Get a taste of the real Marrakech
The medina in Marrakech can undoubtedly be a bit of a tourist trap, full of Instagram influencers posing in floppy hats and caftans against coral tinted walls (my friend Briana Moore wrote a thoughtful essay about this on Passion Passport). Some of the main streets, lined with shops selling carpets, leather goods and boho jewellery, can feel a bit like a Disneyland pastiche of Morocco. Many of the, admittedly delightful, restaurants and bars are also filled mostly with tourists rather than locals. But if you look, you’ll see another kind of business being transacted everywhere in the medina. This business is authentic and local and geared almost entirely towards the denizens of the medina themselves. I’m talking the serious business of eating well. I’m talking Marrakech street food.
Street food is everywhere in Marrakech
Wherever you go in the medina, you’ll find people cooking, shopping for, selling and eating food.
Men crowd around beaten-up street grills, billowing with smoke and the intoxicating savoury smells of row upon row of sizzling kebabs. Customers eat the little brochettes as fast as they can be cooked, so there’s always a queue. Shoppers line up at tiny hole-in- the-wall butchers, where cooking instructions are dispensed with every purchase, or at the chicken counters where live birds in cages are rather disturbingly killed, plucked and dismembered to order. Women in colourful djellabas haggle round the streetcarts – whose flamboyant displays of pomegranates, persimmons and small, curved bananas are not there just to attract tourists – and throng the outdoor markets in battalions, armed only with shopping bags and determination.
This food is mostly there for the locals
There’s no reason why tourists shouldn’t sample the mysterious stews bubbling in tagines balanced precariously on individual burners, grab a sandwich of oil-doused aubergine and freshly-fried fish from one man and his deep-fryer, or nibble on breads and brochettes. It is fun to chat with the vendors too, from the persimmon man who flicked shards of fruit for us to sample from his knife or the sugar cane seller who showed me how to suck on fresh sugar cane. But most of the people who crowd the street vendors are local, so the food stops remain resolutely Marrakechian in nature.
A market full of locals
One afternoon I took my camera for a walk in the medina and, feeling a bit more adventurous, I turned right rather than left at Dar el Bacha and continued on past the Henna Cafe’. I soon realised that I had made an excellent decision, as I encountered more and more women carrying bulging shopping bags, more and more fat and happy cats, more men struggling to manoeuvre heavily laden fruit carts or unload trays of breads. The air was filled with the smells of frying and spices.
Sure enough, about fifteen minutes from the main souks, the street opened up into a foodie paradise, lined on both sides with grills, bakeries and shops. There were stalls piled high with fried fish or fresh fruit and small shops filled with sacks of dried goods, drums of coffee and stacked trays of eggs. The noise and bustle was extraordinary – it really was another world from where we are today – and there were hardly any other tourists.
If you’re searching for the authentic in Marrakech, follow your nose and sample the street food. You won’t regret it.
I found out later that I had chanced upon the Rue Bab Doukkala Market, a renowned haunt of locals rather than tourists. I highly recommend an afternoon there sampling the Marrakech street food. Take cash and an empty stomach.
This is the first in a series of posts about the feast for the senses that is Marrakech.