Stocking the City

The Architecture and Infrastructure of Public Food Markets

  • The King of Fes ...

    Chris DeHenzel
    Oct 29, '12 12:54 PM EST

    ... and the real Morocco

    Fes street market, outside the old medina


    My bus arrived in Fes at 5:30 in the morning, where Dany (aka, Abdulraheem) was waiting to meet me, although we were more than 30 minutes late.  Dany’s brother-in-law, who had approached me in the Tangier bus terminal the night before under the guise of a ‘tourism officer’, helped make the transport arrangements.  I didn’t exactly have a better plan.

    Dany’s ‘taxi’ turned out to be a Toyota Land Cruiser, complete with a roof rack and one of those giant chrome bumpers that always make me think the driver is prepared to hit a moose, or in this case, more likely a donkey.  I wanted nothing more than to find my hostel and crash, but when Dany asked where I was staying, he just laughed.

    “Do you know there are 9,376 streets in the medina?  You’ll never find it in the dark.”

    “Yeah, but I have a map cached on my phone.  I’ll be fine.”


    “Nevermind.  I’m sure it will be okay.  Please just drop me off at the Blue Gate.”

    I woke up the next morning on Dany’s couch, after he basically refused to let me go to that ‘shitty tourist trap’ of a hostel that I had booked online.  Apparently the owner has a reputation.  I didn’t exactly trust Dany’s opinion, even after his seemingly genuine hospitality, but I was trying hard to be congenial.  “Good things happen to good people” he said.  “Allah sent you to me.”

    This didn’t ease my anxiety about  being kidnapped, but I was willing to go along with it, for now.  He called to make me a reservation at a modest hotel, and I listened carefully to try to decipher what he was saying in Arabic.  I don’t speak more than a few words of Arabic, but it sounded legit.  I’m embarrassed about my hesitation now, but who knows?  I’ve seen too many movies.

    For some reason, Dany was insistent that I experience the ‘real’ Morocco, not the packaged tourist version that you might book-in-advance.  Like the hostel, he refused to take me to the Moroccan cooking class I had booked in order to get an inside view of the medina.  He insisted that it was not only a rip-off, but that I would probably end up in the hospital with food poisoning. 

    I was still tentative, and honestly yearning to just be left alone, when he dropped me off in the medina that morning to meet his cousin Aziz, who was to be my personal substitute for the cooking class.  Five minutes later I felt like the luckiest white person in Fes, cruising through the streets with Aziz, who knew where he was going - dodging donkey-carts, women carrying baskets of vegetables or babies or both, kids playing tag, a guy welding - it was a mad frenzy of people dashing about everywhere.  Aziz greeted just about every other person we passed, “Salam hiacham”, without relaxing his hasty pace, and they all replied respectfully in return.  We rested to sip a cup of mint tea and, grinning, he confided, “I’m the king of the Fes medina.”  There was nothing to do but agree.

    Urban scale comparison: The Fes medina and my former apt. block in Barcelona

    View from the roof of Aziz's house

    Most people you might meet (if you stand out like I do) in a Moroccan medina, will offer to show you around (usually from one shop to the next where they make commission on whatever you buy), and then ask for an outlandish tip after you buy them lunch.  But Aziz didn’t claim to work for the ‘tourism office’.  He is an elementary school teacher, has lived amidst the 9,376 streets of the medina every one of his 48 years.  Besides, his sister makes the best Moroccan food that money can’t buy.

    The streets of the Fes medina are just barely wide enough for two people (or one donkey cart) to pass.  Otherwise it’s a traffic jam.  So it’s always a traffic jam, and it’s a ridiculous maze.  Even with the map, I never would have found my hostel that first night.  The buildings all lean over the street slightly, and with clothes and wires and textiles strung overhead, it almost feels like you’re inside.

    The largest souk in Fes starts at the confluence of two streets that form a sort of plaza, and like the messy current of two rivers coming together, the flow of people slowed as everyone’s attention turned to the food; an exotic myriad of meat, spices, fish, fruits and vegetables, all overflowing into the streets and beckoning from the tops of counters.  The Fes souks are basically street markets, vendors in tiny shops or tables on either side, and the flow is linear on a single street, which might be like any other except for the activity.  In some places the street is covered, by overlapping textiles or bamboo, to give a sense of enclosure and protect the meat from spoiling in the sun, where it would otherwise reach the street for at least a few minutes each day.  In other places it is open.  (By contrast, the streets of the souks in the Tunis medina are completely covered by vaulted ceilings, and generally less chaotic.)

