Eating out in Marrakesh is, to use that overworked term, an experience. Without exaggeration it is an enriching, fulfilling and a gastronomic one. Marrakesh is a bustling, energetic and colourful living thing at any time of day. Textiles, mosaic tiles, heaped spices and other goods in the souks in the massive-walled Medina or the stalls around Jamâa el Fna make it a riot of colour.
However, it takes the evening and night to really bring out Marrakesh’s personality. As the sunset paints, the walls and glass windows of the houses and the minarets, a brilliant orange, the smoke from sizzling kababs and the stoves of the food stalls waft up into the evening air. This is when another sensory pleasure drifts through Marrakesh. It is the fragrance of cumin, saffron, harissa (red pepper sauce), and other spices rising from sizzling lamb chops, koftes and steaming piles of food. The aroma is really something to experience.
Marrakesh is the best place to get your belly full of North African cuisine. You can get it at either the relatively new, upmarket and pricy restaurants of the Guéliz or other outlying areas of the city. These restaurants also serve a combination of French, Italian and Moroccan cuisines. While there are many restaurants scattered around the city, they are not the favoured choice of Moroccans – yet.
The joy comes from eating at the food stalls and side walk restaurants of the centuries-old Medina, the crossroads of trade and culture in North Africa. Here the eating places and the food are local and traditional. They are inexpensive and really satisfying. The feasting generally begins around 9 or 9:30pm.
You can choose to eat under the white canopies of the numbered food stalls set up in the huge Jamâa el Fna square. You could pick from one of a number of movie set hole-in-the-wall eateries in the narrow, winding alleys with plenty of atmosphere. Then there are the traditional riad Marrakesh restaurants.
Whatever you choose, you can gorge on hot, steaming mechoui (slow roasted lamb) using your fingers (the best and probably only way to eat Moroccan food). Burp (it’s alright) as you scrape your plate clean with a piece of warm bread.
To give you an idea, here is a brief list of the delicacies on offer: tangia (lamb or beef slow-cooked in an earthenware pot and left in hot ashes for the whole day); succulent merguez sausages; minced lamb koftes; beef brochettes; flash-charred lamb chops, skewers of liver or brains; incredibly tender teyhan (spleen) kebabs and pigeon bstilla (pie). Of course you must have the taktuka, a garlick, tomato-and-green-pepper relish to go with your meats. There are more, believe me.
Lest you think that Moroccan food is only for carnivores, here are a few veggie treats. Mountains of classic couscous dishes and traditional Berber-style barley pellets with the more familiar durum wheat that is light and fluffy as snowflakes. Another Berber dish is the Bisarra which is a wholesome white bean soup said to have restorative properties. The dessert pastille is made with apples and saffron while there are wide selections of fresh juices. The most dominant are oranges.
Even if you are not a foodie you will be deeply satisfied. Rest assured that when you leave Marrakesh, you will be carrying more weight than when you came and an expanded waistline.