There are so many paradoxes in the Western/Northern concept of ‘progress’. One of the absurdities of modern life is our apparent desire for perfectly formed fruit and vegetables – all year round, regardless of their natural season in the country of purchase. In the UK, alongside the increasingly popular movements in favour of organic, local, home-grown and ‘slow’ food there is even a campaign in favour of “knobbly veg” being run by Delicious Magazine supported by the National Trust.
One of the things I love about visiting Essaouira in Morocco is our daily trip to the market. I don’t eat meat, so I don’t need to linger by the (live) chicken stalls, I just make a beeline for the veg stands. There’s no need to ask if the produce is local – it goes without saying. There isn’t a polystyrene multi pack in sight and the veggies come in all shapes and sizes. It’s ideal for the single person or the extended family because you can buy as much or as little as you like: just collect all the veg you want in a plastic sieve and it’s weighed and priced all together. There are no prices on display: what you pay is simply an average of the kilo price for whatever’s in the selection you’ve picked out!
Nearby, nearer the street, you can find guys selling all the seasoning you need: garlic cloves, chillies, ground spices, salt and pepper by the dirham or half dirham. It’s perfect if you only need a small quantity and your purchase is usually wrapped in a twist of recycled piece of newspaper. (Or, as the sadly recently deceased old guy we used to buy from – in the pages of an old algebra exercise book. RIP, gnarled old garlic man!)
Out on the main road through Essaouira’s souks, you will be left in no doubt as to which fruit is in season. In between the barrows stacked with bread and bushes of mint and verbena are the fruit sellers. Last time I was in town, the men were carefully arranging ripe strawberries one-by-one on their carts – like hundreds of upturned nipples!
It’s such a pity that our supermarket-dominated food shopping habits often encourage over-packed, over-processed fruit and veg in quantities greater than we need. This leads to unnecessary waste – both of food and packaging. It’s good to be reminded of a simpler life. Hopefully we in the West can learn from our past mistakes and countries where consumers still buy only what they need and live in tune with the land and the seasons can avoid them all together.
If you’d like to use your knobbly veg in a traditional Moroccan tajine, there’s a recipe here.
What do you think? Do you prefer the convenience of supermarket shopping or do you seek out the knobbly veg at the market?
© Lynn Sheppard, words & pictures