Sefrou Cherry Festival

Sefrou Cherry Festival: enjoy a unique flavor

Sefrou Cherry Festival: enjoy a unique flavor

Sefrou Cherry Festival: Sefrou is a small town located in the Middle Atlas, just 30 kilometers from Fez. With beautiful houses decorated in white, in this town you can find the most real Morocco, where every morning cherry farmers go to their fields, women to their embroidery, children to school and artisans to their workshops.

The tranquility of the city, only broken by the floods of the Oued Aggai river that divides the town in two, is transformed into bustle as the Cherry Festival, also known locally as the Moussem of Heb Lemlouk, approaches. A festival that in 2012 was named Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

The flavor of a local festival

Every June, Sefrou transforms itself to celebrate the Cherry Festival in style. This fruit, which was brought by the French during the time of the protectorate, found on the slopes of the Atlas the best place to grow. A large part of the seven thousand tons of cherries that Morocco produces each year are harvested here.

In 1919 the first Cherry Festival was held at the wish of the French ruler Pierre Sougan, who took as a model the festival of the French town of Olivier, in the province of Toulouse. Years later, the festival still retains the purpose for which it was born: to pay tribute to local farmers, once the harvest is over.

For three days, the town dresses up to host a festival that attracts more and more people every year, including residents of nearby towns and visitors who are attracted by the charm of a celebration that has managed to retain all its charm. Everyone works hard to make the Cherry Festival a success. The farmers give their best cherries for tasting, the orchestras and local theater and dance companies are ready to animate the parades and brass bands, and the majorettes prepare to accompany the floats in the great parade that will cross the streets of Sefrou.

Sefrou Cherry Festival

During the days of the festival, there are sports and cultural activities, conferences and competitions, exhibitions, tastings and craft workshops. One of the most anticipated events, however, is the election of Miss Cerisette, the Cherry Queen. Numerous young women from nearby towns present themselves each year in the hope of being chosen, which is considered quite an honor.

On the last day of the festival, a grand parade is held, where floats pay tribute to local products. The Queen of the Cherry gives cherries and flowers to the assistants, in the middle of a festive atmosphere where traditional Berber songs and dances will not be missing. This folkloric spectacle, called Fantasia, is the finishing touch to a celebration that highlights the importance of cherries in the region.

The charm of Sefrou

Visiting Sefrou during the Cherry Festival is a wonderful opportunity to experience a local festival. But it is also worth a visit at any time of the year. Its impressive medina with its imposing narrow streets, its white houses, the mosques and the Jewish quarter, the mills and washing places by the river and the Thursday souk give Sefrou that oriental charm that visitors love so much. It is also a unique opportunity to see the real, quiet and familiar life of a Moroccan population, and to enjoy the nearby nature, such as the source of Lalla Rekia, located west of the city and that, according to the elders, has healing properties.

Sefrou Cherry Festival

Sefrou, once known as “the city of the love of kings”, was once an important trading post due to its strategic location between Fez and Tafilalt. Since the 12th century it was inhabited by Berber converts to Judaism from Algeria, who called it “Little Jerusalem”. Later, during the protectorate, it became an important military center, boosted by the creation of the Prioux fort, whose mission was to protect the city. The French knew Sefrou as “The Garden of the West”.

Today, Sefrou is surrounded by waterfalls and streams, wrapped in lush vegetation that has given it the nickname of “oasis without palm trees”. The Oued Aggai river irrigates the fertile fields and flows through the village, where the houses are built on the slopes to avoid the floods that occur in spring.

Cherries and handicrafts

The cherry of Sefrou is qualified by the experts as one of the best in the world. Dark in color, but with a very sweet taste, it has always come out of the various vicissitudes that fate has prepared for it, as when almost the entire Jewish community, mostly dedicated to its cultivation, emigrated to Israel in the mid-twentieth century, leaving abandoned fields full of this fruit as sweet as it is tasty.

It was a delicate time for its cultivation, which also had to deal with the threat of the parasite brought by certain American varieties introduced in the area at the end of the 1960s, and the fact that urban growth ended with the felling of numerous fields for the sake of construction needs. However, all of this, instead of sinking the cultivation in the area, served as a pliers to boost even more a product, which today has achieved worldwide fame.