    'Plaza' in Fez souk

    Fish vendor in Fez souk, where we bought shark fillets called rokan.  I've looked this up, but can't find the English translation.  Anybody?


    Woven textiles and reed coverings over the streets in the Fez souk

    Meat vendor

    There are rare price tags on food in the Fes souks.  Negotiation is the standard procedure, and with Aziz doing the talking, we purchased everything we would need for a glutonous feast, with about $12 (+/- 100 Moroccan dirhams).  Upon arriving at his house, an ancient ‘dar’ (constructed in 1329 kind of ancient), Aziz explained the concept of the traditional Moroccan tajine, as his sister Fatima demonstrated the technique.  Admittedly, I didn’t follow his explanation at first, perhaps because tajine refers not to a particular recipe, but a type of preparation - like sauce or soup.  Tajine is basically a stew made from seemingly any combination of meat, vegetables and Moroccan spices, although the base is usually tomato with boiled potatoes and carrots.  To complicate matters, the traditional clay pot in which the tajine is made is also called a tajine, so in any given sentence during the course of my lesson, tajine became both subject and object and sometimes, inexplicably, the verb as well.

    Aziz haggling over the price of tomatoes in the Fez souk

    Since I know you’ll be curious, the recipe is included below.  I would try to describe the flavors to you, but food writing isn’t really my thing.   No descriptive metaphor, whether in reference to dancing, or explosions, or sex, or Christmas morning, could properly describe my delight at the first bite. Let it suffice to say that it was delicious.  I wanted to savor the meal, the moment, the luck of this encounter, everything, but every time I stopped for a breath I was prodded along.  “Eat”, he demanded.  “Ok, I’m eating”, I replied, with food in my mouth.  “Mange, mange, mange”, insisted Fatima, in French.  Was I being fattened up for the killing, like a half-suspecting turkey?  No, I was just being hosted by a real Moroccan family.

    “You won’t find tajine like this in any restaurant”, Aziz said.  “And you won’t end up in the hospital either.”

    “That’s comforting.”

    As I crawled into bed late that evening, after Aziz took me to watch the Moroccan national team qualify for the African Cup in a dramatic 4-0 upset over Mozambique, it was comforting.  And for the first time in days, I slept. 



    Shark (rokan) tajine

    What you'll need (there was no measuring, so amounts are estimated):

    3-4 potatoes

    half a dozen carrots

    3-4 tomatoes

    a handful of cilantro

    2-3 garlic cloves

    1 tsp. salt

    2 lemons

    1 tbsp. paprika

    1 tbsp. cumin

    1/2 cup of water

    9-10 oz can of crushed tomatoes

    1 red onion

    olive oil

    shark fillets (or substitute); about 3x6" pieces


    The process:

    1. Quarter the potatoes and slice the carrots.  Boil together with olive oil for about 15 minutes.

    2. The sauce: Pistle-grind or blend the cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, salt, paprika and cumin.  In a mixing bowl, stir in the can of crushed tomatoes and grate (juice) 2-3 fresh tomatoes.  Add 1/2 cup of water.  Adjust salt and spices to taste. 

    3. Slice 1/4" pieces of the red onion and one tomato, and put in a frying pan, or if you have one, a traditional tajine. (Fatima used a frying pan, so don't sweat it).  Add olive oil (liberally). 

    4. By now your potatoes and carrots should be done. Transfer half of the boiled mix over the bed of tomato and onion in the frying pan. 

    5. Dip the fish fillets in the sauce, and put them in the frying pan. 

    6. Cover the fish with the second half of the boiled potato/carrot mix. 

    7. Pour the sauce over everything.

    8. Simmer on medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring occassionally. 


    Section through frying pan, for reference


    Enjoy!  Thanks for reading



    Fatima grinding ingredients for the tajine sauce


    Dipping the shark in the sauce before putting it in the frying pan


    The source of food (excluding the shark), just outside of Fes

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  • Nature Calls

    Chris DeHenzel
    Oct 9, '12 8:02 PM EST

    The next post relevant to my research on food markets will be up shortly.  In the mean time, I recently received an email from friends at Hyphae Design Labratory in Oakland, which is more than worth sharing.  The design lab has been selected to participate in the San Francisco Urban... View full entry

  • Berkeley Thesis 2012

    Chris DeHenzel
    Oct 3, '12 3:51 PM EST

    For a brief break from my usual travel-research commentary, I present for your viewing pleasure, casual perusal, comment, critique, etc - a selection of projects from the 2012 Berkeley M.Arch thesis, in no particular order, and not necessarily a "best of".  Enjoy!   Pablo Zunzunegui... View full entry

