Fes and Fava: A Great Moroccan Experience

Introducing Fes

This is the story of our quest to try the famous bessara dish in Fes, Morocco while, at the same time, thoroughly enjoying a meal prepared by our friend Analiese Gregory who was cooking at a restaurant in that city.

Fava bean soup (Bessara) is a specialty of Fes. It is an outstanding dish that deserves more exposure. We were lucky enough on a recent visit to the ancient medina of Fes to be taken to the very best place serving this dish where just six people can squeeze into the tiny space available for seating. The soup was deeply satisfying, full of flavour and exhibiting the most amazing texture. We loved it!

We were only in Fes for less than 24 hours having made an impulsive decision to fly to this Moroccan city to visit a good friend, Analiese Gregory, who was setting up a restaurant called Restaurant Numero 7 there. We love her food, so the trip from our base in Caromb in southern France didn’t seem very onerous.

Analiese has deep experience as a chef having worked with Peter Gilmour at Quay in Sydney for many years. But she also spent a year with Michel Bras at his famous restaurant in Laguiole where she often went foraging early in the morning with Michel in the wild, forested mountains that surround this remote area.

Getting to Fes

We drove from Caromb with the lacy Dentilles de Montmirail on our right side, around the fascinating town of Carpentras before navigating the outskirts of historic Avignon and then heading for the airport at Marseille.

We have to confess here that we are seasoned travellers, but we are used to enjoying the advantage of our One World Emerald status which enables us to swan into airports and avoid disturbingly long queues and then allowing us to relax in a comfortable lounge while waiting for boarding.

To get to Fes we flew with Ryan Air, this meant turning up at a building doing a good impression of a tin shed where everyone was treated in the same way – with studied indifference!

Anyway, we persevered and eventually we were headed for Fes. Flying in over the stark landscape was fascinating as sand and rock was suddenly replaced by olive groves stretching into the far horizon.

We landed and soon hooked up with the car sent from our Riad in the medina. We travelled into the city through bleak and parched countryside and equally bleak suburbs until we finally arrived on the edge of the medina, the ancient city, one of the largest walled medinas in the world.

Our driver stopped outside the walls. We alighted from the car and a young man appeared from nowhere and grabbed our suitcases and immediately headed into the maze of alleyways inside the medina. We raced after him in the heat of the afternoon not knowing where our Riad was situated. We knew that if we didn’t keep up with him we would never find our hotel (our iphones didn’t work in the narrow alleyways).

In the Fes Medina

Luckily we eventually arrived at the Riad which has no external presence. However, once we passed through the imposing front door we entered a haven of brightly-tiled tranquillity.

Inside the Riad

Lunch was served for us on the rooftop terrace as we gradually became accustomed to our surroundings.

Lunch served on the decorative table

We also explored outside the hotel, taking in the very narrow laneways that snake through this ancient cities, constantly watching out for the donkeys and their large loads that bring all food provisions and building materials into the medina and take all the garbage out.

No passing! Also explains why our phones didn’t work!

We marvelled at the skill of the food artisans making the thinnest of pastries or nonchalantly killing dozens of chickens with a flick of their wrist or slicing camel meat into succulent pieces for their clientele.

Camel meat for sale

We were also constantly bemused by the bleating of lambs in almost every house we passed. It appeared that the festive season was to begin in a few days and this season is always begun by the slaughter of a lamb to form the basis of the feasting which is to follow.

Later a waiter arrived from the restaurant where our friend was preparing the evening meal and he guided us to our destination, Restaurant 7. As we expected, we had a stunning meal of our fiend’s dishes inflected with amazing produce (think local camel milk ice cream)!

After the meal as we sat and reviewed our brief experience, our friend mentioned a local stall that served an amazing soup made from dried fava (broad beans) beans. We were catching the plane back to Marseille at midday but we implored her to take us there before we flew out.

Next morning we raced through the narrow alleyways dodging people and donkeys as we headed for the place that offered so much promise.

Just as we arrived, three places were vacated by locals who had just finished their bessara. We slid into the vacated seats and with great expectations ordered our soups. No need for a menu here. No need for choices. There is just one dish – bessara!

Bessara stall, Fes

And almost immediately we were served with a deep dish of the unctuous soup topped with a sprinkle of cumin and chilli powder and a generous swirl of local, very fresh olive oil. There was also a small loaf of the ever-present local bread placed on the table. It was stunning and very, very compelling. We loved it!

Bessara pot with bread above the chef

We returned to the airport very satisfied with our brief experience in this fascinating country. We boarded the plane, it started taxiing to the runway, then all of a sudden we were heading back to the airport! The ground staff appeared and started searching the overhead lockers.

They found what they were looking for – a cloth covered wire object which turned out to be an occupied canary cage. The owner was taking it on holiday with him!

You can get more information about this fascinating city by clicking on the link below: