Tasting on Essaouira
Almost a straight shot west from Marrakesh, Essaouira is an ocean-side city that is a key port of Morocco. As you might expect, there’s tons of seafood available here. The medina is also a smaller, more approachable, and laid back version of the one in Marrakesh. Here’s what I tried around this town.
The currency in Morocco is the dirham (Dh), and at the time of writing, the exchange rate was a bit less than 10 dirhams to US$1. All businesses are listed from most budget-friendly to least within each category.
- Coffee & drinks
- Desserts & ice cream
- Grocery stores & farmer’s markets
Coffee & drinks
Café next to Ensemble Artisanal
Without an connection, I had a hard time meeting up with my Couchsurfing host. The Supratours stop doesn’t have any wifi, so after waiting for an hour, I ventured into the medina to look for a place with wifi. Just inside Bab Marrakech, I came upon a little café next to Ensemble Artisanal. They didn’t have any food, but I got some tea for 7 Dh. You can add fresh mint leaves and sugar cubes to taste. The nice staff spoke enough English to communicate with me.
This café is a good place to people-watch. Locals say that if you want to see someone, just hang out in Moulay Hassan Plaza for a few of hours, and you’ll see that person eventually come through. I have no idea how much the mint tea was since my CS host asked to “borrow” 50 Dh to pay for it, his cigarettes, and groceries later. There’s a cute shop dog that likes to chase after a thrown coin.
Desserts & ice cream
This bakery has been around since 1928. They offer many different kinds of pastries (5 Dh each), but nothing is labeled. Point to different things, and try them! They also serve prepared foods for breakfast and lunch. The chocolate-cream thing was too sweet for me, but the flaky one with a nutty stuffing was quite delicious. The seating area is actually quite large, so you can enjoy your sweets in this old building.
Grocery stores & farmer’s markets
Port de Pêche d’Essaouira
My CS host picked up a whole small shark and had it cleaned right on the port. Many fishermen sell fresh fish all along the port. Locals in the know buy fish at night until 01:00 to get the freshest specimens. We also grabbed some ingredients from the souks to make a shark tagine. Dessert was pomegranate seeds mixed with yogurt.
Souks along Avenue de l’Istiqlal
Many shops line both sides of the street, most of which sell produce, but some butcher shops and household supply stores are available, too. On my second night, we got ingredients to make a kefta tagine using ground beef. I’d love to make this at home somehow!
Coopérative Marjana d’Huile d’Argan
On the minibus from Marrakesh to Essaouira, we stopped at this women’s coop and were given a guided tour that showed us how argan nuts are processed for culinary and cosmetic purposes. At the end in the shop, they had some argan oils and honey to sample. The products were expensive, so I opted not to purchase anything despite the fact that my tour guide was pushy and tried her best to convince me to decide otherwise.
Unnamed restaurant before Africa Shop
A tiny hole-in-the-wall down an alley that you can find by looking for the sign that reads, “Africa Shop,” this restaurant has no menu or English speaking staff. The first thing you see in the doorway is the kitchen. Only after the manager came by did I have a fighting chance to order anything since the staff answered “no” to every question I asked (e.g., “Is the restaurant open for lunch?”).
He didn’t speak English either, but he welcomed me into the kitchen and asked the cook to open up all the pots and show me what was inside. I pointed at the pot of lentils (12 Dh) and then sat down at one of the few small tables just outside the door. It was delicious with the fluffy bread and cup of tea, all complimentary. The manager even refilled my lentils for free, and I polished them off on a full stomach.
A Spanish couple who seemed to be familiar with the ordering process I went through arrived after me, and I wondered how they found this place initially. Look for this place: it’s worth the trouble!
One thing I wanted to try before leaving Essaouira was the seafood pastilla. I arrived at Dar Mounia too early for their lunch menu, which is available starting at 09:30. After wandering around the medina for a while, I returned to order their seafood pastilla (55 Dh). It tasted like it was made with fresh ingredients, but the bottom got soggy quickly. Maybe they should serve it on a rack to prevent that from happening. The staff speak English, but there’s no wifi.