A prickly-pear vendor in Morocco (photo by Claude Renault)
After the first day, I found out that those spiny fruit being sold off of handcarts all over the city were prickly pear, a seasonal delicacy that seemed to be at the peak of its harvest.
I bought my first prickly pear from a vendor just outside the Medina (the walled city). I paid five dirham for it (actually, I tried to pay two euros for it, because the last guy who had given me change regarded a two euro coin as equivalent to five dirham. The prickly pear vendor did not share this view. He also didn’t speak French, so he held up the coin and looked angry, and it took an intervention from two of his (French-speaking) fellow-vendors to get it straightened out. The fruit itself was refreshing, if a bit too seedy.
So, I bought more the next day, near Bab Agnaou. This time, I got two for five dirham – the price had halved.
The following night, Briony and I ate in Jemaa al Fna at stall 65 (our favourite), then got a taxi back to Bab Tagzhout where, on Briony’s advice, I followed my dinner with a sandwich of lamb brochettes from a tiny café nearby.
The sandwich was magnificent, and on our way back to our riad, I decided to end the evening with a prickly pear from the cart directly underneath Bab Tagzhout. The vendor told me the price: two prickly pears for five dirham, as I understood it.
‘I’ll take one pear for 3 dirham’, I told him, and gave him the three coins. He nodded, took the coins, and gave me a clear plastic bag. This struck me as unusually fastidious for a prickly-pear vendor, but I held it open for him.
He took a pear, sliced off each end, slit the peel lengthwise, and presented me with the fleshy interior of the fruit. As soon as I took it, he’d lopped off the ends of another one, and, even as I repeated firmly that we’d only wanted one, presented it to Briony.
She thanked him and took it, and instantly he had a third in his hand. ‘Look, I’m not paying you any more,’ I told him, ‘I only asked for one.’ But he continued, this time dropping the peeled fruit into my bag.
Again, he started cutting open another one. ‘NO!’ I shouted, waving my arms wildly in the universal ‘cease and desist’ sign. But once he’d peeled it, there was no obvious option other than to let him drop it into my bag. And as soon as he did, he started peeling another. It was time for decisive action.
‘Right,’ I said, ‘that’s enough, we’re leaving,’ and Briony and I strode off, leaving him with his half-cut prickly pear.
When we were about halfway home, I had a moment of realisation: the vendor hadn’t told me his price was five dirham for two prickly pears, he’d told me it was five prickly pears for one dirham.
I’d bought fifteen prickly pears from him, then protested vehemently as he peeled every single one. He sensibly (and graciously) chose to ignore me, and do his best to give me what I’d paid for.
He (and everyone else in the vicinity) must have thought I was completely insane.