Casablanca, Morocco: A Taste of an Authentic Local Experience
There is something about Morocco that brings me back every time I find myself thinking about where to travel to next. What I find most fascinating is that every area is so unique and rich with history.
I had already experienced Morocco on a family trip to Tangier. This time, I was going solo to Casablanca, where a friend had offered to connect me with their relatives. Traveling solo is completely out of my comfort zone, let alone meeting someone new in a different country. But whenever I can clear up my work schedule, I crave exploring a new place and garnering more experiences and memories. And in this instance, when opportunity knocked, I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to hop back onto a plane. Destination? Casablanca, Morocco.
Moroccans are known for their hospitality and warmth
Internalizing this fact puts me at ease whenever it comes to visiting Morocco. Even sweeter is getting in touch with a friend’s immediate family and being able to count on them for everything, from airport transfers to safe and comfortable accommodation. Especially when they personally insist! The hospitality is heartwarming, and you are sure to feel part of the family.
Prior to my trip, whenever I mentioned Casablanca, the response I often got is that there is not much to see and that only half a day suffices. However, after spending three days there with the local family, I now see the city from a different perspective and there are many more unique experiences than what I was told to expect.
My usual trip routine consists of doing a Google search of “things to do.” For Casablanca, the suggestions are only some of the major tourist attractions such as the Hassan II Mosque, Mohamed V Square and the Royal Palace. But by having my own local and personal tour guide, I got an experience beyond the popular landmarks.
Here are some of the many benefits of having an authentic local experience abroad:
1. Discovering hidden gems
The drive to the beach is about thirty minutes away from the city. Though at first it seems like the middle of nowhere, I soon familiarized myself with the ins and the outs of the area. A little further from the beach is a market. Men dressed in waders, boots and a sunhat walk back and forth to the boat, carrying fresh fish. The air is a mix of salt water and pungent fishy odours as well as the aroma of herbs and vegetables being cooked at the restaurants by the water.
At the market, you can stroll around the stalls and look at the variety of seafood on sale; from oysters, to different kinds of fish and more. The sardines are a local staple!
A merchant nearby sells prickly pear cacti, a fruit that is native to Morocco and not commonly known in our usual neck of the woods. The orange and green fruits, packed with tiny thorns have a thick skin. The taste is akin to that of melons. Trying out unique, tropical fruits is an experience on it’s own and not something to pass by.
After picking your seafood of choice, you simply hand it over to the restaurant and they take care of preparing your meal. Within twenty minutes, lunch is ready and they bring out your fish accompanied with some fries, tomato salad and bread (a must-have accompaniment to every meal in Morocco).
Sitting on the balcony, you can enjoy the perfect breeze with the best view of the water.
While you enjoy your meal, a local walks around each table and performs a traditional song. It’s unexpected in this setting but a nice surprise! He plays the violin and sings in the indigenous Berber language of Morocco. All these little aspects highlight an unforgettable meal. Best of all? You can expect to only pay 15-20 dirhams (around £1.50 or $2) for two people.
2. It’s cheaper
For those donning the hijab like me, you can often get mistaken for a Moroccan (yes, the people have features and skin tones that range all across the spectrum!) Not being able to respond in Moroccan Arabic is usually what gives away to the sellers that you are a tourist and not a local.
So here’s a tip if you have your own tour guide: you can look and touch but avoid doing any talking. Let your designated guide take care of the bargaining for you after you’ve decided what you’re interested in buying. They get it for a reasonable price and are more familiar with how much each item should be.
For the tourist who bargains, the price for a souvenir such as a tagine, would be marked up significantly compared to if a local buys it. Shopping then makes a huge difference, but it also goes for other expenses as well, such as taxis and sometimes local attractions that have a local vs. tourist price.
3. It’s a learning experience
Seeing the world as a classroom is the best motivation to get out there and explore. Traveling allows for new experiences to blossom and for growth. Staying with locals adds more value to your journey, as you get to learn a new language, culture, traditions and daily life of people from around the world. These come with a greater appreciation and understanding for what is around us.
Despite language barriers, the one universal language is that of kindness and sharing a smile. By living with the family, I was not only introduced to the kids, friends and extended family, but I was welcomed with open arms and hugs. I stepped into a new world and learned new words in the language. I also learned about the way of life. The home had a traditional “salon maghribi,” a U-Shaped or L-shaped sofa set with a big square table in the middle. This set-up is useful in a Moroccan home, as time spent with family is extremely important. Putting life on pause and sharing those moments throughout the day is something I have learned to better appreciate as well.
4. Taste Traditional Foods
Sure, there are lots of restaurant options with a taste of the local cuisine. But homemade food? Nothing beats it. Anyone would agree homemade has a touch of authenticity and is made with love. Additionally, one important lesson I learned through the food culture is how a meal brings together loved ones.
At lunch time, kids get a break at school that is long enough for them to go home and come back after approximately two hours. Even then, other times of the day, I noticed that nobody ever sits down to eat alone. They wait until everyone is seated around the table in the living room and they eat together. And when I say together, I mean from the same plate.
This beautiful tradition is a form of practising the sunnah of our beloved Prophet (saw), who said, “Eat your meals together and mention the name of Allah over it, for you will be blessed in it.”
Sunan Abu Dawuud 3764.
The food is placed on the table and the family gathers to share a meal. Everyone eats from the same dish, rather than eating in a separate plate. Once done, the table is emptied and the tablecloth placed is wiped down and cleaned. Every meal is also accompanied by a cup (or two), of mint tea.
5. Create Lasting Friendships
By escaping the tourist scene, I developed a deeper connection with both the country and its people. The experience overall for me was different to what I am used to when I travel as a “tourist.” Instead of seeing a new place from the eyes of a tourist, I walked in the path of those who live that kind of life everyday. I also developed a connection with people who at first were strangers to me, but are now like my family.
What better way to learn about a new culture than fully immersing yourself into it?
About the author
Zaakirah was born in Mauritius and raised in Canada, where she’s currently based in Toronto. She has a passion for exploring the world through her love for travel and food, and documents her adventures on her IG page @ieattravelwrite. By day, Zaakirah has built upon her love for writing by pursuing her education in Professional Writing and Communication, and shares her expertise through her freelance work in writing and design.