Photo courtesy of Moroccan National Tourist Office / www.visitmorocco.com
A Feast for the Senses on the Djemaa el Fna
Described by writer Tahir Shah as the “greatest show on Earth,” no visit to Marrakech would be complete without a visit to the famous night market on the Djemaa el Fna. Arrive before sunset and park yourself at one of the various cafés with terraces overlooking the square to watch performers set up; then venture into the fray in search of adventure. Silk-clad acrobats, wide-eyed storytellers, sly snake charmers, jangling belly dancers, and capricious monkey handlers all emerge from the darkness, ringing the edge of the food stalls with their own special brand of entertainment. When you tire of the heckling, prowl the market in search of good things to eat: bite-size morsels of grilled lamb rubbed in cumin, sardines fried in chermoula, peppery snails, and sheep’s heads for the brave. Then nudge up alongside a family of locals at the table and settle in for the feast. If you’re nervous about going it alone, you can sign up for a food tour with Canadian tour guide and all-round good egg Mandy Sinclair of Tasting Marrakech; she'll help you find the best stalls while introducing you to the secrets and delights of traditional Moroccan street food.
By Tara Stevens, AFAR Local Expert
Djemma el-Fna, Marrakech, Morocco
All the labyrinthine streets of the medina lead to Djemaa el Fna. Before sunset, sit on a terrace, sip hot mint tea, and take in the panoramic view of the teeming central square. As the sun lowers in the sky, the ancient mud walls turn pink to orange and smoke wafts as hundreds of cooks start barbecuing. The food stalls are organized in rows; the local fare is sumptuous; and the prices are fixed, which is a nice break after haggling in the souks or square for everything from henna to a photo with a monkey or snake charmer. Seating is picnic table-style so don't be shy, grab a seat and talk with your neighbor. It's a great chance to meet fellow travelers and locals alike. After a feast of tagine, cous cous and olives, wash it down with fresh orange juice. Wander the square and be entranced by fire jugglers, musicians, dancers, fortune-tellers and storytellers. As you walk back to your riad through the medina, listen for the evening call to prayer rising from the Koutoubia Mosque. Marrakech is one of the most magical cities in the world.
By Jack Barr, AFAR Local Expert
A Meal and a Show
Shish Kebab made to order in the Djemaa El-Fna food stalls in central Marrakesh. Eating here is not only extremely affordable, but it's a meal with a show as well. You get to sit side by side with the locals and Moroccan tourists, eat freshly made local delicacies and watch the enjoyable chaos of the old city unravel in front of you.
By Morgan Paar
Djemma El-Fna by Night
Place Djemma El-Fna, the pulse of any visit to Marrakech, is a vibrant square by day with souvenir vendors, orange juice and dried fruit stalls, and myriad performers as well as a perfect base for getting lost in (I mean, exploring) the medina. As dusk falls, however, this crowd gives way to rows upon rows of food and mint tea stalls, like the above, ready to fix something up for locals and visitors alike. It's an exciting time in the square, which hopefully you'll have time to visit by sun and moonlight!
Souk Du Jour
While wandering the souks in the Medina of Marrakech, my boyfriend and I stumbled upon a small square of food stalls. The smell of cinnamon, lamb and grilled vegetables was too enticing to pass up, and we decided share a tajine. We were the only foreigners in the square and felt a little hesitant to order, but it turned out to be the best meal of our stay. The tender lamb was cooked perfectly and they gave us the most delicious sweet round of bread. Paired with a small glass of mint tea, it was a meal I will never forget! Lesson learned: eat with the locals.
Night food stalls at Djemaa el-Fna - Marrakesh, Morocco
Spending any time at Djemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh will blow your mind. It's a constant assault on the senses in ways that are both good and bad, mostly good. I loved it. It's insane, madness, loud and unlike anything else you've ever seen. At night it turns into another world and hundreds of vendors set up their food stalls. You can get just about anything here and it is all fantastic.
By Bethany Salvon & Randy Kalp, AFAR Ambassador
Moroccan Street Bites
In the center of Marrakesh, in the medina (old city), a transformation occurs right around sunset each night: juice vendors, henna tattoo artists and snake charmers move out of the central market place known as Djamaa-el-Fna, to make way for over 100 food stalls. This is where you get your inexpensive local's dinner while rubbing elbows with Moroccan folk. There is the food that you would expect, such as roasted lamb kebabs made with distinctive Moroccan spices and sauces. For the adventurous, try steaming snail soup, sheep's brain and skewered hearts or sheep’s testicles. Whatever you choose, you're sure to have a meaningful 'locals' experience.
By Van Nguyen
A Midnight Snack
Djemaa El Fna is one of Morocco's most famous spots, mostly for it's exciting night life and noisy food carts that come alive just after dark. Boiled snails in broth are a favorite among Moroccans in many cities, and although they may seem off putting at first, there is nothing more rewarding that fishing a good, fat snail out of it's shell with nothing but a toothpick and your wits to guide you. The trick with these little guys is to be patient and gentle with your toothpick, and if you have a weak stomach, don't look too hard. Choose wisely: there are many snail carts lining he outer rim of Fna's labyrinth of food carts, and each may seem more appetizing than the next. Your best bet is to follow your nose and let the vendors do the rest. Remember to drink the broth at the end, it is arguably the best part!
