Morocco offers so many reasons to move here. Foodies that we are, we long have seen Moroccan produce as high up on that list!
In the U.S. we loved shopping at farmers markets for fresh and beautiful organic fruits and vegetables. Besides obvious names like Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market, Singh Farms in Scottsdale (AZ) and the Bellingham Farmers Market in Bellingham (WA) stand among our favorites…worth going if you find yourself in either vicinity.
With Casablanca’s easy and affordable access to Europe, touring farmers markets in Italy, France, and Hungary has helped make memorable our travel experiences since basing in Morocco. During a month in southwestern France two summers ago we frequented the weekly market in the Medieval village square of Eymet and took in other markets in Issigeac and elsewhere through the Dordogne region. Spending two weeks in the summer of 2018 day-tripping through the Italian region of Umbria, basing ourselves in a 12th Century house in the historic section of Orvieto allowed us to ground our culinary activity in the Piazza del Populo’s farmers market each Thursday and Saturday morning, bringing home fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meats to build into meals that our Italian neighbors would complement as they walked by our open kitchen door. (We took that as high praise.) And during our two week vacation in northern Italy this summer, we spent a day touring through the huge canopy market of Porto Palazzo in Torino, tasting cheeses and breads and truffles and fresh fruits as covered stalls stretched for block after block and vendor stands into building after building.
So the first time we shopped in Casablanca’s souks we considered it most fortunate to discover our Moroccan home offered us in-season produce at the peak of ripeness and that – unlike supermarket veggies in the U.S. – taste the way produce SHOULD taste. Here in Morocco, carrots are carroty, oranges are orangey, tomatoes are tomatoey. You get the idea. We tried different souks, first making Souk Dallas in Hay Hassani our “go to” place each week. We had one guy from whom we bought our fruit; another guy for onions, carrots and potatoes; another guy for other vegetables; and still another for herbs and mint. We tried the open-air souk a few blocks from Hay Hassani’s Al Kaoutar Mosque a couple times, but decided the fresh produce we scored did not balance struggling to find a place to park and maneuver on foot through the streets clogged with carts and people and donkeys and more. Ultimately we settled on the souks in the CIL neighborhood both because we liked the friendly folks there who adopted us, and because its location across the street from O’Self Market – known colloquially as “the French grocery store” where one can buy hard-to-find western items like Heinz Ketchup or panko breadcrumbs – meant we could achieve most of our shopping by parking once and hitting both sides of the broad Rue d’Ifrane. Regardless of where we shopped, one thing was certain: while we bought staples at grocery stores like Marjane and Carrefour, we almost always purchased produce at the souks because their produce looked so much better than grocery store produce.
Then, more than halfway through our first year, the French supermarket chain Carrefour finished remodeling one of its many Casablanca grocery stores and reopened it as Carrefour Gourmet. With not only high quality meats at the butcher counter (where we can buy an entire beef tenderloin for about $40, cut it up into about a dozen huge steaks, and pull them out of the freezer anytime we want); an enviable deli with cheeses from around the world, homemade pasta, and chicken sausages that are divine to grill; an in-house Amoud Boulangerie et Pâtisserie where we buy right-out-of-the-oven baguettes that Panera Bread can only dream of baking back in the U.S., plus msemmen and croissants and French pastry desserts; and grocery items often friendly to European and American tastes; Carrefour Gourmet also has beautiful produce, sometimes even things we cannot find elsewhere in Morocco (like the occasional appearance of tall and sturdy bunches of American celery instead of the palty Moroccan celery with three or four small stalks to a bunch). While we still shopped occasionally in the CIL, to save time in our crazy schedules we most often have shopped at Carrefour Gourmet, like a Casablanca homage to Whole Foods (without the “Whole Paycheck” prices).
And so it was for the better part of three years…until now.
A few weeks ago, one of our new administrators living 10 minutes south of campus in the village of Dar Bouazza told us of a fantastic organic farm she had discovered, La Ferme Bleue, near Jack Beach close to her house. For 200 MAD (about $20 USD), they delivered to her a huge crate full of fruits and vegetables picked that day. Audrey got the phone number and – testing her freehand French – called right away to see if they would deliver to us on the George Washington Academy campus. Indeed, they would. So we signed up to have them deliver a basket to us for the next week.
We let our amazing house-helper Tourea know it was coming so that she could hand off the 200 MAD note and collect the basket (actually a three cubic foot plastic crate). She did…and more. When we got home, Tourea had washed all the just-picked produce, put a drawfull of zucchini and peppers into the fridge, and laid the rest of it out on the counter for us to marvel at the bounty. Potatoes, carrots, onions, winter squash, radishes, turnips, parsnips, leeks, corn, several different kinds of tomatoes, spinach, basil, cilantro, melons, and two things we have rarely seen in Morocco – and NEVER as beautiful as in this basket – chard and kale.
Our vegetarian daughter, a kale fanatic, came back to visit us and make kale chips. (Of course we know she loves us, but we also know that visiting us was an excuse to have kale.) This haul of organic beauty would have cost at least five times as much in a U.S. grocery store, and not with farmers market freshness. Even at Carrefour Gourmet in Casablanca we would have paid three or four times as much. We could not contain our excitement. We also could not find enough meals in the course of the ongoing week to eat it all. So at the end of the week, anticipating the next basket’s arrival, we gave away what we had left (nearly half the basket!) to folks connected to the school who could put it to use.
Of course, we also posted a picture of the haul…and people began to inquire right away about how we had procured the load. Before we knew it, interest piqued and people at school were talking about sharing baskets (knowing there was no way they could use an entire basket themselves). This weekend we received our third delivery, and in addition to our own there were three more that came to our apartment as “delivery central” with each additional basket split between at least a couple people. Meanwhile, Audrey is in Produce Heaven going through her Saturday morning ritual of combing through cookbooks to plan meals for the week (her de-stressing activity) before we do our Saturday shopping. No longer needing to buy veggies at Carrefour Gourmet, our Saturday grocery bill has dropped considerably thanks to the 200 MAD we give to La Ferme Bleue each Friday, and what used to be an hour-long shopping adventure has shortened by nearly half that time since we do not have to battle crowds moving slowly around les fruits et les légumes.
Suffice it to say that we have boosted our foodie resources in Casablanca considerably with the discovery of La Ferme Bleue. We can plan meat and other meal elements around vegetables instead of vegetables around meat, which is how things should be. Brian, a deeply devoted carnivore with midwestern roots in “brown and beige” meals, as a University of Virginia graduate school alumnus nonetheless likes to quote UVa Founder Thomas Jefferson in saying that meat should be a condiment. After just three weeks, we feel more healthy already, and our counters and our refrigerator have never looked so good!
On your mark, get set, here we go!