It was still really hot in Marrakech the night we took Evening Street Food Tour with Marrakech Food Tours. We arrived at the bright yellow post office box of the main square at the appointed time, sweaty and a bit in need of water. There were many groups of people already gathered at this same spot and we were wondering who among them were on the same tour as us. Zac approached someone who looked like a guide and asked if he was for our tour. A bit of confusion ensued since we were not on the list for the night. There was another set of two people who did not show up, so we all assumed it was some sort of error and were added to the merry group of six that were already gathered.
Normally, we like to do food tours as soon as we can when arriving in a new city. It gives us a good idea of what to expect from the food and the culture of a place and sets us up for our remaining time. Unfortunately, schedules did not permit such an early exploration of the food in Marrakech and we ended up doing this tour on our last night in town. While the timing of the tour did not set us up for amazing eating success in our time in Marrakech, it was a really great way to end our time there and really get to see some of the “off the beaten path” options.
The First Stop on Our Food Tour of Marrakech
And so we began to walk out of Jema El Fina and into the winding alleyways of the medina. Our first stop was a small shop that specializes in roasting whole lamb, making tanjir, and roasted sheep’s head. The row of shops are owned and managed by three families that have been doing this work for generations. At the one shop we stopped at, we saw the oven that is used to cook 30-40 whole lambs at one time. There was another oven that was over 200 years old and still in use – this was where the head was cooked. Zac and I don’t generally get down with eating lamb and there was another person in the group who had previously requested beef instead. However, once we got upstairs and were served the lamb tanjir (which is a hot clay vessel that is packed with lamb, saffron, garlic, cumin, olive oil and preserved lemon), a smaller portion of lamb cooked in the large oven and unseasoned (you dip this one in salt and cumin) and half a head we decided to tuck in and try the lamb. When in Morocco, right? It was delicious! There was no lamby or gamey taste that usually puts us off. The meat was tender and super delicious. Though we both kept our portions really small, this was the best lamb we have ever eaten. I wouldn’t say it will get us into eating lamb (we have some moral qualms) but if you’re going to eat the stuff, it’s best to do it in a place like this. I have to note – Hassan (our walk along guide) really wanted someone to eat the eyeball, but there were no takers.
It was hotter than hades up on that terrace, and thankfully we headed to our next stop. Once Hassan mentioned that we were going to be trying olives at our next place (directly across from stop 1) another of the tour goers and I perked up. We both love olives and most things briny. We were offered a large assortment of various colors of olives with various seasonings – everything from very light green and pink to the darkest black. They also had cured lemons and pickled spicy pepper for us to try. I loved this stop because it provided me with the much desired hit of salt and brine I look for. It was also amazing because we learned that the olives come from the same tree, the color and taste variation depends a lot on the amount of time the olives remain on the branch. The lighter color is less ripe. Fascinating! I always thought they were totally different kinds of trees. Then of course, the additional nuances are created through flavorings and the brining process.
Hassan kept us all from being wilting flowers by providing bottled water and keeping a keen eye on our hydration needs throughout the night. This was much appreciated as we moved through the still hot streets of the medina.
A few stops in
Zac and I were super excited when we stopped for bite number three. It was at a stall we had passed many, many times over the course of the last few days and each time said, “her bread looks amazing”. For days we had been eating what we were likening to Indian chapatti for breakfast (our Saharan guide even made them in the desert). I am not sure exactly how to spell what these beautiful squares of cooked, oiled bread are called, but it’s something like mseman, or Berber pizza. This shop seasoned theirs with onion and paprika and rolled them up for our quick consumption. Zac and I were just going to split one, but luckily we each received our own since these were the best version of this bread we have had. The seasoning was incredible and there was a chewy yet crunchy tooth to the bread. I have been thinking about this for several days now and wish I could find another like it.
