While I was in Spain, I took a side trip to Tangier. I have always been a little bit curious about Morocco and, since the company that runs the ferry between Tarifa – a really great surfing town in Spain – and Tangier charges the same for a round trip ticket that they do for a round trip ticket plus six hour tour package deal, I decided to go for it. I knew that the tour would be touristy, but I wasn’t really prepared to walk around Tangier without any guidance.
The tour took us through the richer areas of the city and the more traditional souks. We saw everything from shops packed with raw chickens to shops full of handmade slippers. We ate some not-too-impressive food at a “traditional” Moroccan tourist restaurant. We got a hard sale on handmade Persian rugs. The best part, however, was not haggling with street vendors over the price of knock-off Rolex watches or rusty souvenir daggers. The best part was going to the “traditional” pharmacy, where our little tour group was given a hands on demonstration of all kinds of traditional herbal remedies.
The guys at this place really had their routine down pat: introduce a product and how great it is, demonstrate it on the audience, then stuff a few packages into their shopping bags and hope they agree to pay for it. They were funny and entertaining enough that you almost forgot the fact that you were being heavily pressured to buy ginseng, ginger, curry powder, orange oil and ginko biloba. When they got to the saffron, my ears perked up. Could I get a good deal on saffron in Morocco, a country that does commercial production of the sought after spice? I bought a small package from the shop after they showcased the bright yellow color that their top-quality saffron would produce. Of course, they swore up and down that it was a great price – an added bonus!
Since I wasn’t cooking on my trip, I didn’t notice that anything was amiss until I got home and wanted to make my Saffron and Olive Oil Cake. I opened the package and thought that the saffron looked a little thick. I put a little water on one thread and absolutely nothing happened. I put several threads on a paper towel, wet them and waited. Still nothing happened! I rubbed the orange threads into the paper towel and was finally able to coax some of the bright orange dye, as well as a hint of yellow, off of the tiny sticks masquerading as saffron. I pulled a bottle of real saffron out of the cupboard, put some on a paper towel and dripped a bit of water on it. The bright yellow color appeared easily and clearly – no red in sight and no need to grind the saffron around on the towel.
I felt both amazed and irritated that I had fallen for it, but why would I have thought to check my saffron so thoroughly when I had just seen a demonstration? The answer was in the hard-sale performance that everyone I encountered on the tour put on. It’s a silly story to look back on now (especially since I had some real saffron in my pantry so the cake was not ruined), but it’s a scam that I’m sure they get away with all the time! If I ever went back, I would be sure to find that shop just so I could call them on it, but as it stands, I’m simply going to preserve my box of fake saffron for a while for story-telling value.