messed up our order (though no one ordered anything)? The dessert came first.”  Amine senses our hesitation and says, “There’s chicken inside.” There’s always one dish that native folks love, but outsiders loathe: case in point – 1,000 year old eggs and salty fish for the Chinese.  Being of Chinese ancestry, I love them.  We figure this must be Morocco’s.


Expecting the worst, we crack through the crunchy skin with our fork and a bit of chicken sprinkled with herbs tumbles out. I take a nibble and… it is indescribably scrumptious. The complementary sweet and salty flavors are perfectly balanced. I can’t get enough. I ask Amine three times what this is called so that when I get back to California, I can order it at a Moroccan restaurant, knowing it will never taste as good as it does now.

narrow streetIt’s our last day and we’ve missed our scheduled catamaran back to Spain.  Amine takes us for some very last minute souvenir shopping and back to the port barely on time.  He whizzes us through customs, setting off the security alarms, although no one seems to care.  We sadly say goodbye to Amine and to Morocco.

As I sip mint tea back home, I remember the trip in all its vibrant colors, intriguing smells and lively sounds.  I can see why this country has captivated writers and artists like Henri Matisse, Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles and William Burroughs, and why Americans regard it with a romantic sense of nostalgia as expressed in Casablanca.


El-Minzah Hotel - 85 Rue de la Liberté

El Korsan - Restaurant in El Minzah Hotel

Restaurant Hammadi - 2 Kasbah Street
Saveurs de Poisson - 2 Escalier Waller

©Michelle Won Belanger

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012
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