The famous (or infamous) Medina in Fez is a near impossible to navigate maze of Medieval corridors and alleyways surrounded on all sides by a great stone wall. Something like one million people are stuffed inside the place and they all coexist like ants inside one of those vertical ant farms that parents reluctantly purchase for their more nerdy, science-minded kids. How fascinating to move around among the meat vendors selling sheep’s heads, camel hearts, and lamb’s brains, and the metal pot craftsman who work together banging out their wares to a rhythm that would challenge any drummer (myself included), plus dress makers, knife makers, food stalls, spice and perfume shops, clothe and leather merchants. The smell is smoked meat goodness combined with rancid leather tanneries (which also exist inside the city walls), spices, dust, mold, and body odor. At various times, you need to turn yourself sideways in order to pass through a narrow corridor.
The point (or one of the points anyway) of this excursion is to eat camel. Now, I enjoy a good burger just like the next guy. But I’ve never really considered camel as an option over say, sirloin or Angus beef. But around Morocco and especially inside the Medina, camel meat seems to serve as quite the specialty while narrow stalls advertise the fact that they carry camel meat by nailing a severed camel head to the wall. Makes me want to belt out a Rachael Ray "Yumo."
Standing outside the stall where a charcoal grill is going in the back, we order our camel burgers while flies surf the chunk of raw red meat currently laid out on the sales counter. We take a seat inside the impossibly cramped eating area and nervously drink mint tea while the not unappetizing aroma of cooking camel burger fills our nostrils, the sound of meat grilling and fat spattering serving as the soundtrack.
When the burgers arrive they’re served on a crusty bun with tomato and lettuce. Instinctively I look for some Heinz 57, but a nondescript hot sauce will have to do. I pick up the burger two-fisted, take a whiff of the smoky flavor then dig in.
Okay, we’ve all heard the saying about all foreign eats tasting like chicken. But this meat is different. It tastes like meat should taste. Rich, full of flavor, and juicy. The spices added to the ground meat only enhance the flavor. Turns out I didn’t need the Heinz anyway.
The camel burger gets polished off. Happily. Should I worry about getting sick later? Perhaps it’s a good idea to pop a Cipro provocatively, just to make sure. In any case, I’ll find out in about eight hours when the thing digests if I’m going to spend the night glued to the toilet or not. For now, I lock eyes with the camel head hanging on the stall wall as I move on deeper into the overcrowded Medina.
“Thanks for lunch, pal,” I whisper.