SSoP Podcast Episode 07 — Morocco: Couscous, Camels, and the Kasbah

SSoP Podcast Episode 07 — Morocco: Couscous, Camels, and the Kasbah

Monday, 2 March, 2020

Morocco can seem like something conjured from a dream. The twisty alleys of its old-town medinas hold secrets around every corner. Its markets are infused with the aroma of spices and the lilting melodies of musicians, with jewel-colored leather and scarves and rugs as far as the eye can see.

Morocco’s history is just as colorful. Nomadic peoples like the Berbers and the Tuareg (a.k.a., the Blue People) were roaming and riding the Sahara desert for centuries. The cities — Tangier and Casablanca, Marrakech and Fez — were well-known havens in and around the World Wars for secret agents, ambitious businessmen, and glamorous movie stars.

Providing a background for all of this is Morocco’s breathtaking scenery: the rugged beauty of the Atlas mountains, the flowing dunes of the Sahara, the sparkling beaches on the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and the fragrant cedar forests.

In this episode, we discuss books that transported us to Morocco, including two very different — but equally moving — memoirs of personal adventures; a historical novel featuring two strong heroines and a mysterious amulet; a poignant look at the fading art of Moroccan storytelling; and a contemporary thriller about a traveler’s worst nightmare.

We also talk Moroccan food and travel with Amanda Ponzio-Mootaki, a.k.a., MarocMama, the founder of the MarocMama website and Marrakech Food Tours in Morocco.


Read the full transcript of Episode 7: Morocco.

A Street in Marrakech

buy | read review

The Last Storytellers

buy | read review

The Salt Road

buy | read review

Skeletons on the Zahara

buy | read review

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty

buy | read review

other books we mentioned


our charming guest

… just to sit on a rooftop at night and see the sun setting behind the Atlas Mountains is just, I don’t know — it takes my breath away every time, and it’s been 15 years, and I still like never get tired of it. — Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki

Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki is a writer, traveler, and adventurer. She loves food and Morocco, and she loves sharing it with others. She’s the founder of MarocMama and Marrakech Food Tours.

Connect with Amanda, a.k.a., Maroc Mama

Books mentioned by Amanda

Tangia vs. Tagine: As Amanda explained in our interview, tangia is a dish (and vessel) made in Marrakech. The tagine is the cooking vessel and stew made all over Morocco.

And here’s a post with excellent photos of Amanda making the tafernout bread she mentioned in our conversation.


other cool stuff we talked about

Al-Qarawiyyin Library: The oldest library in the world is the Al-Qarawiyyin Library, located in Fez. It was founded in 859 by a woman named Fatima al-Fihri. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant and used her inheritance to establish a learning complex that included a library, a university, and a mosque.

Atlas Studios: The world’s largest film studio, located in the desert just outside Ouarzazate on the road to Marrakech. You can read more and see photos at Atlas Obscura, and this New York Times piece ‘Morocco, From Coast to Desert’ is compelling.

Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association: Should you like to swim the 9 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar, you’ll find all the info you need at the website of the Swimming Association.

Mercedes Gleitze: She was the first woman to swim the Strait of Gibraltar, and she did it in 12 hours in 1928. Read more about this remarkable woman and enjoy the darling photos.

A first-hand account of the swim: In 2017, Liz Denyer, Matt Duggan, Elliot Newsome, and Claire Wilson swam across the Strait of Gibraltar from Europe to Africa. This is Elliot Newsome’s story about the experience.

The New York Yacht Club Library: Author Richard Hamilton was inspired to write Skeletons on the Zahara when he found a diary in the Yacht Club Library. Here it is:

Tuareg people: The Tuareg are Berber nomads who live in the Sahara and play an essential role in the story of The Salt Road, one of our recommended books. Their traditional dress includes garments of a particular shade of blue that can also dye their skin. The women are known for their intricately braided hair; see an example of the braids right here.

Vendela Vida on NPR: In this interview, Vendela Vida talks about the events that prompted her to write The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty.

The Rumi poem: Rumi was a 13th-century Sufi poet who wrote The Divers Clothes Lying Empty:

  • You are sitting here with us,
  • but you are also out walking in a field at dawn.
  • You are yourself the animal we hunt
  • when you come with us on the hunt.
  • You are in your body
  • like a plant is solid in the ground,
  • yet you are wind.
  • You are the diver’s clothes
  • lying empty on the beach.
  • You are the fish.
  • In the ocean are many bright strands
  • and many dark strands like veins that are seen
  • when a wing is lifted up.
  • Your hidden self is blood in those,
  • those veins that are lute strings
  • that make ocean music,
  • not the sad edge of surf,
  • but the sound of no shore.



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Top image courtesy of Wei Pan.

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keep reading

We're usually more interested in what's inside a book's covers, but volumes bound in Morocco leather are some of the most beautiful in the world. And it all starts at the Choara Tannery in Fez, Morocco.
Twisty alleys, boisterous markets, trained monkeys, exotic spices, and world-class leather — Morocco feels both magical and mysterious. This fragrant recipe serves Moroccan intrigue at your table.
This colorful salad combines sweet oranges, cool fennel and mint, and salty olives for a taste that's bold and a little exotic. It's a tribute to 'Tangerine,' a taut noir thriller set in 1950s Tangier, Morocco.
Have you ever daydreamed about riding a camel across the Sahara with the wind in your hair? Or strolling through the market in the old town of Marrakech? These six books will take you there asap, no passport required.
For centuries, women have been adorning their bodies with delicate, colorful henna tattoos to mark significant events in their lives. We take a look at the origin of this art and share tips for you to try it yourself.
Your weekend plan has just been sorted: Read this page-turning, satisfying thriller set in Morocco, then pop a big bowl of popcorn and snuggle in to watch Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman smolder in 'Casablanca.'

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