Monday, 16 August 2010

Djemaa el Fna - Boo in Marrakesh

I'd been warned about the culture shock factor one travelling to Marrakesh is bound to experience but nothing can prepare you for the mayhem and disarray of the Djemaa el Fna, Marrakesh's central market place where by day you can hang with monkeys, drinks some cooling freshly squeezed fruit juice or watch snake charmers working their magic. By night there are hundreds of food stalls, each trying to entice the tourists with sheep's head stews or kebabs for the more faint hearted!

I'm not typically a fan of fruit juice, I find it quite heavy and they're rarely 100% pure juice but these were irresistible, and about 10p per glass. There are dozens of stalls set up during the day, we inadvertently found ourselves here about 2 hours after touching down in Morocco, having got lost in the souks on a stroll around to find our bearings. Within seconds there was a monkey attached to my neck and a lady had grabbed my arm and attempted to temporarily tattoo it. It's absolutely crazy, you really need have a purpose and stick to it when visiting, if you amble around aimlessly (which is precisely what you want to do on holiday) then you will be accosted.

To gain brief respite from the madness we ducked into Cafe de France and tried our first of many tagines. Chicken for me, with preserved lemons and green olives. The chicken was a tad dry and the sauce a little oily.

I liked the tang of the preserved lemon but the dish was a little disappointing, I'd arrived with enormous expectations and I suppose I expected to be bowled over by the quality of the food here. Thomas' beef tagine with prunes, sesame and almonds was better but the vegetable cous cous we chose to share was a bland mound topped with soggy insipid vegetables.

We were disappointed to conclude that we'd probably been too hasty choosing to eat here. We head back to the peaceful tranquility of Riad Clementine.

A day or 2 later we returned to the market at night when it is really quite a spectacle. Groups of locals gather dancing and telling stories, the air is thick with smoke and aromas from the numerous food stalls. First stop was for pastillas, traditional Moroccan meat pies, pigeon for me and Thomas had chicken.

I really liked the delicate pastry, the meat was good but I found the sweet and savoury combination a bit too different for my palette. We moved on to sample some skewers of mixed grilled meats and vegetables at a different stall. At each stand you are first served a flatbread and some chilli sauce, often olives too. I found myself mindlessly tucking into these whilst absorbing the atmosphere and was quite full after this times 2.

Here we were also served a tomato salad. The chilli sauce was great, very salty with a hefty chilli kick, the kebabs were nice but nothing out of the ordinary.

It really is quite unlike any other place I've ever visited, there is such a buzz, donkeys, mopeds and small children vying for right of way and demanding your attention. There is so much choice at night that it's hard to know whether what we had is representative, I was thinking about trying some of the sheep's head stews but seeing so many of them on display was not particularly appealing.

Everything is ridiculously cheap, the stallholders are all super friendly and you'd be hard pushed to find a more entertaining eating environment than here.


Laura Nickoll said...

A lovely, evocative post. Unfortunately the orange juice from a market stall made us sick for the rest of our trip last year! We found the best food is to be had in riads, as there is no tradition of eating out in Morocco. The home cooking at our riad - Riad Kaiss - was exceptional.

Boo said...

Hi Laura, oh no, that's terrible. You poor thing. I wish we'd eaten at our lovely Riad now. I'll check out Kaiss, hoping to visit again in the future.