The Medina Diet

Here in the oldest part of Fez, called the Medina, there are five kinds of food available from the hundreds of stalls that line much of the area.

The first kind is expat tourist chow. These restaurants are owned and operated by Brits or Americans or Spanish people and they bring an international sensibility, and often acceptable WiFi, to the dining experience. I had a camel burger yesterday at one of these places. Moroccans generally don't eat camel burgers. But I love such places because you can often hang out there for hours, use their WiFi and work.

The second kind is locally owned tourist chow. These are restaurants and food stalls designed mainly for tourists but conceived and run by locals. They often try to provide an "authentic" Moroccan experience for foreigners.

The third kind is locally owned snack foods for locals and tourists alike. These businesses offer ice cream cones and lemonade and other foods that you can find everywhere in the world.

The fourth kind is locally owned food places mostly for locals, but which some visitors also buy at. These businesses sell Moroccan style bread, dates, olives, produce and other foods that are aimed mostly at locals. Some of these have actual dining rooms off the street, but they often do some or all the cooking on the street. Some of these are frequented by locals only because of their location. Others have a small percentage of foreign customers because they're on the major thoroughfares.

And the fifth kind is local-only-local food. People are selling live chickens and stuff like that that tourists aren't going to buy under any circumstances.

We do consume some of the first kind — expat tourist chow, because the space they provide is best for working (especially if they have roof-top tables where the WiFi reaches).

But our main diet is the fourth kind — locally owned food places mostly for locals. We're mainly on what I call the Medina Street Food Diet. Last night was a perfect example.

We spend most of the day at Cafe Clock, which is an ancient riad converted into a restaurant by some expats from Europe or America — not sure. We started out on the second level, but after a few hours it got hot so we moved to the rooftop. I drank coffee, and a little mint tea. We ate a little and worked a lot.

As the sun was setting, we headed back to our riad. We stopped at stall that sells awesome pickled veggies and olives, and grabbed a bag of each. They we found a guy with a bread cart, and picked up a Frisbee-size disc of Moroccan bread from him. In our riad, we had farmer's cheese we got the day prior from a guy with a stand at the entrance to the Medina. Plus we augmented this with olive oil we bought in Spain.

The aforementioned cheese guy let us try all the stuff he was selling. One was milk fermented in a glass. It's like kefir, but they add the milk to a glass (it has a liquidy custard-like texture but very mild flavor), and the glass sits there all day in the open, unrefrigerated. He also had a huge bucket of buttermilk, and you could see big chunks of butter floating in it. We tried it all and it was all delicious.

Other street vendors sell various sweets, covered in pastry dough, deep fried and drenched with honey or simple syrup. They keep these in big glass display cases, each of which may contain hundreds of wasps flying around and landing on the sweets. (We didn't have them because they're deep-fried.)

Another example was our lunch today. We were on our way through the Medina on our way to some WiFi, and spotted a big metal table full of tagines. The place looked totally legit, with an interior dining room with 100% of the customers were locals. So we asked for a tagine and a couple salads, and they brought it all, plus bread. We ate it with our hands local-style. It was delicious.

Americans are often freaked out by street food. The vendors are handling things with their bare hands. Refrigeration is non-existent. Things aren't covered.

My son, Kevin, has always been a reckless connoisseur of anything sold out of an outdoor cart. In recent years, I've come around to his point of view. In fact, when we were in Mexico City last year, I came to the realization how much I love street food that's aimed at locals.

I've gotten sick before while traveling. Once I got incredible gastrointestinal problems from coffee I bought from a Honduras gas station. I got super ill from Cuban Zika fumigation. But I never got sick from street food. Ever.

We're health nuts. Some Moroccan street food is unhealthy, and we avoid it. There's lots of fried stuff, and other foods are loaded with sugar. The bread is industrially leavened, as is the case with most of the bread in the world. (These are often modern versions of traditional foods that were baked instead of fried, sweetened with honey and dates instead of sugar and fermented with starter instead of yeast.

Other Moroccan street food is healthy, such as the range of fermented milk products, olives and other fermented and pickled vegetables, and of course natural produce, including dates, and we're living on that stuff, mostly. Lots of vendors sell soup, sandwiches and stuff like that. We do have bread but keep it limited in quantity (some foods like tagines and sandwiches really need the bread).

(Interestingly, most of the fermented milk and soups come in glasses or ceramic bowls — you stand there and have it, then hand the vessel back.)

The best stalls always have a crowd of locals clamoring to buy, and these places are worth the wait.

In any event, we're living mainly on the Medina Diet. (In fact, to a very large degree, we came here in order to be on the Medina Diet.)

Today it occurred to us that we have so much food to explore, and so little time.

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