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Fes Dining

Café Culture
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 tagines and couscous.
Photo by Vanessa Bonnin
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    Café Culture
    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 streetside establishments at Bab Boujloud are classic people-watching territory, while Café Clock is a perennial favorite, tucked into a converted medina house on Talaa Kbira.
    Photo by Vanessa Bonnin
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    Cooking Classes
    Cooking Classes
    If you enjoy eating Moroccan food, there's a good chance that you'll enjoy cooking it, too. Café Clock, Dar Namir, and Plan-It Morocco 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 ingredients that may not be familiar to you. Then, it's back to the kitchen to chop, simmer, and bake—anything from a hearty tagine to some intricate Moroccan pastries. At the end of it all, you get to eat the results—and you'll have hopefully added a few dishes to your repertoire by the time you get home.
    Photo by Vanessa Bonnin
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    Food Markets
    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 Boujloud or Bab R'cif will plunge you straight into the heart of the fresh-produce souks. All the agricultural riches of Morocco are on display here—huge mountains of just-picked fruit and vegetables, glistening piles of olives and dates, and sticky pastries and bread still warm from the local ovens. The meat-selling stalls can sometimes be an eye-opener for those accustomed to buying theirs prepackaged from the supermarket; you can't miss the camel butcher in the Fes medina who hangs a whole camel head outside the shop to advertise his wares.
    Photo by Jennifer Kendall
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    Spices and Seasoning
    Spices and Seasoning
    The key to Moroccan cuisine is its subtle interplay 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 tagines that's hard to beat. Shop at Fondouk Kaat Smen, which specializes in the stuff, but also gives over half its space to a honey market that hawks more than 15 different varieties—another taste of Morocco that's worth taking home.
    Photo by Grant Rooney/age fotostock
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    Fabulous Street Food
    Fabulous Street Food
    If you want to grab some food on the run, the Fes medina offers you a host of options. Tiny restaurants here 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, cilantro, 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 makuda (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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    Fassi Dining
    Fassi Dining
    Although long celebrated, Fassi cuisine has traditionally been something best enjoyed at home, and it's taken a while for the restaurant scene to catch up. Some of the best places to eat are in those riads that double as restaurants and provide superb and intimate dining experiences. Often, such spots put forth new approaches to local flavors, adding subtle, nontraditional touches to tagines or to those twin pillars of Fassi cooking: rich pastilla and delicate couscous. At the top of the list are the divine restaurant at the Palais Faraj, L'Amandier, as well as Dar Roumana, with its 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
    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 it to head out for a bite. A classic Fassi breakfast is actually a traditional workers' meal—bessara, 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 medina offers great spots to try this soup, especially the hole-in-the-wall places at the top of Talaa Kbira or Bab R'cif.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    New Moroccan Cuisine
    New Moroccan Cuisine
    Though it hasn't been quick to catch on, a new kind of cooking has come to Morocco, one that celebrates the local ingredients and culinary traditions while trying to take food to a more modern place. The revolution began at Café Clock, where British chef Mike Richardson started to experiment not just with the cuisine, but with the role of the café in Fes. Richardson continues to innovate and expand. Chef Najat Kaanache worked in the kitchens of El Bulli and Noma before she opened Nur in Fes, bringing a sense of adventurousness into the dining room. The playfulness has been well-received: Reservations are tough to get.
    Courtesy of Nur Restaurant
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    Fresh from the Bakery
    Fresh from the Bakery
    Few residents of 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 in to be baked during certain hours, usually including 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 are more options than just plain bread, though: Look for harcha, a semolina flatbread that's lightly fried; fluffy baghrir crepes; pancake-like meloui; or sfenj, Moroccan doughnuts which are sometimes baked with an egg cracked in the hole.
    Photo by Tolo Balaguer/age fotostock
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    The Sweet and Savory <em>Pastilla</em>
    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 from layers of phyllo pastry that are 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