Literary City Guide | Rabat, Morocco
Tour Guide: Sophie Duncan
Sophie graduated from Wesleyan University in 2013, and has been living in Morocco for the past year while working on a Fulbright research grant about traditional Moroccan foods and ideas about authenticity and innovation. She loves to cook, eat, read, and spend time outdoors.
Relationship to Rabat: I’ve been here for a little over a year, doing research on Moroccan food. Though feeling like an outsider is, of course, difficult at times, I have more friendly acquaintances in my neighborhood than anywhere else I’ve lived. I also live near a pretty great assortment of homemade snacks.
Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Ruth Reichl
Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Gabrielle Hamilton. I’ve never eaten at Prune, but her grilled cheese methods have me sold.
Writing soundtrack: At the moment, alt-J, Cold Specks, Ben Howard, and Hozier.
Pen or Pencil: Pen
Coffee or Tea? Tea in the morning, definitely, but coffee and a cookie in the afternoon.
Paperback or Hardback? Paperback
English Bookshop. This tiny store is crammed to the gills with books in English, ranging from literary classics to resources on Islamic studies, history, sociology, and more. They also offer language-learning materials. The tightly packed rows of English titles blend nicely with the Quranic chanting playing softly on Friday afternoons. Hours: 10-1:30, 4-7 Monday-Friday.
Librairie Kalila wa Dimna. Come here for postcards, maps, and a wide variety of novels, coffee-table books, non-fiction, and more in Arabic, French, and English.
Librairie Basta. This unprepossessing shop in Agdal offers up an exciting array of magazines, journals, and academic resource books as well as novels and school supplies.
Librairie Livre Service. A decent bet for art supplies, cookbooks, and French paperback novels. They also have a shelf of Anglophone bodice-rippers, amusingly labeled “Popular American literature.”
Books on the Street! Look through the many informal booksellers along Rue Mohammed V and Hassan II in Centre Ville.
Bibliothèque Nationale du Royaume du Maroc. Without membership you only have access to part of the national library’s collection, but you can often get in for a visit. The common area is a great space for reading or writing, and they have a huge collection of books that are unavailable elsewhere. Regardless of membership status, the café on the left of the entrance is a wonderful place to work or take a break over coffee.
Biblioteca Benito Pérez Galdós. The library at the Institut Cervantes offers Spanish and Hispanic literature, historical texts, language learning materials, CDs and DVDs, and more.
Médiathèque at the Institut Français. This "media library" offers nearly 40,000 titles from a range of disciplines, all focused on study of and literature from francophone countries.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Institut Français. The French Institute in Rabat sometimes hosts readings, as well as other literary and cultural events.
Photo by Ben Spears
Explore an outdoor food market. Walk through the major produce and food market on Bouqroune in the old city, or medina. There’s amazing produce, and if you’re lucky (and come between 4pm and 6pm), you’ll pass the doughnut maker and can snack on a still-hot treat as you walk.
Historical Walking Tours. Look for a copy of Rabat et Salé: de Bab à Bab. This book will lead you on excellent walking tours of the city, pointing out interesting buildings and their history along the way. It is only available in French, but has the best map of the medina that is available. You can usually find a copy in Kalila wa Dimna.
Café Renaissance. Here you’ll find tasty coffee and an ideal balcony (upstairs) for writing and for people watching from a distance. The first floor houses a popular movie theatre and concert space.
Café de la Bibliothèque Nationale. Located to the left and one floor above the entrance to the National Library, this is a great space to read and write, and has both outdoor and (fairly quiet) indoor space.
Au Grain de Sésame. This self-proclaimed literary café, set in a refurbished traditional house, doubles as a women’s cooperative making art from recycled paper. Peruse the interesting collection of books and art magazines as you write, read, or simply relax in this very peaceful little spot. They are tucked into the side of the medina across from the Oudayas, next to a series of carpenters.
Pause Gourmet. Check out this cozy café/restaurant for a change of pace and a delicious Breton crêpe or a coffee. On Thursdays they serve rfissa, a special-occasion Moroccan dish comprised of chicken and lentil stew over torn-up savory crepes.
Café 7ème Art. A pretty garden space with a mixed crowd of professionals, students, and tourists, this café offers a wide variety of drinks and snacks and an art cinema next door.
A PROPER MEAL
Ch’hiwates du Terroir. Though they sadly do not serve dinner, this is a great spot to try Moroccan classics and innovative new dishes for lunch or breakfast. They make an effort to source local Moroccan products and produce, and the brunch menu on Sundays is highly recommended, though pricier. Their Friday afternoon couscous is a big hit, so make sure to reserve ahead.
Les Épices. Try the Senegalese Couscous on Fridays for lunch, or test out a variety of other Senegalese dishes during the week. Their burritos, wrapped in homemade flour tortillas are also fairly tasty and a nice change of pace. Upstairs, an Irish pub just around the corner, boasts a slightly different but still delicious version of Senegalese-style couscous on Fridays for lunch.
B’nin. Get good quality and reasonably priced traditional Moroccan dishes here. The kefta and egg tagine, fish tagine, and rfissa are particularly tasty.
Le P’tit Beur (Dar Tajine). Though somewhat touristy and not cheap, this restaurant is a great place to try bisteeya (sweet and savory chicken with almonds and cinnamon inside flaky pastry) and enjoy a glass of wine while you’re at it.
Ty Potes. This brunch, lunch and dinner spot’s nice atmosphere and tasty crepes, salads, and hard cider make for a pleasant break from the usual. Their épicerie counter boasts tasty cheeses and pork products otherwise hard to come by.
Mini bisteeyas, briouates (triangular fried flaky pastries filled with ground meat, fish, chicken, or liver), and macoudas (potato fritters) from the sisters on Taht el Hammam in the medina.
Flaky, almond-filled pastries are widely available, but the best come from the pastry shop on the corner of the Marché Central on Rue Mohammed V in the very entrance of the medina. With a “nuss-nuss” (half espresso, half milk) coffee at the café next door, this is the perfect slow weekend morning, and an excellent people watching opportunity. The bakery and café are right near here.
Fried fish, eggplant, and potato fritter sandwiches on the street near Bab Bouiba. Makes for a hefty but delicious lunch.
Try a selection of Moroccan cookies from the bakeries on Sidi Fatah in the medina. My favorites are the ghoriba, sandy sesame and almond cookies that are excellent paired with mint tea or a “nuss-nuss” coffee.
Sophie's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite view: Looking out over the tidal pools, fishermen, and stray dogs and cats onto the Atlantic Ocean as you head out of town and south towards Casablanca. Also the view of the Bouregreg River from the Lincoln roundabout.
2. Favorite place to write: The upstairs balcony at Café Renaissance. It has prime people watching but is high up enough that it isn’t a distraction if you don’t want it to be.
3. Favorite museum: The modern art museum located inside the back of the Bank al Maghreb building.
4. Favorite coffee shop: There is an unlabeled café on the side of the Marché Central that is adjacent to Rue Mohammed V in the medina that I have come to love. It is dominated by men but is still fairly comfortable for women, and is a great spot with tasty, cheap coffee.
5. Favorite thing about Rabat: The food market on Bouqroune in the medina. There is incredible fresh produce here (fresh figs for the equivalent of one US dollar per kilo in season!) and I have several vendors that I’ve become friendly with. As I walk down the narrow street and navigate the crowds and the crates of produce, I love saying hello and exchanging greetings.