Sefrou Cherry Festival

In Sefrou and the nearby counties, in addition to cherries and cherry tails, which are sold dehydrated because according to the locals they have curative properties, you can find apples, honey, olives and oil, as well as delicate local handicrafts, with upholstery with precious fabrics, Berber carpets, garments with precious embroidery and silk buttons, and cedar wood products. An excellent reason to spend a day visiting the city, especially if you are in nearby Fez.

Cherries are much more than just a food in Sefrou. The Cherry Festival is a reminder that, in addition to being a World Heritage Site, cherries are the real economic engine of the region and a real reason to celebrate. A festival with an authentic local flavor, in which a whole village turns to show the world that the sweetest taste of its heritage grows in its fertile valleys.

Moroccan diet: tradition and religion on a slow fire

The Moroccan diet goes beyond the typical dishes consumed in Morocco. Characterized by its colors, smells and rich spicy flavor, it not only stands out for being healthy and nutritious, but is also an expression of the cultural identity of the Moroccan people, as well as a faithful reflection of ancestral traditions and another way of living the Islamic religion.

Moroccans enjoy food, hence their cuisine is very visual, where colors and the placement of food on the plate is of great importance, in a first contact that awakens the senses before even tasting the food.

In the Mediterranean diet

Moroccan cuisine is included in the Mediterranean diet, declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization since 2010, a distinction it shares with Spain, Italy and Greece. Despite this, it has its own characteristic elements, being a synthesis of gastronomic currents from Africa, the Middle East and the Andalusian culture.

Moroccans spend about 40% of their budget on food. And while it is true that until a few years ago they were completely faithful to their ancestral culinary traditions, globalization has caused some young people, especially in the big cities, to occasionally abandon the typical products of the garden to give way to international prepared food.

The incorporation of women into the workforce and the continuous working hours established since 2005 in the different administrations has also contributed to the fact that midday meals, with their long after-dinner meals, have been slightly affected. But despite all this, Moroccan cuisine has overcome the various challenges of modernity with the tenacity of a culinary tradition closely linked to its customs, its way of being and the constraints imposed by religion when sitting at the table.

This is reflected even in Moroccan migrants, who maintain the traditions of the Moroccan diet as a symbol of cultural identity in their different destinations, from the conviction that eating is not only a biological necessity. This is why Moroccans are one of the groups that are most attached to their traditional dishes, and are most faithful when it comes to preparing them, following the formulations of their country of origin.

The intensity of spices

Spices play a major role in Moroccan cuisine. Cumin, saffron, black pepper, turmeric, sweet paprika and coriander are some of the spices traditionally used in the country’s dishes, giving shape to the most characteristic colors, smells and flavors of the local gastronomy.

Moroccans also use blends such as ras el hanout, which usually contains cardamom, black pepper, paprika, nutmeg, cumin and ginger. Traditionally, the spice maker prepares this mixture by eye, according to his professional experience, without a fixed formula but maintaining the family secret of a combination that is capable of creating customer loyalty because of the flavor it confers to the dishes.

The intense flavors from the spices and seasonings most present in Moroccan dishes are one of the great contributions of Arab cuisine to international gastronomy, increasingly open to incorporate these flavors to their dishes.

To buy spices it is best to do it in the local markets, with very cheap prices. Their quality makes many visitors who come to Morocco take back home Moroccan spices to season their dishes.

Ingredients and typical dishes

Moroccan cuisine is quite similar throughout the country, although in each region we can find slight variations of traditional dishes. It is usually composed of balanced dishes, where vegetables, vegetables, cereals and legumes, especially chickpeas, play a major role.

Beef, lamb and chicken are also subtly present in many dishes, providing the protein content required for a balanced diet. Olive, sunflower or argan oil, some fish, milk and dairy products, eggs and fresh fruit are also present, while nuts, with the incorporation of almonds, figs and dates, are also a characteristic element.

In meat dishes, kefta stands out, a kind of small hamburger with parsley, onion, coriander and spices, which can be grilled or broiled. Meat is also eaten on skewers, in stews, braised or roasted, seasoned with a variety of ingredients.

