Well I’ve finally reached the last post on our time spent in Marrakech, and have saved the best till last: Food!
Eating out in Marrakech completely surpassed my expectations. As you might expect, it’s based very much around tagine, couscous and mixed grills. What’s written on the menus may not vary greatly from place to place, but you’ll get a very different experience of the dish each time – in taste, style or size. Alcohol isn’t consumed socially in the same capacity as in Europe, and instead cafés are open all night happy to serve fresh juices, mint teas and delicious coffees. The best discovery for both of us was the pastilla: filo pastry-like rounds stuffed with shredded chicken (or even, more deliciously, pigeon!), ground nuts and cinnamon; then dusted in icing sugar and more cinnamon. We ate a huge number of these throughout the week, varying in quality and taste but always good, and I’m determined to try to make my own pigeon pastilla when I’m next at home.
The restaurants in the main square Jemaa el Fna aren’t too pricey despite being in a prime tourist location, and pretty much everything that we ate and drank there went down very well. You’ll need to visit them when you’re out and about anyhow, to use the facilities (tip: carry small packets of tissues on your person); so you might as well take advantage of the many roof terraces that they have to offer. We ate quite a few times on the terrace at Chez Chegrouni (where the above photo was taken) as the prices were reasonable and the portions generous; you also get a nice view over the rooftops of the souks.
The second place where we spent a lot of time eating was at the night market. Upon dusk, the tourist-trappers on the Jemaa el Fna move round to the edges and make room for the food stalls to set up. It’s fun to wander around here and stare at what everyone is eating, tourists mixed in with the locals: mixed grills, sheep brain, boiled eggs, snails or soup; the food stalls tend to specialise in a particular dish. You’ll find yourself followed by heckling waiters all trying to earn their commission by bringing you to their table; but don’t listen to them when they entreat you to stop walking around apparently aimlessly staring. Though many stalls seem to be serving the same things, in fact they vary quite largely in terms of the quality of service and food that you get.
I highly recommend Stall #1, Chez Aicha; in particular a very friendly waiter called Hassan. Here, the food was good; the service swift and waiters friendly. They didn’t try to rip you off by overcharging or bringing you food you didn’t order…nor did we suffer from the mild food poisoning we endured on our last night when we foolishly ate at a different stall!
Chez Aicha is easy to find as they are the first stall, and you find them on the outer corner of the food market opposite orange juice stall #46.
One night we decided to walk round several stalls and try different foods on offer. This included snails, which were very popular with the locals. It was my first time trying them and I got ridiculously squeamish. They were tasty, meatier that I’d have expected, even if I did have to eat them with my eyes closed!
We also tried the Moroccan soup, served with dates or incredibly sweet ‘gateaux’, crispy fried things absolutely drenched in sugar syrup.
My favourite discoveries from the night market were the delicious, smoky grilled aubergines; spicy merguez sausages; and a refreshing tomato salad.
Other recommendations are the orange juice stalls. You can buy a big glass of fresh orange juice for as little as 4 dirhams (about 35p), or fresh lemon juice for a little more (though stir some sugar in as it’s as sour as it is refreshing!).
We also ate and drank frequently at the tiny roadside cafés, as frequently filled with locals as with tourists, such as on the square near the Badi and Bahia Palaces, La Place des Ferblantiers. Here we ate an absolutely delicious chicken tagine with tomato salad and coffee, which was really cheap. Food is always served with those flat rounds of bread you’ll see everywhere in Marrakech; and I believe that they are baked without preservatives. The bread was often slightly stale if we ate very late at night, which made it harder and denser to chew; but when it was fresh it was soft, delicious and melted in the mouth upon soaking up the gravy in a tagine.
Finally, we only ate in a more formal restaurant once. This is because it was late, we were tired out upon our arrival into the country, and the restaurant was round the corner from the hotel we stayed at. This was the restaurant Al Fassia, and we both highly recommend it. It’s quite a lot pricer than the café-restaurants you’ll find in the Old Town, but affordably so: two courses and a glass of wine each came to the equivalent of £50, and the portions were much larger than on the square, for instance. Run by a women’s co-operative, it’s extremely popular and I’d recommend booking, though we managed to grab a just-vacated table, walking in around 9pm. No photos due to the mood lighting and me being knackered, but take my word for it…if you’re staying in or near Guéliz, it’s worth a visit.