When you think of Moroccon food and drink, what comes to mind?
A fragrant and spice infused tagine, a fluffy cous cous dish or perhaps mint tea. Without a doubt these well known dishes are famous for a good reason, they are delicious, easily prepared and available everywhere.
But if you are heading to Marrakesh, your food adventures should not stop there. Marrakesh has some of the most verstitle and delicious street food on offer. Here are some of my favourite dishes:
Harira Soup: There are slight variations of Harira soup avaialbe, but esentially it is a tomato based spiced chickpea soup with lentils and pasta flavoured with coriander, parsley, lemon, cinnamon, saffron, and ginger. The soup is traditionally served with a lemon, bread and figs to break the fast during Ramada, but is widely available all year round.
M’semmen: Similar to a savoury roti or pancake.These are cooked on a hot plate in generous amounts of oil and eaten plain or with butter, sugar, jam or honey for breakfast.They are also eaten throughour the day as a snack with anything from honey to chocolate, cheese or spices. In the evening they are often served up along side soup. My favourite was a filling made with onion, coriander, parsely, paprika, salt and pepper.
Pastilla: A well loved delicacy of layered sweet pastry stuffed with pigeon (or try chicken for a cheaper option) covered in icing sugar. Pastilla tastes like a really nutty desert with the insides almost tasting like peanut butter. I was half way through before I found out it even had chicken in it, and I was completely suprised. A must try!
Snails: Grab a bowl, eat them while the area piping hot and don’t look too hard at the entails that flop about as you pull them from the shell. The snails come in a bowl of soup that looks like dirty dish water and to be honest does not taste much better. It is salty and gritty without any distinguishing flavours. This is definitely a different experience to eating snails smothered in garlic butter. To eat them you are given a tooth pick which you must use to dig out the snail. You need to give it a few good pokes to detach it or if you prefer stick the shell straight to your mouth and suck hard.
Rotiserrie chicken: Walking through the streets of Marrakesh, every second food stall or shop has a couple of deep yellow coloured chickens rotating in a cooker. Tuck into this flavoursome, tender chicken anyway you like; stuffed in a bread roll, toasted in a bagette, wrapped in flat bread or on a plate with salad and chips.
Shwarma: The meat itself (chicken) is nothing special, it is just kebab meat. The difference is in the salad that comes with it wrapped up in the kebab. All the regulars are there cucumber, tomato, grated carrot, beetroot, lettuce, onion, cheese, but the tasty extras are the several types of olives, rice, potato and spicy sauce.
“Moroccan Hamburger”: Look for the street vendors with a hot plate, a cabinet full of different types of meat and loads of red onions. If you order one of these hamburgers the man cooking it will weight out a portion of chicken, a portion of mince meat and a portion of sausage. This all gets thrown on the hot plate along with almost an entire red onion. As it cooks, he chops and flips and chops and flips until it is almost cooked at which point and egg is added to the mix. Lastly a slice of cheese is melted over the top before the whole lot is placed in a bread roll. No salad in sight here, this is one for the meat lovers.
Donuts: I am sure there is another name for these tasty snacks, but most people referred to them as donuts. Like a lot of food stalls in Marrakesh, these are only open at a certain time of day, usually late afternoon or early evening. But don’t wait to sample one for desert after dinner as most stalls we found shut down around 6 or 7pm. You can buy a single large donuts which are usually snacked on straight away. If they are being bought to eat later, it is usually the smaller ones, and they are sold by weight and wrapped up to go or tied together with string.
Moroccan pastries: Lots of differnet shapes and sizes are available but they are taste very similar, they are rich and dense pastires of cinnamon, almond, and fruit perfumes that are rolled in filo dough, soaked in honey.