The tajine is one of the most internationally known dishes of Moroccan cuisine. It is prepared in a cone-shaped clay pot, so that the food is cooked with its own steam. It can have meat, legumes and vegetables, with prunes, dried fruits, raisins or lemon.

For its part, couscous, which is another of the bases of Moroccan gastronomy, is a stew with wheat semolina cooked with vegetables and legumes, and completed with nuts and raisins or chicken. It is one of the most internationally known Moroccan dishes and in many homes seven seasonings are used to make it, because this number is attributed a sacred character in the search for perfection.

In the field of soups and creams, the bissara stands out, a puree of peas and beans seasoned with cumin and sweet paprika, which is very widespread as it is economical, easy to make and delicious. For its part, the harira is a traditional soup made with carrot, tomato, vegetables, noodles and beef, and seasoned with spices according to the custom of each house. It is the dish used to break the fast in Ramadan.

The zaalouk, also known as eggplant caviar; labneh, similar to yogurt but more acidic; and batbut bread are other dishes of Moroccan cuisine, which is completed with sweets and desserts more characteristic, such as maamoul, cookies filled with dates, or chebakia, a dessert that is consumed in Ramadan and is made with honey, flour, oil and sesame, among other ingredients.

Influence of religion

If anything definitely marks Moroccan gastronomy, it is religion, which makes the distinction between halal foods, which are permitted, or those considered haram or forbidden, referring to animals that cannot be used as food. In the latter, there are two categories: foods that are forbidden and those that are subject to prohibition because of how the animal has died, hence the proliferation of halal butcher shops outside Morocco, which serve migrants who are willing to preserve what Islam indicates.

Muslims do not eat pork. Nor do they drink alcohol because this prohibition is included in the Koran, although it is true that the younger generations, especially those living in large cities, are somewhat more lax when it comes to drinking alcoholic beverages. It is also noteworthy that drinking alcohol does not apply to foreign visitors, who can find alcoholic beverages in certain establishments and restaurants during their visit to cities such as Marrakech, Fez, Rabat, Tetouan or Tangier, although their price is higher because they are subject to a large number of taxes.

In any case, the family environment plays a key role when it comes to a Moroccan following the prohibitions of eating certain foods, which usually aims to highlight the identity of a religious community. In addition, the gastronomic calendar oscillates according to Ramadan, a month in which no food or drink is consumed from sunrise to sunset. Many of the dishes are, therefore, linked to this date of the calendar, celebrating special meals in the festivities that precede the month of fasting and the breaking of the same.

On the other hand, among the different religious festivals that mark in some way the relationship with food is also the ashura, celebrated in the first month of the Muslim calendar, and the feast of the lamb, where this animal is sacrificed and eaten in community. In any case, traditional food will always be present in the life of the Moroccan, with the feast of the engagement, marriage, the birth of a child and its circumcision, the departure and return from the pilgrimage, and the death of a person.

The symbolism of colors

If ingredients play a leading role in Moroccan cuisine, colors are also a very important element to take into account, under the conviction that the gastronomic experience has to start with the sight and be enjoyed with the five senses.

For this reason, colors acquire not only an aesthetic value, but also a magical connotation, linked, once again, to religion. Thus, the color white is sacred. Milk, for example, is considered a food that is related to happiness, which is why it is treated with respect. It is common, especially for older people, to mutter “besmi-llah”, which translates as “in the name of God”, before drinking it. On the other hand, dreaming of milk or spilling it on oneself is considered a good omen.

Red is also a positive color in Moroccan gastronomy, as it is related to blood. Black protects against bad vibes and involuntarily spilling coffee on oneself is associated with good luck.

Among the ambivalent colors we find yellow, which while for some people is related to fire, which would refer to hell, for others it has a direct association with saffron or gold, which would remind us of Paradise. Similarly, blue is loved and hated in equal parts.

On the other hand, green, very present in Moroccan gastronomy, as it is used in many dishes through coriander and parsley, and in the traditional mint tea, is a color that brings good feelings to Moroccans.

Moroccan cuisine, included in the Mediterranean diet, is much more than a taste for good food. Marked by its religious character and tradition, it is a symbol of the identity of a people proud of its traditions, which finds in its dishes the pride of continuing to simmer one of the richest cuisines on an international level. (Sefrou Cherry Festival)

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