Shopping in Fez
Indulge your shopping habit in the Fez medina: it’s a feast for all the senses.
Fez is famous for its ceramics. Artfully painted in blue and green, plates, bowls, jugs, tagines and even bathroom basins can be found everywhere. Look out for the slightly greyer clay from Safi: the pure white is more fragile and will chip easily. The tagines (conical-lidded cooking pots) can be highly decorative, some with pewter wirework on them. But these ones are for serving or decoration rather than for cooking. If you want to use a tagine in or on the stove, go for a terracotta one. What about a mosaic table or even a fountain for your garden patio? Check out Art Naji in Ain Nkobi (a taxi-ride away), where staff are dab hands at packing up large mosaic items for export.
Carpets and rugs
Colourful carpets and rugs abound. Some are antiques, some fairly old, and some brand new. The older ones, and the better quality new ones, will have been made using vegetable dyes and their colours are softer on the eye. The good ones are handmade by women in the mountains of the High and Middle Atlas. Beni Ouarain rugs are all over the home decor magazines right now.
Handiras can be found in carpet shops. These are cloaks made by women for their daughters’ wedding and are sometimes known as wedding blankets. Some have a shaggy pile on one side to shrug off snow; some have silver sequins as decoration. Handiras make wonderful throws, rugs or wall-hangings.
The jewel colours of bed throws and scarves are dazzling. Recently there has been a debunking of the myth that the fabric is made from the silk of aloe cactus. This is simply not true, whatever you might be told (or even if you’re shown an aloe leaf with the fibres inside). The fabric is woven from rayon thread from China. Still, it’s pretty. One of the best places to watch the weavers at work, browse or even order what you’d like is at L’Art Bleu in Blida.
Fassi embroidery on crisp white linen looks wonderful on your dining table or bed. You can visit the showrooms and watch the women at work. Prices depend on the amount of work in the piece.
Wander down to Seffarine Square to see the metalworkers hammering away at brass and copper. Basins, trays and teapots fill the tiny shops. There are pierced metal lanterns and lamps, too, that look glowingly beautiful with a candle or bulb inside.
Another well-known product of Fez is leather, and a trip to the tanneries is usually on the agenda. In this area, you’ll find leather shops selling everything from babouches (pointy-toed slippers) to book covers, handbags to hats, jackets to purses. You can have clothing made to measure within a couple of days.
The shop Medin ‘Art on Tala’a Seghira stocks wonderful leather handbags as well as cushion covers, lampshades, jewellery, clothing and paintings.
Some excellent antiques can be found at specialist shops such as Coin Berbère on Tala’a Kebira and Au Petit Bazaar du Bon Acceuil on Tala’a Sghira. Look out for ceramics such as bowls or green-glazed oil lamps; intricately embroidered wedding belts, caftans, fragments of embroidery from Fez or Rabat, jewellery, brass hammam bowls and the khamsa, or Hand of Fatima, some with the Star of David on them.
Moroccan women go for bright yellow gold jewellery, but most likely you’ll be more interested in silver which is sold by weight. Costume jewellery includes earrings, necklaces and bracelets, some coral, turquoise and amber beads, and the Hand of Fatima to ward off the evil eye. Antique shops have seriously good pieces if you’re looking to invest.
The American Language Center in the Ville Nouvelle (2 Ave Ahmed Hiba) has a wonderful bookshop with hundreds of titles about Morocco. Coffee table books, cook books, fiction and Moroccan authors in English are all there at exceptionally low prices.
Spices and other condiments
There’s a vast array of tantalising spices in some medina shops, including Moroccan saffron. If you enjoy Moroccan food, you might like to take home some ras al-hanout, a mixture of a large number of spicy ingredients including mace flowers and dried rose petals which is ground to order. It can be stirred into tagines, used in marinades or sprinkled over chicken kebabs.
Olives and preserved lemons travel well, too, and are essential ingredients in Moroccan cuisine.
Morocco’s famous argan oil is made from the nut of a tree that grows around Essaouira and Agadir in the south. The cold-pressed oil is sold as a cosmetic and is very useful for skin and hair. Some oil is made from toasted nuts and that’s used in the kitchen. It has a beautiful nutty flavour not unlike toasted sesame seed oil and can used sparingly in salad dressings, sprinkled on b’sarra (dried broad bean soup) or for dipping bread at breakfast. You’ll find it at all the herbal shops.
A word about bargaining
It is expected that you will bargain. The first price you’re given will be way too high. As a general rule, start off at half that and work up gradually until you reach a point where you and the shopkeeper are both happy. The vendor might tell you that he won’t be able to feed his family at that price, but rest assured that he’ll never sell you something at a loss. Remember that if you are happy with what you’ve paid, then it’s the right price.
Don’t bargain for food in the market or for really cheap items.