It’s my last day in Chefchaouen and I was looking forward to one final mountain hike this afternoon. instead, I’m back at the riad, in my room, waiting to see how sick I’m going to be.
It was a nice sunny day, and I’d worked ahead so I could afford to play hooky. I loaded my pack, and planned to put together a picnic of bread, cheese, olives, dates, and fruit from the sidewalk vendors in the medina. Right away, I realized I had nothing smaller than a 100 Dirham note in my pocket, and getting change was going to be a problem. I passed a cute little cafe just inside the Bab El Ein gate of the medina and stopped to look at the menu, thinking maybe I’d just have lunch, use the change to buy some fruit, and then hike.
The man outside the cafe had very little English. “Couscous? chicken? Fish?” he said. Oooh… “Fish, yes” I said, and followed him into the restaurant. Which wasn’t nearly so cute on the inside. It was plain and a little dreary, but not visibly filthy or smelly. No flies. “Mixed?” he asked me. “Yes,” I nodded, thinking this meant I’d get a nice fish tagine with some vegetables, maybe.
I pulled out the chair next to me to set my pack down and cringed a little at the stained upholstery. Maybe I was wrong to order the fish. This might be the sort of place where vegetarian dishes are safer.
He brought me a salad, a basket with two loaves of flat baladi bread, and the usual condiment rack, with oil, salt and pepper. I reached for one of the oil decanters. The outside of it was sticky and lumpy with crud — I swear, I actually recoiled in horror. I am not the least bit prissy, but this totally didn’t bode well for the cleanliness standard of the place. I picked at my salad, eating only the vegetables that had been peeled (carrots, beets) and avoiding the lettuce.
Meanwhile, my waiter came over and grabbed one of the loaves of bread from my basket with his bare hand, made a questioning face to ensure that I didn’t need both loaves, and took it away to give to someone else who had come in. Wow. Really?
Then the fish came. Instead of a tagine, I got a heaping plate of delicacies, proudly crowned with some fried calamari tentacles. There was also a plate of cold rice and french fries.
I actually like calamari tentacles, but these were too rubbery to eat. I don’t mind having to snap the heads off my own shrimp, but these were too small and overcooked to be worth the trouble of peeling them — think salad shrimp. There were some kind of deep-fried fish, so tiny we would have called them “bait.” These had their heads off but their tail on and had been gutted and boned. Under those were some larger fish, about the size of the bluegill we used to bring home when we couldn’t catch any bass. Fried whole, bones in, heads and fins and tails still on. My childhood blue-gill eating skills came in handy for these.
The fish were quite tasty and mild. They seemed fresh enough. Still, it was the worst (and most expensive) meal I’ve had in all of Morocco, and the cleanliness standard of the place was horrible. I left feeling like it’s only a matter of time before my stomach starts rolling, and I didn’t want to be on the mountain when that happens.
So, here I am, back at the riad for the day. I think I’ll work on the rooftop in the sun. If my stomach holds out, I’ll treat myself to one last Chicken Bastila at my favorite restaurant, Paloma, this evening.
Tomorrow, I head back to Tangiers for the night. I’ve booked a room at the Contintental Hotel, which was where Dali, Kerouack and Churchill used to stay back in the day. Rumor has it the place is musty, smelly and faded now (which is probably why I can afford it!). I promise lots of photos of the smelly faded glory!