  • 11: Berlin

    Chris DeHenzel
    Sep 19, '12 10:00 AM EST

    Berlin wall memorial, by Kohlhoff and Kohlhoff Architects.  Photo by Chris DeHenzel.  What comes to mind when you think of Berlin?  Other than music from Top Gun, of course, you may have more or less vivid memories of the GDR, the wall, electronic music, guys (and girls) with arm... View full entry

  • 10: In Copenhagen, the hottest thing since sliced rugbrød

    Chris DeHenzel
    Aug 3, '12 11:21 AM EST

    The new Torvehallerne, Copenahagen. Photo: Arkitekturvaerkstedet Copenhagen’s IsraelsPlads was once home to a vibrant outdoor market, which took place daily in the plaza until the mid-20th century, when a wholesale market was established in Valby, on the outskirts of the city... View full entry

  • 9: Interview with Miguel Usandizaga, Sant Cugat

    Chris DeHenzel
    Jul 18, '12 7:43 AM EST

    One of the few publications I've seen about the contemporary design of markets was published in 2011 by Miguel Usandizaga, Professor of Architecture at ETSAV-UPC, with Jose Maria Garcia Fuentes, titled Architectural Design of Markets, 2005-2010.  The research and design proposals presented... View full entry

  • 8: Barcelona - City of Public Systems

    Chris DeHenzel
    Jun 15, '12 7:58 AM EST

    In an effort to post to this blog more regularly, I will be writing shorter, more casual updates throughout the remaining 7 months of my trip, starting now… from a city called Barcelona.     Public Systems Last Monday, I attended the First Annual Symposium of Mediterranean... View full entry

  • 7: Planning/Ephemera ... and It's Discontents (Santiago)

    Chris DeHenzel
    Jun 4, '12 3:15 PM EST

    Santiago's Central Markets   All photos and diagrams by author unless otherwise noted.   Image credit:   There is a striking contrast between the four main sites that comprise Santiago’s market district, an area that spans the Rio Mapocho near the... View full entry

  • The Cathedral of Food

    Chris DeHenzel
    Apr 18, '12 12:49 AM EST

    When Mexico City’s Central de Abastos opened in 1981, on land annexed by the government from subsistence farmers, it replaced the Mercado Merced as the central wholesale market for the city, but also served to consolidate 80% of the national food distribution in a single hub.  Not many... View full entry

  • 5 - DF, The Market Capital

    Chris DeHenzel
    Mar 23, '12 1:33 AM EST

    Metropolis. by Fritz Lang Sometimes big cities don’t seem so big.  You get to know your neighborhood, you have your routine, the same streets, the same sites, maybe hints of a larger system but overall you’re only getting a slice of it.  For some residents of Mexico City... View full entry

  • 4 - Interview, Oaxaca-Style (Part Deux)

    Chris DeHenzel
    Feb 22, '12 2:36 PM EST

    A recent article in a local Oaxacan news blog described an effort by the municipal government to invest in the infrastructure of its public market system.  According to the article (and thanks to my friend Pedro Mora Jr. for the brief translation): The government will spend 100 million pesos... View full entry

  • 3 - The Wholesale/Retail Hybrid, Oaxaca Style (Pt.1)

    Chris DeHenzel
    Feb 17, '12 8:24 PM EST

    As I explained in the previous post, Oaxaca's food system (plus the local economy and social structure) is built around market events called tianguis.  The valleys of Oaxaca are intricately connected by these market days, when people from all over the region migrate around the valley... View full entry

  • The "Local" Label

    Chris DeHenzel
    Jan 30, '12 2:24 PM EST

    Oaxaca I am a little over a week into my Mexican adventure, the first leg of my fellowship (explained in the initial post if you’re just joining) although my experiences here will take a bit longer to distill into a comprehensive report.  I am writing from the city of Oaxaca de Juarez... View full entry

  • Introduction: This Is Not Your Local Food Court

    Chris DeHenzel
    Dec 26, '11 9:10 PM EST

    You may ask yourself, among other things, why we need another blog about food?  What might compel you to continue reading, when you already know damn well how to make a fluffy quiche, and you are less swayed by one person’s opinion than the egalitarian democracy of Yelp?  Fear... View full entry

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About this Blog

I am a graduate M.Arch/MLA student at UC Berkeley, and grateful recipient of the 2011-2012 John K. Branner Fellowship, an annual traveling fellowship awarded by the UC Berkeley Department of Architecture. I will spend the 2012 calendar year visiting public food markets in major cities on 5 continents to research the relationship between markets and the infrastructure of food systems, focusing on the cultural and urban design implications of local economies. This blog will follow my journey...

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