Morocco: An Eater’s Guide to… Marrakech

You’ve landed in Marrakech and after your first night of struggling to keep up with its frenetic pace and being overawed by the madness that is the Djemaa El Fna, you’ve woken up refreshed and ready to explore its world renowned food scene and specialties.


Breakfast:

Skip the expensive breakfast that your riad or hostel might provide and head across to the far Northern edge of the Djemaa to the plain looking restaurant without a name and a big bulbous, bubbling ceramic pot of Bessara (fava bean soup) out the front.  A bowl of soup with a plain and onion Mssemen and a pot of mint tea will set you back just 20 dirham (US$2.50).

You may still need a coffee and it’s time to start exploring the souks before they get too chocked up with tourists anyway.  Find the main undercover artery of the souk (Souk Semmarine) and about 20-30 metres in you’ll spy an inconspicuous little pastry shop where you’ll want to order yourself either a cafe noir or a nous-nous (Arabic for half-half, half coffee-half milk).  You will be hard pressed to find a better coffee in all of Marrakech.

The previous night you would’ve seen the guys wheeling around carts of small pastries.  You’ll be glad that you didn’t fall for that tourist trap because another 50 metres on from your coffee stop you’ll find Patisserie Belkabir.  You’ll pick his stall as it will be the one with all the bees buzzing around its spread.  A 100dh ($12.30) box is probably a bit steep so just ask for a half box.  Although you wouldn’t regret getting a full box.

Lunch:

Lunchtime in Marrakech calls for something special.  After a couple of hours of exploring the souks make your way back to Mechoui Alley.  You’ll know that you’re in the right place once you see the sheep heads sitting atop clay pots of various sizes.  At around 11AM the stalls begin to take the full lambs out of the vertical ovens found in the ground in each of their shops.  They then proceed to carve of its most prized cuts – the Mechoui – for those that get there early enough.  Half a kilogram of lamb with bread and tea will set you back about 70-80dh ($8.60-9.80).

Squeeze in with the locals in the back of your chosen stall, dust your Mechoui with cumin salt (which you will grow to love) and dive in, with your hands of course.  Not only will the succulence and roastiness of the lamb have you hooked, there is a primal pleasure associated with eating with your hands.  This isn’t just a meal, this is an experience.

Your cheaper, although not quite as interesting, alternative is picking up some olives from Stall 14 in the olive souk that runs parallel to Mechoui Alley, some bread from pretty much anywhere and a juice from the lovely man at Juice Stall 14 for a bit of a sugar hit.

Dinner:

The earlier you had lunch the better because you need to give your stomach a break before the onslaught at, you guessed it, the Djemaa.  Allow yourself to adjust to its pace and people watch for a while by grabbing a spiced tea from one of the tea stalls that line the front of the food stalls.  The tea from stalls 70 and 71 are your best bet.  You might even get upgraded to ‘Super Tea’ if you’re lucky.

After tea entree is either Harira (the Moroccan staple soup) with Shebakia (flower shaped cookies drenched in honey) from Stall 123 or a bowl of snails in an earthy broth that’s spiced to the max with star anise from Stall 3.

With the main course comes a decision as to how adventurous you’re feeling.  Stall 13 does a mean lamb Tanjia (lamb that’s slow cooked in a clay pot with preserved lemon and in its own juices), which is a speciality of Marrakech and will have you considering going nowhere else for dinner for your remaining nights in Marrakech.  You can also return to Mechoui Alley for a less juicey but no less tasty Tanjia.

Or if you’re up for the challenge, push your way though the touts to make it to Stall 44.  Sitting yourself down here may result in a couple of sideways glances from the locals but don’t let that deter you.  What you’ll find here are various stomach testing but thoroughly tasty bits and pieces of lamb and beef.  The lamb’s brains, beef tongue and mixte plate are all good starting points.  Just make sure that you get some bread and maybe a tea to help wash things down.  I promise you that your bravery will be rewarded by both the flavours and textures of what you’ll consume and the respect gained from your new Moroccan friends.

Your night should end back where it started, at a tea stall.  Savour what you’ve just eaten and take in the madness that will continue to unfold around you.  If you require a bit more sugar, agree to the tea server’s offer of cake (be warned this is some seriously spicy cake) or pick up a few of the interesting macaron/macaroon hybrid biscuit things from one of the ladies along Rue Beni Marine.

Bessara and Mssemen:
  • Northern corner of Djemaa el Fna (opposite the plant stalls)
  • Opens at breakfast time
  • 20dh ($2.50) for one soup, two Mssemen and a pot of tea
 
Coffee Stop:
  • 20 metres along Souk Semmarine on your left
  • Open all day
  • 7dh ($0.90) per coffee
 
Patisserie Belkabir:
  • 50 metres further along Souk Semmarine
  • Open all day
  • 50dh ($6.10) for half a box
 
Mechoui Alley:
  • The souk adjacent to Cafe de Paris
  • 70-80dh ($8.60-9.80) for half a kilogram of lamb with bread and tea
  • From 11am for Mechoui and from mid afternoon for Tanjia
 
Olive Stall 14:
  • Souk parallel to Mechoui Alley
  • Open ’til late
  • 5dh ($0.60) per 250 grams
 
Juice Stall 14:
  • Djemaa el Fna
  • Early ’til late
  • 4dh ($0.40) per orange juice
 
Spiced Tea Stalls:
  • Djemaa el Fna
  • From around 4pm
  • 5dh ($0.60) per tea
 
Stall 123 – Harira:
  • Djemaa el Fna
  • From around 5pm
  • 3dh ($0.35) per bowl of Harira and 3dh ($0.35) per serving of Shebakia
 
Stall 3 – Snails:
  • Djemaa el Fna
  • From around 5pm
  • 10dh ($1.20) per bowl
 
Stall 13 – Tanjia:
  • Djemaa el Fna
  • From around 5pm
  • 25dh ($3.10) per Tanjia serving
 
Stall 44 – Meaty Bits:
  • Djemaa el Fna
  • From around 5pm
  • 20dh ($2.50) for brains, 25dh ($3.10) tongue and 20dh ($2.50) for a mixte plate
 
Macaron/Macaroon Ladies:
  • The Djemaa end of Rue Beni Marine
  • From around 4pm
  • 1dh ($0.10) per biscuit

 

Please note that the opening times and prices quoted above are, as anything in Morocco, quite elastic.

April 18, 2014