That’s how my host Amine described the small herb and spice shop we stopped by earlier this evening, located a short three minute walk from the mild madness of Marrakech’s central Jemaa el Fna square. This wasn’t like those in the tourist souks, he promised.
“This is where mostly locals shop. You will see right away how the owners are different, more relaxed.”
The vendors and shopkeepers along this particular narrow lane were certainly more subdued, the polar opposites of their more persistent counterparts that work in and on the fringes of the square. It was a welcome respite from the chained dress-clad monkeys and their handlers and snake charmers who demand money for photos you haven’t taken. The shopkeeper here was laid back, friendly and courteous; if he learned the sales trade in the tourist areas, he hid it well.
He described his sidewalk inventory of massage and sauna oils, rubbed our forearms with a small variety of fragrance bars and then opened his door and invited us in. “Please,” he said, motioning us inside.
The walls were neatly lined with jars and boxes filled with spices and herbs to help with every conceivable dish, ailment, condition or cosmetic need. The mix of aromas was both relaxing and energizing; just sitting in the small space surrounded by the mix of colors and scents made me forget the effects of the afternoon’s stifling heat and the feeling of sluggishness that finally hit me earlier in the day after four days of little sleep.
He made for us what he called Moroccan Royal Tea, a delicious mélange of ten ingredients seemingly made to be blended together, which are, for the record: green tea, rosemary, sage, black cumin (by itself a good treatment for snoring, I was told), dried cumin flowers, cinnamon, anise, cardamom, ginseng and ginger. It was so delicious that the first cup left me begging for a second. And a third. Our host happily obliged but not without a warning.
“Be careful, it’s very strong for men,” he said as he poured. “For men who don’t have wives it’s not good to have more than three or four cups. You will have problems.” He walked a few very awkward steps to illustrate his point. I’ve never tried Viagra, chemical or otherwise, so decided it was time to live on the edge.
The winner in the early evening smell and taste tests? The mint crystals he added to cup No. 3. Just a small piece – a large speck really— unleashed the most potent burst of menthol that I’ve ever experienced. It would have knocked me on my ass if I wasn’t already sitting on it.
It’s said to help relieve muscle aches, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis pain, respiratory ailments, congestion and coughing. It made me cough but tasted exceptionally good.
As I took my last few sips of tea, I waited for his spiel, the final pitch, the deal closer. But it never came. Instead it was me asking about quantities and prices. I ordered a batch of the tea, some almond oil and a small packet of the crystals and we painlessly agreed on a price. I then remembered that my pockets were almost out of cash.
“No problem,” he said. “You said you’re staying all week, right? Take your things and just leave whatever money you have, and bring the rest tomorrow. Or the next time you can come. That’s fine. There is no hurry my friend.”
It was the first I’ve heard of Moroccan shops that are buy now, pay later.
“And when you come back let me know if you couldn’t take care of the tea problems. I have something for that, too.”
Today’s Pic du Jour, the 247th straight, was snapped on 16-Sep-2014 in Marrakech, Morocco.