Tasting on Marrakesh
Marrakesh, the fourth largest city in Morocco, has a plethora of options when it comes to local cuisine. A word of caution: don’t get the “fresh” orange juice from Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. The fierce competition has forced prices down to rock bottom (4 dirhams), which also means the vendors are coming up with clever ways to reduce their costs (e.g., using powders or concentrates). Instead, go to a restaurant or juice bar: yes, you’ll pay at least 15 Dh, but at least you’ll be getting a higher quality product.
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
All profits that Henna Café earns goes back to help local Moroccan people in need. They not only serve a nice variety of teas and Moroccan dishes, but they also offer henna tattoos. They have several art books you can flip through to choose a design with a corresponding price listed clearly, or you can show them a design of your choice from Instagram or other source.
I have commitment issues and couldn’t even decide on a temporary henna tattoo design, so I tried the wild thyme tea (15 Dh) instead. It tasted outside of the ordinary realm of tea, but I wouldn’t order it again since it wasn’t my favorite flavor. Two turtles zoomed around their rooftop seating area while I sipped on my tea.
Desserts & ice cream
La Patisserie des Princes
Most of what this bakery carries is sweet, but I spotted slices of chicken and beef pizzas (7 Dh for either kind). I snagged one to reheat back at my riad for lunch. It tasted all right. Along with that, I bought one corne de gazelle (200 Dh/kg, 7 Dh for the one I got). It’s a crescent-shaped pastry stuffed with almond paste flavored with orange flower water and cinnamon. What a delicate flavor! The staff was a bit impatient with my questions, but they spoke English well.
I had a few dirhams burning a hole in my pocket before I left Morocco, so I spent them all at the airport bakery in the departures area before passport control. They have a nice variety of sweets, and their prices are definitely higher than the ones at the bakeries in town: I paid 60 Dh for six pieces. My selection included a corne de gazelle, pistachio and almond, date stuffed with almond, fried almond and honey, lemon peel, and fried almond with cinnamon. I felt a sugar high after devouring them all.
Grocery stores & farmer’s markets
It was weird walking into a Carrefour in Marrakesh: it simultaneously felt familiar yet different. I found some regional products, such as a crème brûlée popsicle (16 Dh), Hawai tropical soda (6 Dh: passion fruit, mango, and coconut flavored), and an avocado and almond flavored yogurt drink (5 Dh). The popsicle and yogurt drink were enjoyable, but the soda was too sweet for me to drink the entire bottle.
Off one of the side streets that branches out of Jemaa el-Fnaa, you’ll find yourself faced with several olive vendors with their little gems piled in pyramids. There’s also one herb vendor who sells all kinds of fresh herbs to make tea with. I loved this little corner of the sprawl of souks since it was a break from the rugs and clothes that many are hawking.
Riad Dar Radya
I had the pleasure to stay at this riad for a total of five nights. It was my little home base during my trip to Morocco. Breakfast is included in the nightly rate, and the staff puts together something slightly different each day. Though they start serving breakfast at 07:00, I discovered that it’s actually better to wait till at least 08:30 so that they have time to run out to buy some eggs and baguettes. Otherwise, it’s almost exclusively carbs.
Café des Épices
This café was the closest option relative to my riad when I returned to Marrakesh in the evening after my Sahara Desert tour. I didn’t feel like straying too far since it was dark and I was alone. I got the sardine sandwich (45 Dh) to go. I already ate half of it by the time I took this picture, but it was quite satisfying after a long day on a minibus.
Kristi, a lovely woman whom I met through Couchsurfing while in Czech Republic, highly recommended Snack Amir: she went three times during her recent stay in Marrakesh. I could see why after I ate lunch there! They have a couple of floors where you can sit, but I recommend the roof. I ordered the fresh avocado juice (20 Dh) and the lamb tagine with apricots (50 Dh) from the French menu. The waitress brought out complimentary bread and olives, which were delicious. It was my definitely favorite meal in Marrakesh!
Marrakesh Food Tours
Months before my arrival, I booked a spot on an evening tour offered by Marrakesh Food Tours for US$65. On the evening of my scheduled tour, I reached the post office facing Jemaa el-Fnaa five minutes prior to the departure time, but even after searching for 20 minutes, I didn’t see anyone who appeared to be a tour guide or the rest of my group. I was upset as I walked back to my riad hungry.
Thankfully, after I complained to them via email, they allowed me to go on a tour the next evening, which was my last night in Morocco. I even sent my picture to them so that the guide would know what I look like. Mohamed, our guide, was such a nice guy. I joined a group of seven friends who had come to Marrakesh for a group vacation.
One of them (Shoni) was celebrating her 37th birthday! But as we were walking to the opposite side of the square, she and another friend lagged behind, and a snake charmer threw a snake around her neck. He demanded that her friend take a photo of her and give him money before he would relieve her of the snake. The friend didn’t take a photo, which was smart. As she was digging through her wallet for a 20-Dh bill, he spotted a 200 Dh-bill and asked for that one. What a jerk! When the two friends caught up with the rest of us, they recounted the story to Mohamed. He had us turn back so that he could get Shoni’s money back. There was definitely a hostile tone going on as he was doing so, but he was successful. Thank goodness!
Back on track, we went to a little shop that roasts whole lambs in the ground and also lamb pieces in clay jars (called tangia). The whole lambs are unseasoned, and 15-16 of them go in the ground for 2-3 hours and are sold at 200 Dh per kg. For serving, they are chopped up, and you season it with cumin salt to your liking. The lamb in tangia are seasoned with cumin, salt, pepper, and lemon confit before cooking. We ate with our hands and used the fluffy bread to scoop up the lamb. Most everyone was adventurous enough to try the lamb head, too.
Our next stop involved savory m’semn (crepes), which are made of unleavened dough and rolled in a mixture of paprika, onions, and clarified butter before frying. They tasted great fresh off the stove.
After that, we had sardine kefta sandwiches. The kefta was made so densely that it really tasted like a burger patty. If you didn’t know any better, you might be tricked into thinking you were eating beef!
Freshly fried donuts followed up the sandwiches. They are not sweetened, so you can dip them in honey or powdered sugar. The staff tie a little bamboo string around each so that you can carry them away easily.
In the second-hand market, a little couscous shop is tucked away. They hand-roll the couscous and steam it with all kinds of vegetables. Before the couscous, they gave us a small helping of eggplant salad, and after the couscous, we got huge bowls of black and green grapes. I felt bad that we couldn’t eat more because we had been eating so much before this stop. You could tell that the women who made the food poured their soul into it.
Finally, we ended at a juice shop with sweets. The menu on the wall was a list of different juices, but we could order any combination of them that we liked. I asked for avocado with fig and almond, which coincidentally was the same thing that Mohamed ordered. I must have developed a sense for what locals like. I only had one cookie, which had crushed peanuts on it. I regret not having a bag to shove the rest of them in for later.