Fes Dining

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Fes Dining
Fes is known as the culinary capital of Morocco. There's plenty to explore here, from fine dining to some of the country's best street food. Fill your plate and discover that there's more to Morocco than tajines and couscous.
Photo by Vanessa Bonnin
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    Café Culture
    It often seems like sitting in a café watching the world go by is one of the national pastimes in Morocco. Mint tea is the most popular tipple—scaldingly hot gunpowder tea stewed with a fistful of mint leaves and more sugar than you can imagine. Coffee-wise, go for the short black espresso-style shots, or the local version of a latte. If you're after something more refreshing, there's always freshly squeezed orange juice. The street cafés at Bab Bou Jeloud are classic people-watching territory, while Café Clock is a perennial favorite, tucked into a converted medina house on Talaa Kebira.
    Photo by Vanessa Bonnin
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    Cooking Classes
    If you enjoy eating Moroccan food, there's a good chance that you'll enjoy cooking it, too. Café Clock, Dar Tahrya, and Plan-It Fez all offer cookery classes that get you exploring the ins and outs of a Moroccan kitchen. Lessons invariably start with a trip through the food markets, loading up your shopping bag with the freshest produce and learning about some of the ingredients that may not be familiar to you. Then, it's back to the kitchen to chop, simmer, and bake—anything from a hearty tajine to some intricate Moroccan pastries. At the end of it all, you get to eat the results—and have hopefully added a few dishes to your repertoire for when you go home.
    Photo by Vanessa Bonnin
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    Food Markets
    Exploring the food markets in Fes is a highlight of any visit, and entering the medina through the two main gates at Bab Boujeloud or Bab Rcif will plunge you straight into the heart of the fresh produce souks. All the agricultural riches of Morocco are on display—huge mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables, glistening piles of olives and dates, and sticky pastries and bread, still warm from the local ovens. The butchers can sometimes be an eye-opener for those accustomed to buying pre-packaged meat at the supermarket; you can't miss the camel butcher on Talaa Kebira, who hangs a whole camel head outside the shop to advertise his wares.
    Photo by Jennifer Kendall
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    Spices and Seasoning
    The key to Moroccan cuisine is in its subtle blend of flavors, making a trip to the spice souks an essential stop for foodie tourists. You'll want to take home a bag of ras el hanout, a mix of more than a dozen spices and the signature addition to many Moroccan dishes. Each shop produces its own special blend. Braver souls might treat themselves to a dollop of smen. Better known as rancid butter, it adds a deep, glossy sheen to tajines that's hard to beat. Shop at Funduq Kaat Smen, which specializes in the stuff, but also gives over half its space to a honey market, which sells more than 30 different varieties—another taste of Morocco that's worth taking home.
    Photo by Grant Rooney/age fotostock
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    The Sweet and Savory Pastilla
    If a city can be identified by a single plate of food, for Fes that dish would be pastilla (or b'stilla), which manages to wrap up the Fassi character in a blend of sweet and savory, with a nod to the city's traditional links to Andalusia and its cuisine. Pastilla is made of layers of phyllo pastry, stuffed with nuts and meat. Pigeon is the most traditional option, but many places offer chicken or fish—and any restaurant worth its salt in Fes will offer pastilla on the menu. It's baked in an oven and then finished off with a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon. It shouldn't work, but it does. Somehow the combination is irresistible, and it's an unmissable taste of the city.
    Photo by San Rostro/age fotostock
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    Fabulous Street Food
    If you want to grab some food on the run, the Fes medina offers you a host of options. Tiny restaurants tend to specialize in just one or two dishes, but their kitchens do them well. Sit down for a quick bowl of harira soup, with chickpeas, tomato, coriander, and meat stock. Kofta kebabs are grilled over coals and served in bread with a sprinkling of cumin and paprika. Tiny fried fish are sold in wraps of paper, with slices of eggplant, a drizzle of homemade tomato sauce, and a handful of makoda (battered mashed potato balls). The bravest can try snails in broth, served with both a spoon and a tiny toothpick—the latter used to pluck the snails from their shells.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Fine Fassi Dining
    Although long celebrated, Fassi cuisine has traditionally been something best enjoyed at home, and it's taken awhile for the restaurant scene to catch up. Some of the best places to eat are in those riads that double as restaurants and offer superb and intimate dining experiences. Often, such restaurants offer new approaches to local flavors, adding subtle, non-traditional touches to tajines or to those twin pillars of Fassi cooking: rich pastilla and delicate couscous. Top of the list is Dar Roumana, with a superb kitchen and romantic candlelit setting; the Ruined Garden offers some playful menus in green surroundings, while Fez Café at Le Jardin des Biehn brings a touch of the French bistro to Moroccan classics.
    Photo by Vanessa Bonnin
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    Breakfast of Champions
    Sitting on the roof terrace of your guesthouse, soaking up the sun with a breakfast of eggs, yogurt, white cheese, and bread with local honey and jam—all washed down with fresh orange juice and coffee—is a must. To get a real local start to the day, though, it's also worth going out for a bite. A classic Fassi breakfast is actually a traditional workers' meal—bsarra, a delicious soup made from beans and garlic, served up for pennies in rough bowls with a glug of olive oil and a generous sprinkle of salt and cumin. Mopped up with a round of bread, it's guaranteed to keep you going through to lunch. The hole-in-the wall places at the top of Talaa Kebira or Bab Rcif are great places to try this soup.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Fresh from the Bakery
    Few people in the Fes medina have their own oven, which makes the community bakery a central part of local life. You'll regularly see people carrying wooden trays of dough to be baked, usually making up an extra loaf for the baker as a fee for using the oven. You can buy at the door, with the bakers usually happy to let you taste a crust that's just been pulled from the oven and is still warm. There's more to baking than plain bread, though. Look elsewhere for harsha, a semolina flatbread that's lightly fried, fluffy baghrir crepes, pancake-like mlawi, or sfenj, Moroccan doughnuts which are often baked with an egg cracked in the hole.
    Photo by Tolo Balaguer/age fotostock