You can ask the neighbours, they find it funny too.
Baby strapped onto my back (happy as a clam) and shopping trolley in hand, I swing the heavy iron front door closed and roll our way down the hill.
It’s already eleven in the morning because it takes us so long to get out of the house (we have a long breakfast!), and most of the neighbors are already on their way back.
I bump into Sherifa, Mulat Toma (Wife of the Garlic Seller) who lives around the corner. She seems to find a way to always be in the street when we pass, to give baby a kiss and ask me for a favour (“Can I have your old water bottles?” “Do you have any cream for psoriasis?”).
Another neighbour, always a smile on her face, is walking up the hill next. Bread board on her head, there have been a number of times where my hand has almost reached out to try a bit, it smells so good.
As a new neighbour I followed her all the way to the local oven to find out where it was. Did she find it creepy? Sometimes she sends her son to pick up the bread, who manages to maintain his ten-year-old swagger even with a bread board balancing casually on his shoulder. He’s a little overweight. I think I know why…
Next are the gaggle of seven year olds who sing baby’s name and beg for kisses. He readily obliges, whilst they try and convince me to buy the poached plums mum made them for their first attempt at making a penny.
Next time, I always say.
I’m nearing the market when I cross the path in front of the milawi lady. Some days I sneak past and she doesn’t see me, but others I accept my fate and settle into the ten minute delay (I’m already late, when will I cook lunch).
“Where’s your little hand, give me a kiss!!”, to the baby, not me. She tries to convince me to leave him with her whilst I shop. He’d probably love it, but I gracefully decline.
We’ve made it to the suq.
I walk all the way through the narrow covered walkway, sandwiched between over-flowing hanuts. We start with fruit, then vegetables, then meat and finally fish. I sneak a look at the best produce, what’s new in today for a few weeks of seasonal bliss.
I eye up the herbs. Purslane, pennyroyal, sage and mint.
A lady selling a small bag of capers on the dark market floor. You could easily miss her, sitting quietly in the corner. “GOLD”, she whispers to me, pointing at the open plastic bag.
Are there still rose petals? Just a few, next to the figs.
I almost get knocked round the head by a travelling leg of beef as I eye up a particularly lovely pile of colourful garlic in a man’s lap to my left.
I finally reach the tomato man. He doesn’t have his own shop, just a pile of boxes in the alleyway that leads to the first part of the market. He’s always up for a chat and gives me extra parsley and chilli peppers, so he’s won my heart. He also knows I don’t like plastic bags, so he pours my vegetables straight into the shopping trolley, giving a pleasing rumble as they fall.
Next is Noureddine, the goats cheese man. He knows what cheese I like (salty, but not too salty), but he still makes me taste two or three before I buy. “twenty dirhams of the salty stuff”, I ask.
I buy sardines. twenty dirhams a kilo. I do accept a plastic bag this time. I need to get some resusable bags for fresh produce. Note made.
Back to the caper lady. Half a kio. Fifteen dirhams.
Do I want to roast a cauliflower? Runner beans, cauliflower, aubergines, lemons and pumpkin.
Parsley and coriander, of course, from the man with the herb cart.
I’ll make Latifa’s pumpkin jam.
Finally, beans and pulses. We have a discussion about the benefits of different grains. Barley, wheat and rice. I tell him I’ll bring him a bowl of homemade granola. He looks pretty pleased.
I grab a melon as we walk back towards the hill.
A wave to the milawi lady, who finds me a neighbour to pull my trolley. I may or may not have a few bunches last minute herbs in hand that won’t fit in, and with a now sleepy baby on my back, I happily accept the help.
Tumbling into the front door, I race to get the lunch on (something quick, before Hamza gets home).
I forgot the bread.
How We Shop
- Recif Market (5 mins from home): Fresh produce, veg, fruit, meat, herbs, eggs, grains and pulses
- The Corner Shop (Hanut): milk, household products
- The Local Bakery: Bread, Cake, Pastries
- Speciality Markets: Honey, Ghee, Butter
- Ordered from Farms: Olive oil, olives, raw milk, eggs and lben
- Passing Stalls around town: Herbs, fruit etc
- Household Items (that we can’t find elsewhere): Supermarket
- We also have friends bring us things from abroad we can’t find here (some spices, teas, etc)
Why does it matter?
Over the years we have gently moved ourselves towards shopping more locally, emphasising seasonal produce bought from producers themselves.
This hasn’t always been easy, but we live in a place that facilitates these things.
It is normal to buy ingredients by the kilo here, and it’s your choice whether you take plastic home or not.
It is normal to shop in the local market, buying local produce.
It’s open every day, 8am-10pm.
I look at this all now, knowing that at times I have longed for the ease of supermarket shopping, which wasn’t accessible to me, and I think. I am so lucky.
THIS is what it should be.
So I post this, as an homage to the journey which has lead me to love these shopping trips. To appreciate the beauty of the experience.
Picking each fresh vegetable myself which will soon end up on our plates. Laughing with the grocers. They know our names. They look out for us.
And I think of other places, where you don’t even have a human ‘scan’ your shopping at the end of your trip. The fact that your food comes with barcodes.
My husband likes to joke with grocers, “What’s the best before date?”. Because here, you buy what you need for the day. Your tomatoes won’t last a month in the fridge.
But they taste amazing.
Can we see this as a model to be emulated?