Shopping in Morocco.

As in America, in Morocco, the availability of goods and services varies tremendously between the big cities, small towns and the country, the old areas and the new.


I can go to a major city, Fes, and find nearly anything.  So, let’s start there.  I can take a 30 DH ($3) Grand Taxi ride of an hour or so from my town to Fes.  Then, take a Petite Taxi to any choice of stores, including the multi-level mall that looks much like an American mall.  I can shop in a Carrefour or Marjanne, like a nice Target or Walmart.  There is the Ancient “medina” with all sorts of specialty goods, artisan wares, clothing of all types, and more.  One of the problems with this is that most people do not have cars and so the goods must be brought home by taxi or market van.


Seasonally, you will also see people lined up along the side of the road selling whatever is in season.  I have passed through apple, pomegranate, malva and olive season.  Along a popular road they may be only 100 feet apart, with one bucket to sell.  Or, I have seen the same guy with tarps, in the sun, heaped with olives.  In olive season you also see people loading buses for long trips with several 5 gallon jugs of olive oil and/or jugs of olives.


But that is not how the people I know here do their shopping.  They shop locally in hanoots, at the marché, or at the weekly souk.


In my first village, there were only a few hanoots (stores) big enough for customers to enter, maybe 1-2 at a time.  There were small selections of vegetables and fruits, clothing and the everyday stores with everything from spices to toilet paper, school notebooks to bread, all behind the guy at the counter.  You would ask or point to what you see.  There were 4 chicken stores, where the guy keeps a pen of live chickens and kills them as needed.  There were no furniture, appliance, meat, photo shop, restaurant, hardware stores.  For those items you had to go to the next town.


My current town is bigger and there are at least 4 major appliance stores, some furniture at three of those, numerous hardware stores, many clothing stores and shoe stores, houseware stores, all big enough to walk into.  The funny thing is that the hours are very irregular.  And when they are closed, you often have no clue to their location, no signage, just the closed metal doors.  If I show you a picture of any street in my town, in the morning, all you see is a long line of metal doors.  But as they open, the open store or glass doors are revealed.  Shop owners will often hang samples of goods outside the store.  A few have awnings with their names or pictures of the goods they sell.  You are generally dealing with the owner.  Sometimes the same owner will go back and forth between 2 adjacent stores with different merchandise.


So, for example, when I wanted a bed, I visited the appliance/furniture stores and talked with the owners.  There was also one that was beds only, only a block from my house.  My first go around for all purchases, one of my host sisters went with me.  Negotiation is normal and I am sure they got me the best deals.  I laid on a few beds and once I determined they were all like concrete, regardless of price, I opted for the next to the bottom, and nearest to my house.  I need to pass by him every day after all.  There were 2 men and they left the store unattended to carry it to my house.  Several trips were required due to all stores being closed often.  The stove, I carried home, the refrigerator and washer, brought to my house by three guys in a van.  The same with housewares, clothing, hardware and such.  You just make the rounds and talk with guys.  If they don’t have it they can generally tell you who does.  I have also ordered items that were not in stock, but that has not worked out yet.  I have only found one store with used items.  There are supposedly 2 others, but I have never found them open.  There are cabinet shops, pressing services, sewing services and likely a lot more if I could read better.  Down in “the station” neighborhood I also see mechanic services and fuel stations.  In my neighborhood you will also find all the government services, banks and such.


In this town, all the fruits and vegetables are sold at the Marché.  There are three vendors there all the time, and others that come and go.  Their stalls are mostly covered, but outside.  They will quote you a price, if you ask, and hand you a plastic tub.  You put in the items you want, they weigh and bag.  Plastic bags are not used for veggies, but an environmentally friendly type.  Sometimes the variety is limited here, but you can always find at least 15 different basics.  For example, I seldom see cabbage here, but today there were several guys with ½, ¼, or whole heads.


Adjacent to them are covered, interior stalls, including one miscellaneous hanoot (same guy will go kill you a chicken if you ask), a couple of clothing vendors, lots of empty stalls, the beef butcher and often the goat/lamb butcher.  There will be several sides of beef hanging and cuts on the counter.  You can either point to a piece of meat you want, or request a cut, or just give the butcher the amount of money you want to spend.  I initially thought I needed to buy a kilo or whatever, but my boss said “no” just give him 15 dirham (enough for 2 dinners of ground beef, ground to order).  Your purchase is put into a neat little plastic bag.  Outside the Marché you sometimes find people selling clothing or hardware items on blankets or tables.


There are a couple of bakeries with French style pastries, but the stuff I have had there is stale.  I suspect made elsewhere.  Every block has at least a couple of bakery ladies turning out the local staples of round loaves of bread (about 12” in diameter, 1” thick), slightly sweet buns, harscha (cornbread) and mssiman.  These are warm and all sell for pennies so it is hard to understand why everyone bakes.


Every block also has 1 or more hanoots selling everything from soccer balls, penny candy/cakes, prunes, pens, oil, soda to toilet paper.  As before, you stand outside and point or ask for what you want from the guy behind the counter.  Spices, peanuts, candy and many bulk items are weighed and then put into cones made from left over note paper.  5 dirham of peanuts is enough for a lunch, 5 dirham of cinnamon, a lifetime.  I am sure that a photo copy of my passport has been used for cumin somewhere.  Some bulkier items, rice, beans may be measured into paper sacks.  Most homes buy their flour in 50-pound sacks.  Milk comes in tiny, 1 liter, cartons that are hard to open.  The only cheese is little triangles of laughing cow style.  Fresh olive oil is measured into whatever soda bottle you brought in.  Sugar, salt and soaps are pre-packaged, though the black gooey soap used at the hammam (public bath) is measured out.  Eggs are 1 dirham each and are put into plastic bags.  You can buy Chlorine at most hanoots, but there is also a guy that wanders the neighborhood, yelling “javaaaaaaal!” and you come out and buy it from him.


The third common way, besides the hanoots and marché, is the souk.  Some towns are large enough to have a souk every day.  Ours is on Mondays only, and is located in the neighborhood down the hill.  I normally walk down, and taxi back, since I am carrying heavy stuff.  An area the size of a city block transforms from an open field to a huge market, where someone is selling most everything.  The souk is a cross between a Farmer’s Market, Swap Meet and Flea Market.  Most every kind of fruit and vegetable is piled up, with narrow paths to navigate between vendors.  There are sections for meat, fish and poultry.  The poultry is in a pen and killed to order.  The goat and sheep heads are usually still dangling as a testament to freshness.  Fish is in large tubs of ice, by size, mostly sardines.  There is even a “restaurant row” where pop-up restaurants sell everything from donuts to skewers of meat.  Spices and olives are heaped in piles.  Thousands of vendors sell everything from ag chemicals to furniture, clothing new and used, hardware, housewares, blankets, rugs, broken phones and computers, soaps, shoes, to you name it.  Prices are generally lower than the hanoots, but you have to lug it farther.  So, I generally limit myself to items not available closer to home.  Even if there is nothing I need, the souk is such an enjoyable show that I go every week (except the one when it rained).


So, shopping is easy, and entertaining, once you get the lay of the land.