Tagines: Available everywhere, made with just vegetables or vegetables and meat (chicken, fish, lamb or beef). The tagine is slow cooked on the stove top which gives it the intense flavour. Suprisingly the majority of tagines use a simple combination of salt, pepper, ginger, garlic and saffron as the base spices. From the flavour it creates I expected there to be more herbs but the result is great. Fresh herbs are readily available and cheap so most tagines will also have fresh parsley and coriander as well. Some tasty variations to try:
- preserved chicken with olives
- lamb and prunes
- beef, vegetables and tomato
- kofta balls and eggs (fried or cooked in the tagine as an omlette)
- saffron chicken and vegetables
- eel and prune
Cous cous: fluffy and infused with fragrant seasoned butter proper cous cous is devine. Although available on all days of the week, for tourists, this is a dish traditionally only eaten on a Friday following prayer. Try it topped with slow cooked vegetables, tender meat and a tasty tomato sauce that you pour over the dish jsut before it is served.
Where to buy?
Although you won’t find many locals, for the tourists the hot spot is in the middle of Djemaa el-Fna square. Where at night over a hundred stall set up to sell food. All the stalls are numbered and arranged by what they sell. Around the edge are the fresh juice stalls and the stalls sellings dried fruit and nuts (these are also there during the day). Then to one end of the main stalls are the snail sellers, the other end the soup stalls. In the middle you will find that most of the stalls are selling the same thing (tagines, cous cous, brouchettes, fish and salads) at the same price. Then there are a few stalls selling just meat or just seafood. The stalls have a really good turn over of ingredients so are a better bet than some restaurants.
The stalls in the Djemaa el-Fna are great for the atmosphere and most of them have menus in different languages so are a good place to start your food exploration in Marrakesh. However, for the amount and more importantly the quality of the food you get there is not as good as elsewhere.
The advice that I got given that I totally agree with is find the darkest back alley away from the main square and the souks, walk around the streets, see where is busy, look for where the locals are eating and go there. Lots of food stalls on the street only sell one thing, so you won’t have to much of an issue ordering. If it is a small cafe, look to see what others are eating that looks good and point to that! Out hostel was about 15 mins walk from Djemaa el-Fna and the food I ate near there was half the price, twice the serving and three times the taste.
Avoid the cafes on the wide pedestrian street leading away from Djemaa el-Fna and be aware that the terrace cafes over looking Djemaa el-Fna. They may have a great view but don’t expect anything amazing, except perhaps the bill at the end.
The price breakdown – how much for that M’semmen?
Prices in Dirhams* the higher price range is if you eat in the markets in Djemaa el-Fna place.
*Conversion current Jan 2011. 1 US Dollar = 8.6 Dirhams, 1 British pound = 13.4 Dirhams, 1 Australian Dollar = 8.9 Dirhams
Round bread roll: 1-2 Dirhams
Sweet pastry (croissant or similar): 2 Dirhams
Slice of plain cake: 2 Dirhams
Donut: 1 or 1.5 Dirhams with sugar or honey depending on size
M’semmen: 2-10 Dirhams depending on size and filling
Fruit and Vegetables
Dried fruit/nuts: 25-70 Dirhams per kilo
Pommegranites: 10-12 Dirhams per kilo
Mandarins/Clemintines: 5-6 Dirhams per kilo
Bananas: 8 Dirhams per kilo
Carrots/Zuchinni/Potatoes and other vegetables: 2-3 Dirahms per kilo
Bowl of soup: 3-5 Dirhams
Snails: 5-10 Dirhams for small or large bowl
Moroccan hamburger: 10 Dirhams
Brochettes in a roll: 10-20 Dirhams
Brochettes servied with salad and bread: 20-40 Dirhams
Cous cous with vegetables: 20-25 Dirhams
Cous cous with chicken or meat: 25-40 Dirhams
Tagine with vegetables: 20-25 Dirhams
Tagine with chicken or meat: 25-40 Dirhams
Half a rotisserie chicken with salad, bread roll, and chips: 25-30 Dirhams
Shwarma chicken plate or in a wrap with salad and chips: 20-30 Dirhams
Pastilla: (often sold by weight) average 25-35 Dirhams for one