Every home in Morocco always has two ingredients on hand: olive oil and olives. These products are essential to Moroccan cuisine and culture. At breakfast, traditional breads and pancakes are dipped in olive oil to start the day; at lunch, olives are presented as an appetizer; at supper, coffee and mint tea are served alongside olives and bread; and at dinner, olives can be found in many tagines. The Atlas Mountains and rich valleys surrounding Marrakech, like the Saraana valley, are famous for their fine olives and high-quality oil. Every year, young Moroccan boys and girls from these regions look forward to November and December, when the harvest takes place. The community works together to farm the land. Landowners prepare home cooked meals for the local youth to enjoy under the shade of the olive branches when they take a break from picking their fruit and have done so for centuries. Once harvested, the olives are either preserved or pressed into oil so they can be enjoyed year round. Every child growing up in Morocco has watched and helped their mother stone the individual olives and add them to glass jars with water and salt. Nowadays, most everyone in Morocco heads to their local market to buy their olives. For those in Marrakech’s Medina, that means heading over to Souk Aploh, just outside of the Jema al-Fnaa square, to the cluster of shops that specialize in all things olive.
Shop number 10 is situated at the end of the small row of olive shops, amongst sellers with everything from leather shoes to traditional Moroccan dress to intricately designed brass lamps to piles of fresh mint for tea. Abed Moneem and his brother Omar run their family’s olive business in Souk Aploh, just outside of the main square, called Jema al-Fnaa. The shop has been in their family for generations and will be passed down for many more. They sell a rainbow of olives, neatly packaged in glass jars. The presentation is a feast for the senses, with red, pink, green, and black olives stacked alongside preserved lemons, garlic and infused olive oils. Bottles of green and red chilis line the walls, as well as specialty olives made with chilis or almonds. Certain varieties are solely for cooking and are to be added to other dishes while others are to be eaten raw with a meal or as a snack. The green and red olives, preserved in water and salt with or without the pit still inside are put into tagines. Another variety of green olives, preserved with salt and lemon, is for eating. Abed Moneem and Omar’s best seller is their green olives with herbs: za’atar, parsley, coriander, cayenne, garlic, thyme, and olive oil. The black olives are the second most popular and often mixed with pickled carrots and parsley, to make what Moroccans call mishirmil. For just 10 dirhams, you can get as much as half a kilogram of olives to take home and feast on. Most shops also offer argan oil, amloo (a mixture of almond and argan oils), and kaleaa (preserved meat).
Lemons are preserved in two ways: with water and salt, or just with salt. The preserved lemons that are made solely with salt are kept for a very long time, up to four months, and turn black in color. They are used in tangias for both their flavor and their high salt content as the only salt used in the dish comes from the preserved lemons. Both lemons and olives are found bottled in water and salt, olive oil, or vinegar and herbs. Each variety has a unique flavor and can be used for a variety of dishes.
It is not uncommon for Moroccans who live abroad to come back to the country to visit family and be sent home with a jar of olives and olive oil. The preserved good is emblematic of Morocco: representative of the country’s fertile land and varied cuisine. The Souk Aploh is a must visit while in Marrakech, and we invite you to join us in enjoying the many goods it has to offer!