Stepping outside of the continent seemed like an obvious choice for a unique food experience and the chance to see and try something different. Marrakech and Essaouira were the perfect choices for just this, and I was not disappointed.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Moroccan food is lamb kebabs and tagine. I did not however think about sheep’s head or live sea urchins.
On this trip I travelled with my friend Helen Alan (@helenaliceelizabeth), a Scottish friend now living in London.
The local currency in Morocco is the Dirham (Dh) after the exchange rate £1 was worth about 11.63Dh
We were late arriving into Marrakech due to a flight delay, by the time we had dropped our bags and had a tour of our flat, it was past 10pm and all restaurants were closed or closing, and all convince stores or supermarkets were also closed. We were both hungry but our options were KFC, McDonalds or Starbucks… welcome to Marrakech.
As we wondered down Avenue Mohamed V in search of food we came across, what I discovered to be quite commonplace in Marrakech, a local chap selling dried fruit and nuts off a matt on the pavement, had this been the UK the EHO would have had a field day, but this is Marrakech and I was hungry. He rolled up an A4 paper map (I’m pretty sure he stole from a tourist information centre) into a cone and filled it up with dried fruit and nut’s, this cost me 50Dh which was probably well over the odds but I was tired, hungry and not in the mood to haggle, it was delicious, gave me my first Marrakech experience and filled a hole so I was a happy bunny, this and the oranges trees lining the sides of the street were the only things, at this point, that reminded me that I was not in the UK… and the temperature of course.
Our first tourist destination was the famed Jardin Majorelle, just outside of the Medina (city) as a sign of courtesy I had learned a few Arabic words before I arrived, I decided to put this to use while buying tickets to the gardens. I said ‘Two tickets, for garden please” (in Google’s version of Arabic) I was laughed at for a good 30 seconds… I just used French from then on.
After we had viewed the gardens we decided to investigate the café and see what Moroccan treats were on offer, Marrakech is famed for its fresh mint tea so we ordered a pot. The pot was packed with lots of delicious fresh mint was duly poured, the waiter held the pot up high and the cup down low while pouring to get air into the tea, and to add some panache. The tea was served with a traditional, Moroccan, almond biscuit, both were delicious.
The rest of the day was spent exploring inside the medina, getting lost in the Souks and fending off snakes and monkeys in Jamaa El-Fnaa. (the main square)
Cooking at home
I had ambitions of cooking some kebabs or a tagine from ingredients bought at the market for our dinner one night. Sadly, the kitchen in our accommodation was less than useless, is consisted of a hob, oven, 3 frying pans and a sieve… that was it. No kitchen knifes or chopping board, or any oven safe cookware so I decided to pass on anything exciting. Instead we had fruit and yogurt with honey from Casablanca, Moroccan avocados, limes and fresh coriander that I made into guacamole, and a few other bits and pieces…. We also enjoyed a few G&Ts in the sun by our roof top pool.
Eating out in Marrakech
I was still stuck on having some tagine (when in Rome) so I took to trip advisor in search of a restaurant near our apartment that served good tagine. Even with the aid of trip advisor it’s a bit of a gamble as there is so much to choose from. We found a restaurant called La Taverne, the reviews weren’t great but a recent review had favoured the tagine, so I was sold (there is only so long I’m willing to spend on trip advisor) I spotted Moroccan salad under the starters, not having a clue what this was I decided there was only one way to find out (if I can’t be bothered translating the menu) Helen ordered eggs with mayonnaise, I was particularly curious as to how that was going to be served… disappointing is the answer. A traditional Moroccan salad consists of Tomato, onion, cucumber, parsley, olive oil, Lemon juice and some seasoning. What I got was chopped tomatoes and green pepper, it was not seasoned or anything. It was tasty but not what I would expect in a restaurant. Helen’s eggs with mayonnaise was exactly that, 3 eggs boiled halved and served on a slice of tomato with a blob of mayonnaise on top, also disappointing.
Main course made up for it. We both had Tagine, Helen had beef and I had chicken with preserved lemon, these were both delicious and it's what we came in for. I've always wondered what preserved lemons tasted like/are used for... now I know. The other saving grace of the restaurant was the garden; it was hidden away behind the buildings and was like a small piece of paradise away from the busy city outside.
On our last night we decided to experience the crazyness of the outdoor restaurants in Jamma El-Fnaa. We met up with Gavin, another Scott who we met on the flight over from Gatwick.
As well as all the surrounding restaurants, there are open-air market restaurants serving traditional Moroccan food all barbequed in full view, to order. The food was all piled up on display and you simply point at what you wanted and they cook it for you. I had been advised by a foodie friend, Rachel Cousins of Gusto, that I should try the Sheep’s head. It’s not the most appetising thing to look at on the BBQ but once presented on a plate it looked more like the pigs eat I had eaten in Madrid, cubes of fat on a plate, this was served with a roll which was soaked in what I can only assume was sheep fat, it was delicious. It was also served with a chili sauce and some no fat soaked bread. I also tried some of the fish and a few other things that I am still unsure what they were, but tasty none the less.
After dinner the 3 of us wondered off the beaten track and fond a roof top bar where we were entertained by Beers, G&Ts and a belly dancer.
On the Monday we tried our luck with the public transport of Morocco, buying our bus tickets was an interesting experience, and the bus was not much different. We arrived with plenty of time to spare and during the 30 minutes we were seated on the bus waiting for departure, about 15 different people got onboard selling a number of different items from ear phones to chewing gum and tissues to water and biscuits. Sadly we had come prepared with everything we needed and no small change, other wise I would have taken advantage of this.
As Essouira is a coastal fishing town, my priority was to eat some fresh cooked seafood, I had heard that there are out door shacks next to the water that do just that. Sure enough, as we exited the ramparts (city walls) towards to harbor there were a line of small huts with outdoor seating in the sun next to carts full of fresh fish. Much like the souks and outdoor restaurants of Marrakech once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, there may have only been 3 with lots of mirrors in-between. As we approached the restaurants we were embraced with the usual Moroccan approach of trying to convince us that there restaurant was the best and they give us “good price”, I wasn’t in the mood for fending off multiple salesmen, so we just sat at the first restaurant. The waiter guided us to the cart of fresh fish and asked us what we wanted, as we pointed he started filing up a tray ready to be taken threw to the BBQ (this seems to be how they cook all their food in Morocco) we selected sardines, shrimps, squid, red snapper, and the waiter threw in a sea urchin for free (I think he was actually over charging us for everything else) we were brought a Moroccan salad starter, this one was much better then the one I had had for dinner the night before. With the exception the squid all the fish was delicious, the squid was seriously over cooked. This was of course all enjoyed with a convivial beer each.
After lunch and a wonder along the pier where we witnessed the selling of the fish among a ridiculous number of seagulls.
We headed back into the madina for a wonder round the narrow streets which hosted all the different shops selling the usual Moroccan goods from leather shoes and pouf covers to crafted woodwork and argon oils. Another treat was the orange juice, freshly squeezed to order. The oranges had a slightly sweeter taste then what were are used to in the UK and a fresh orange in the Moroccan sun is something worth experiencing.
After again getting lost threw the narrow streets of Moroccan souks we had time for a mint tea before getting back on our bus to Marrakech.