By Elèna Ruyter
A Maze of Souks
The Jemma Al Fna in Marrakesh, a UNESCO World Heritage site, will set your senses on fire. Explore deeper and get lost in the miles of souks that like splinter off like octopus tentacles. There's a different souk for everything - food, spices, carpets, scarves, ironwork, yarn, turtles, iguanas, lanterns, bracelets, tea sets, leather. It's candy for cameras. And as much as you may not need leather Moroccan slippers, you find you go home with a pair or three because they're so colorful and everywhere you turn. Or maybe it's just because they're called babouches.
By Kristin Rust, AFAR Local Expert
Marrakesh’s Public Squares
Simply put, the Djemaa el Fna is at the heart of everything in Marrakesh. This large public square is many things—a meeting place, entertainment venue, and dining spot all rolled into one. Fringed by orange juice sellers and traditional herbalists, it springs most fully to life in the evening, when dozens of food stands strike up their pans and grills, and the cooking smells and smoke mix with bright lanterns and the songs and drums of the roving entertainers, plus the chatter of Moroccan families out for the spectacle. While smaller squares and souks exist to the north, nothing compares to the grand entertainment of the Djemaa el Fna.
Moroccan Food Stalls on Djemaa el Fna
“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
By Gisela Williams, AFAR Contributor
Renergize with Te al la menthe
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.
Markets - Marrakesh Mint
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.
By Mark Fewell
Eat With Your Hands
Having experienced a 24 hour bus ride from Spain to Fez and a 9 hour train to Marrakech, we finally arrived at what some people describe as the best market in the world: Jemaa el-Fna. We did a quick lap to scope out the best stands and proceeded to stand obnoxiously close behind some people seated at a very very crowded fried fish stand. After the couple in front of us finally stood up, I slithered my body into the seats as my brother boxed-out the rest of the intrusive crowd. We finally had our seats and a gray-ish piece of thin paper was laid down as our placemat, which soon became our plate and napkin as well. Squeezed closely up against a friendly stranger and my 6'3", 200lb brother, I quickly devoured my piece of fresh fried fish, french fries, fried squid, and spicy sauce, all washed down by a coca-cola in a glass bottle. Our hands were covered in oil, the placemat had become see-through and my brother looked at me as we paid our bill and said, "tomorrow for lunch?" I nodded as we were thinking the exact same thing.
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.
By Jack Barr, AFAR Local Expert
Moroccan Snake Charmers
The main souk or market in Marrakech is Jemaa al Fnaa. There are no shortage of superlatives to be seen, heard, smelled, tasted and felt here. Scientists say snakes are able to sense sound but they lack the outer ear that would enable them to hear music. Either way, it was the first time I saw a snake charmer outside of the Bugs Bunny cartoon so I was captivated.
By Morgan Paar
Regardless of how much you read, stories you hear or pictures you see, Place Jemaa el Fna must be experienced first hand to really understand what it is about. The musicians, the snake charmers, the fresh orange juice and the stalls of super fresh food at night (all of them are great, just pick one where there is a lot of people). Try a Merguez sandwich and ask for spicy sauce. Superb! It takes more than a few visits to take it all in. It is preferable to stay at Riad in la Medina to be able to visit Jemaa el Fna often.
Exploring the souks (local markets) in Marrakesh
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.
By Savi and Vid, AFAR Local Expert
Explore by horse-drawn carriage
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.
Street food in Marrakesh
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.
Sunset over Marrakesh medina
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.
Walking thru the souks at night
Jemaa El Fna is like a living, breathing creature. And for the uninitiated, a first visit to the main square can be a disorienting experience. But thankfully we received a helpful tip from the manager of our riad. He told us to view the square like a stage and the entire thing as theater. Each character had an act to sell, from the snake charmers to the women who offer to paint your hands with henna. Viewed from this perspective, you won't really get annoyed by the hustle. Instead you might walk away with a new friend. Although if you're truly not interested just give a firm no and walk away after a brief chat. Getting lost in the labyrinth of alleys of an old foreign town was always something I've loved. The maze of souks in the medina takes this experience to an entirely different level. Leather, metal work, terra cotta pots, spices.. Walking thru the souks is a wonderful assault to the senses. Haggle on the price before you buy anything!
By Ryna Dery
Sample the best of Jemaa el Fna
With Tasting Marrakech, guests sample the best of Jemaa el Fna while enjoying the cultural performance between stops at the food stalls. Each tour is private so expect your tour to be customized to your interests!
Sidi Bouloukat Djemaa el fna 53 Sidi Bouloukate، Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Sun - Sat 12am - 11pm