Ever wondered where argan oil comes from? Along the route from Marrakech to Essaouira we came across some shepherds sitting along the road side, while their goats ate argan nuts directly from the Argan tree. They had constructed some small platforms for the goats to reach the tallest branches, where they proceeded to eat the outside shell, spitting the remainder on the ground. It was a pretty incredible sight to see.
Further down the road, about 20 minutes from Essaouira we visited a women’s co-operative that runs one of the largest Argan Oil co-ops in the region. Once the argan nuts are collected, the next stage involves cracking the argan nut to obtain the argan kernels.
Attempts to mechanise this process have been unsuccessful and it is still carried out by hand, making it a time-consuming and labour-intensive process. Berber women smash the argan nuts with stones to extract the kernels.
Kernels used to make argan oil for food use, are then gently roasted, while unroasted argan kernels are ground down and used in soap and oil for the skin, hair and other cosmetic purposes.
The brown-colored mash expels pure, unfiltered argan oil. After this, unfiltered argan oil is decanted into vessels.
Wandering around the souks of Essaouira, we came across the local food markets in full swing.
Gorgeous soaps, herbs and spices…
There were a lot of boucherouite rugs to be found in the souks of Essaouira, which is also well known for its blue and white pottery and wood carvers.
Essaouira is on the Atlantic coast about 3 hours drive from Marrakech. Founded in the 18th century and formerly known as Mogador, meaning small fortress, Essaouira was built to be a rival city to Agadir. It was designed as a fortified town by French engineer, Théodore Cornut at the direction of Mohammed III. Essaouira played a major role as an international trading seaport, linking Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa with Europe and the rest of the world.
Essaouira is known for its fishing port and its blue fleet of wooden fishing boats.
The Sqala of the Kasbash, the artillery platform on the ramparts, offers an incomparable view across the medina and is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site.
We were fortunate enough to see all the fisherman back from their fishing expeditions selling that morning’s catch of the day in the open air fish markets. We saw prawns, eel (or maybe barracuda), stingrays, snapper and sole amongst many other varieties of fish we couldn’t identify. Sardines are a specialty of Essaouira and extremely popular amongst the locals. You can purchase and eat at one of the ten food stalls set up nearby…however we decided to eat at one of the restaurants on the port.
The seafood options are plentiful and after walking around the port decided to eat at Chez Sam located in a reconverted fishing boat on the Port de Pêche. It serves beautifully fresh seafood: fresh lobster, sea bass, hake and sole off the boat, all served simply with salad, rice, and steamed vegetables.