The great souks of Morocco offer a feast of colour, vibrancy and energy, set to the rhythm of bustling commerce which has come to define these immersive street bazaars. Here, vendors stridently promote their wares – anything from tanned leather and wicker baskets to vegetables, spices and live animals – while folk singers and snake-charmers entertain the gathering crowds. It is a form of ordered chaos, and it’s this which makes the souk so utterly charismatic and exhilarating. Travel to the great Moroccan cities of Safi and Casablanca on board Scenic Eclipse, and you too will fall for the immersive wonder of these ancient street markets. Browse the authentic handmade wares, taste the local delicacies, and throw yourself into the joy of the haggle. This is shopping at its most authentic, primal and exciting, and an experience you’ll never forget. To help you negotiate Morocco’s wonderful souks, and get the most from your experience, here we offer a complete guide to exploring these traditional marketplaces, including what to buy, what to taste, and how to barter for the best price.
Highlights of the Souk: Gifts to Buy for Friends, Family and Yourself
The souk brims with authentic, handmade wares whose designs and craftsmanship have gone unchanged for centuries. From leather handbags to the finest silken bedspreads, temptation is everywhere as you stroll these enchanting markets. Here, we look at a few choice items you can pick up at the souks of Safi and Casablanca.
While pashmina scarves and shawls are now found in high street stores in the UK, they’re mere imitations compared to the beautiful examples on offer in Morocco’s souks. Made from a choice of luxurious cactus silk or wonderfully soft cashmere, you’ll find pashminas of every colour, pattern and style, and they’re a great gift for the fashion-conscious friend or relative back home. You should expect to pay around 150 Moroccan Dirham for a fine silk or cashmere scarf, which equates to around £12.
Moroccan Berber Shoes
One of the most popular leather items in the souk is the Berber shoe, a comfortable slip-on made simply from two cuts of durable, tanned leather. These are the traditional shoes of Morocco, and are comfortable enough to wear as slippers – or for relaxing on the Sun Deck. Berbers come in a range of different styles, with some more elaborately coloured and detailed than others. A pair of these rustic shoes can be yours for 80 Dirham, or £6.
Carpets and Rugs
If you’ve space in your home for an exquisite Moroccan rug, hand made from the finest wool, the souk is the place to buy one. You’ll find stalls piled high with beautiful rugs of every size, colour, pattern and texture, and, while expensive, it’s often possible to barter the price down to a bargain sum. Recognising that many visitors buy carpets and rugs, vendors will often throw in overseas delivery, so you don’t have to worry about fitting it in your suitcase. The average price for an authentic Moroccan rug is around 3,500 Dirham, or £280.
Sample the Food and Drink of the Souk
As well as an incredible variety of leather goods, rugs and homewares, souks are renowned for their aromatic food and drink, and their fresh produce and authentic, locally-sourced ingredients. Here, we list must-try food and drink to sample at the souk.
Moroccan Mint Tea
You won’t linger long in the souk before you have a cup of steaming mint tea in your hand. This is the traditional beverage of the souk, served by vendors to entice browsers into their shops. Happily, it’s fragrant, refreshing and delicious, and a soothing tonic to get you in the mood for bartering. Moroccans have enjoyed mint tea since the 12th century, and the souk is the perfect place to sample the national beverage for yourself.
Bessara is a thin stew or soup made from ground fava beans seasoned with cumin, garlic, chilli, lemon juice and onions, and served with a generous portion of khobz, crusty bread. It’s a classic street food of Morocco, sold from small hole-in-the-wall eateries from dawn until dusk, and a favourite among the country’s workforce. Most souks have at least one or two local bessara vendors, and the dish is the ideal accompaniment to an immersive stroll through the marketplace.
Brochette vendors are easily identifiable by the aromatic smoke billowing from within, signalling the stoking of the charcoal fire pits used to grill the chicken brochette. These are small kebabs seasoned with a rub of herbs and spices, including paprika and cumin, formed around a skewer and grilled over an intensely high heat. Chicken brochette is served in a khobz flatbread with harissa, cumin and red onion – a delicious lunchtime favourite among the souks of Morocco.
Bartering Tips to Help You Conquer the Souk
The tradesmen of Casablanca and Safi are seasoned in selling to visiting travellers, and use this to their advantage in driving a hard bargain. Introduce a little friendly bartering, however, and the quoted prices will soon begin to tumble, meaning there are some wonderful deals to be had. Below are our top tips on how to haggle in a Moroccan souk – whether you’re buying an expensive rug or a dozen silken scarves.
• Don’t haggle until you’re sure you want to buy – Bargaining can mean a long back and forth, so make sure you’re serious about the item before beginning the process.
• Offer one third to a half of the seller’s first offer – A rule of thumb is to offer a third or half the price of the figure quoted by the seller. Your offer may be met with laughter, but it will also show that you’re serious about buying, and want to achieve a fair price.
• Don’t give away how much you love the item – Good hagglers appear hesitant, and hide their interest in the item from the seller. This retains your bargaining power, putting you on the front foot and giving the seller work to do to win the sale.
• Be prepared to walk away – If the seller is refusing to lower the price, politely decline to continue and walk away towards another stall. If the vendor wants to make a sale, they’ll often follow you and offer a better price.
• Don’t feel bad about paying a small price – Sellers know their market, and would never sell an item if they weren’t making a decent profit. What seems like a bargain to you is probably a sizeable return on investment for the vendor, even if they say otherwise.
• Remember, there’s no such thing as the right price – If you’re happy with the price and love the item, you’ve paid the right sum for it. There is no right or wrong amount in the souk, so enjoy a little frivolity.
The famous souks of Morocco are a must-visit for the curious treasure-hunter or ardent shopper. We invite you to experience these traditional markets alongside some of the Mediterranean’s other immersive wonders, during a luxury Scenic Eclipse ocean cruise. To find out more, call our experienced team today on 0808 231 7963.