I think we all started to feel a bit full after this stop. Some people seemed to have eaten a lot of meat at the first place and were not prepared for the continued food feast. But we were on to the next stop; a fried donut called sfinge. Apparently these are made early in the morning for breakfast and then again for snack time. The shop we stopped at opens from 7-9a for the morning fix and then again another 2 hours in the late day for snack. Let me just say these are not shy doughnuts. Oh no. They reminded me a bit of French crullers is size and puff of the dough. They get really large as they fry in the oil and darken to a golden brown. It was magical to see the deftness of the man’s hands as he pulled the dough from the pile and shaped it into a circle before laying it gently in the wok of oil; essentially all in one swift movement. There were many women who stopped by to pick up paper bags full of these hot puffs of dough. Hassan said that women don’t make these at home, preferring instead to buy them from their favorite shop. I asked how often Moroccans eat these calorie bombs and he said once a day for sure – if they don’t have it in the morning, they are sure to get their snack in the afternoon. We all tucked in to our doughnuts, which were light and slightly oily but delicious nonetheless. The cook also made us the house breakfast specialty; two doughnuts opened up and an egg put inside then placed in the oil to fry. Happily he only made one of these and it was divided amongst the group. I don’t think everyone tried this and none of us finished our original doughnuts either.
As we walked to our next official stop, we wandered past a small doorway where Hassan yelled to the person inside. The person was available and so we all ducked into the lowered doorway to find a man, piles of wood shavings, and ovens in front of us. It turns out this man and his brother is responsible for heating the water for one of the local hammams. He gathers leftovers and scraps from the medina and uses this to fuel the fires to heat the water that keeps the tradition of the hammam alive. This looks like really hard work, and Zac took the opportunity to see first hand the area the man was working in and where the fires are stoked. This is also where people bring their tanjir to be cooked overnight. We had seen something about this in some show of Jamie Oliver’s and were really excited that we got to see it in person. What a genius way to harness additional production from the resource.
Things start to get a bit fuzzy from here for me due to a bit of food coma mixed with the heat; but I know this, we had more exploring and more food.
Getting Full and Nearing the End
We stopped by a place where they make Moroccan “haggis” which seems to essentially be a whole lot of organ meat stuffed inside an organ and then cooked. Despite Hassan’s encouragement few people actually tried this delicacy. Several of us took up the banner of curiosity and gave it a go. I found it really rich and crumbly and didn’t care for it, but did find it superior to haggis. Zac said it was good, though I didn’t see him reaching in for seconds.
From here we went to the main course of the evening – a very back alley to a small private place to get couscous. At this point, many people were a little over stuffed and seemed uninterested in the beautiful dish of vegetable couscous that was laid before us. I was full too, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from eating what was the most delicate, fluffy and flavorful couscous I have ever had. Hassan noted that the woman and her mother (I believe) take orders for breakfast and lunch from the men who work nearby. They then specially make the couscous for Marrakech Food Tours when tours are in session. All I can say was I way overstuffed myself but had no regrets. This was couscous perfection. You could tell the women make it the traditional way – lots of time, lots of steaming and lots of fluffing. This was definitely a highpoint of the evening.
The Last Stop
We were all flagging somewhat, though people perked up at the mention of our last stop for dessert. We wandered a bit more and headed towards our starting point. We stopped outside a very brightly lit shop that offered sweet treats like cookies and smoothies. I’m not sure what else is on offer in this shop, but it was super busy. We each picked a juice or smoothie we wanted and then a plate of cookies was brought out for each table. Whew, that was just too much sugar for me so I had to bow out after my date smoothie and a bite of two cookies. Other members of our group were able to take the cookies with them in a box. I was so happy to see them piling them into their boxes and taking them for later. No cookie was left behind.
We really enjoyed our time with Hassan and were so glad we were able to join the tour. I think we definitely got a better idea for food in Marrakech and left feeling very satisfied and definitely full. Thanks to Marrakech Food Tours for sponsoring our evening. Of course, all opinions remain our own.