Customers at the bessara stall
Fava bean soup (Bessara) is a specialty of Fes. It is an
outstanding dish that deserves more exposure. We were lucky enough on a recent
visit to the ancient medina of Fes to be taken to the very best tiny place
serving this dish where just six people can squeeze into the tiny space
available for seating. The soup was deeply satisfying, full of flavour and
exhibiting the most amazing texture. We loved it!
We were only in Fes for less than 24 hours having made an impulsive decision to
fly to this Moroccan city to visit a good friend, Analiese Gregory, who was setting up a restaurant
there. We love her food, so the trip from our base in Caromb in southern France
didn't seem very onerous.
We drove from Caromb with the lacy Dentilles de Montmirail on our right side,
around the fascinating town of Carpentras before navigating the outskirts of
historic Avignon and then heading for the airport at Marseille. We have to
confess here that we are seasoned travellers, but we are used to enjoying the
advantage of our One World Emerald status which enables us to swan into airports
and avoid disturbingly long queues and then allowing us to relax in a
comfortable lounge while waiting for boarding.
To get to Fes we flew with Ryan Air, this meant turning up at a building doing a
good impression of a tin shed where everyone was treated in the same way - with
Anyway, we persevered and eventually we were headed for Fes. Flying in over the
stark landscape was fascinating as sand and rock was suddenly replaced by olive
groves stretching into the far horizon.
We landed and soon hooked up with the car sent from our Riad in the medina. We
travelled into the city through bleak and parched countryside and equally bleak
suburbs until we finally arrived on the edge of the medina, the ancient city,
one of the largest walled medinas in the world.
Our driver stopped outside the walls. We alighted from the car and a young man
appeared from nowhere and grabbed our suitcases and immediately headed into the
maze of alleyways inside the medina. We raced after him in the heat of the
afternoon not knowing where our Riad was situated. We knew that if we didn't
keep up with him we would never find our hotel.
Luckily we eventually arrived at the Riad which has no external presence.
However, once we passed through the imposing front door we entered a haven of
The foyer of our Riad
The foyer from above
Lunch was served for us on the roof top terrace as we gradually became
accustomed to our surroundings. We also explored outside the hotel, taking in the very narrow
laneways that snake through this ancient cities, constantly watching out for the
donkeys and their large loads that bring all food provisions and building materials
into the medina and take all the garbage out.
A narrow alleyway in the medina
We marvelled at the skill of the food artisans making the thinnest of pastries or
nonchalantly killing dozens of chickens with a flick of their wrist or slicing camel
meat into succulent pieces for their clientele.
A camel meat butcher
We were also constantly bemused by the bleating of lambs in almost every house we
passed. It appeared that the festive season was to begin in a few days and this season
is always begun by the slaughter of a lamb to form the basis of the feasting which is
Later a waiter arrived from the restaurant where our friend was preparing the
evening meal and he guided us to our destination, Restaurant 7. As we expected,
we had a stunning meal of our fiend's dishes inflected with amazing produce
(think local camel milk ice cream)!
After the meal as we sat and reviewed our brief experience, our friend mentioned
a local stall that served an amazing soup made from dried fava (broad beans)
beans. We were catching the plane back to Marseille at midday but we implored
her to take us there before we flew out.
Next morning we raced through the narrow alleyways dodging people and donkeys as
we headed for the place that offered so much promise.
Just as we arrived, three places were vacated by locals who had just finished
their bessara. We slid into the vacated seats and triumphantly ordered our
soups. No need for a menu here. No need for choices. There is just one dish -
And almost immediately we were served with a deep dish of the unctuous soup
topped with a sprinkle of cumin and chilli powder and a generous swirl of local,
very fresh olive oil. There was also a small loaf of the ever-present local bread placed on the table. It was stunning and very, very compelling. We loved it!
The distinctive bread
The patron serves the bessara
We marvelled at how such a supposedly simple dish could reach such heights of
If you get to Fes, don't miss it!
We are currently working on a recipe to try to replicate the dish we were so
entranced with in Fes. We will add to this article when we think we have
something that might approximate what we experienced.