“The Medina has loads of food stalls. My favorites are Fish and Chips #14 and Orange Juice #13. These two places aren’t next to each other. There is always a queue at the fish and chips place, which is a tip-off that they use fresh fish. They also serve a special eggplant paste with the fish and chips.”-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj
This appeared in the August/September 2014 issue.
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Djemaa El-Fna, an epic culinary bazaar
As the sun lowers in the sky, hundreds of cooks start barbecuing up a storm in the Djemaa El-Fna.
Grab a seat at a stall and enjoy dining while surrounded by drummers, snake charmers, storytellers, astrologers, henna artists and monkeys.
There is no shortage of drama at Djemaa.
The souks of Marrakesch are chaotic but AMAZING.
You can buy everything from leather bags and woollen shawls to glassware and sheesha pipes here. There are gypsies, snake-charmers, folk-singers, and magicians. There are tanneries on pavements and vegetable vendors selling their wares on chariots. You will be offered goat's head and aubergines in the same breath at local cafes. This can makes them a tad overwhelming but doesn't stop them from being the perfect amalgam of colour, energy, and vibrance.
We suggest absorbing the chaos before plunging headlong into the souks. Walk to the Djemaa El Fnaa (Central Square) and take your time to understand the Moroccan rhythm of life. Once you have acquainted yourself with local rituals, explore the souks at leisure.
If you need a break from the inevitable onset of sensory overload while visiting Djemaa el Fna (the square) in Marrakesh, there is nothing like a hot glass of the traditional sweet minty concoction (mint tea) to settle you down and give you a boost of energy so you can continue to explore the exciting sites, smells and tastes the square has to offer. Available at any of the outdoor teashops all over the square.
No matter what time of the day, sitting in a cafe on the edge of Jamaa el Fna, the central square in the old city of Marrakesh, is entertaining and inspirational. In the early morning its quieter, and dominated by orange juice vendors and people going about the start of the day. At night it is a seething mass of people, snakes (with charmers of course) and scented smoke as the square becomes packed with spectacularly exotic culinary cooks. You can enjoy a whole day, and night, just sitting and sipping a fresh mint tea.
Marrakesh’s most idiosyncratic form of transport is the bright green caleche, or horse-drawn carriage. Rent them for an hour or just them as a rather sedate way to get from A to B (but make sure to confirm the price before the horses start trotting you away). The best place to pick them up is south of the Djemaa el Fna near the Koutobia Mosque. Climb aboard for your own private tour of the city, skirting the edge of the medina and out as far as the gardens that dot the city. Some people might find them a bit cheesy, but it beats taxi hands down as a lovely way to experience the city.
Watch the world go by from the perfect street café
Moroccans have perfected the art of whiling away the hours at a street café – it’s a rare establishment that doesn’t have all its chairs facing forward to allow patrons to watch the world go by. Mint tea (often dubbed ‘Berber whiskey’) is the first drink of choice, poured three times over from a silver pot and sweet enough to melt teeth. Local tastes usually prefer coffee to be taken black and bitter, or nus-nus ('half and half' with steamed milk) but is sometimes available flavored with ginger and cardamom. For a Vitamin C, take some freshly-squeezed orange juice – trees line the streets in Marrakesh, and the juice is hard to beat as a thirst-quencher. Café de Paris and Café du Grand Balcon on the Djemaa el Fna are classic people-watching spots.
At sunset every day in Marrakesh, dozens of temporary food stands pop up in the Djemaa el Fna, and join in the street theatre by turning their calls for customers into a performance of their own. Everything is served up from grilled eggplant and spicy sausages to tiny fried fish and snails cooked in broth. Hole-in-the-all establishments tends to specialise in one dish alone, such as the garlicky bean soup bsara served with cumin, paprika and a glug of olive oil, or the classic Marrakashi dish tanjia – jugged meat and spices that melt off the bone, slow-cooked in the fires that heat the water for the local hammams.
Exploring old Marrakesh is great, but the bustle of the medina can sometimes be exhausting. The perfect way to recharge at the end of the day is to watch the sun go down from the roof terrace of a riad. The city turns a rich pink in the fading light, flocks of pigeons wheel in the sky, and the air is filled with the echoes of the call to prayer – later to be replaced by the distant buzz of the Djemma el Fna. Open a chilled bottle of wine, and enjoy the calm of enjoying the spectacle from your own reserved seats – and think about what tomorrow’s explorations will bring.