Eating out is one of Marrakesh’s big pleasures, but it pays to be both selective and organised when choosing somewhere to eat. Compared to the huge number of tourists, there are relatively few really good restaurants – about a handful in each district – so don’t expect to stumble across a good one by chance. With Marco Polo’s insider tips you will be eating like a local:
GETTING A TABLE
Considering it is such a popular destination, Marrakesh dining takes some planning. The best restaurants must be booked in advance (ask your hotel receptionist, who can normally get a better table than you will if you just phone up yourself).
A HOME-COOKED MEAL
Try to eat at least once in a riad – they generally offer family-style cooking that is much better than restaurant food. Many are open to non-guests, but in all cases reservations should be made a day in advance. Many riads also offer small, casual cookery classes that are highly recommended.
KIF KIF (SAME SAME)
Set meals – usually salads, pigeon pastilla (pie), tagine, couscous and Moroccan pastries – are the only option in many Moroccan tourist restaurants. While a few of the best can be an approximation of an authentic Moroccan feast, visitors frequently find these set meals a drawn-out, heavy and expensive experience and few would want to eat more than one on a single trip to Marrakesh.
Moroccan salads are a varied and vegetarian delight of super-fresh ingredients and jewel-like colours, usually served as a starter and often translated as “small plates”. As a rule though, non meat-eaters don’t have an easy time of it in the city, and even couscous au sept legumes (with seven vegetables) is often cooked with meat stock. It’s best to check with the chef rather than the waiter. As a back-up option, omelettes and pizzas can be found in many cafés and restaurants.JEMAA EL FNA: TOURIST TRAP?
Rather like London’s Leicester Square, or Times Square in New York, the main square of Jemaa El Fna is something of a tourist honeypot and tourists are fleeced every day. But eating out – particularly at the evening food stalls where prices are very reasonable – is a quintessential Marrakesh experience. At the restaurants and cafés situated around the edge of the square, however, it is all too easy to end up with a really bad meal at a high price. Stick to the food stalls in the square or follow the recommendations in this guide, some of which, as described, should be visited for their views as much as the food.
TIME FOR A TIPPLE
As there are very few places in the Medina to enjoy an alcoholic drink, make the most of your riad (if it has a drinks licence) with a pre-dinner cocktail on the rooftop, or a nightcap afterwards. Alternatively, many of the restaurants (but none of the pavement cafés around Jemaa El Fna) have a drinks licence – so relax with a drink there rather than trying to find one of the few bars.
DINNER AND SHOW
In Marrakesh, eating and entertainment are closely entwined. Locals stepping out to sample the delights of the food stalls on Jemaa El Fna also enjoy the spectacle of street entertainers at the same time. Similarly, in many of the traditional tourist restaurants, a show is put on for the diners’ delectation. You can expect such acts as local Gnawa musicians and belly dancers giving performances with varying degrees of eroticism. Though apparently free, you are, of course, paying for the show in the price of your meal. Tips are also welcome.
- Eating out in Marrakesh restaurants can easily be as expensive as back home, especially if you drink wine, beer or spirits with your meal.
- The food stalls in Jemaa El Fna provide real atmosphere. Not only is the food here some of the best you’ll find in the city, it is also, quite literally, as cheap as chips. Nevertheless, ask for the price in advance.
- Leave a tip of 10 to 15 per cent in bars and cafés. Waiters rely on tips.
A COURSE IN MOROCCAN COOKERY
Get a real taste of local culture and cuisine on a one-day cookery course. They usually include a visit to the spice market and you get to eat your creation afterwards.
- Jnane Tamsna: One-day courses are tailored to individual needs.
- Enjoy a private cooking lesson in the riad kitchen, and eat what you have prepared in the beautiful garden, filled with herbs, flowers and vegetables.
- La Maison Arabe: One-day cooking workshops are held in the gardens of a villa just outside the city. Small groups and lots of inspiration.
- Souk Cuisine: One-day courses are provided for a reasonable price including lunch and wine. Week-long culinary courses are also available.
THE CREDIT CRUNCH
Just because a restaurant displays the symbols of international credit cards on its door doesn’t mean you can actually pay with them. It is a good idea to carry some cash just in case the presentation of your card is met with a slow shaking of the head. Morocco has a large cash economy and most businesses try to put as little through their books as possible. Many establishments – even upmarket ones (and this applies to hotels too) will often claim that their credit card machine is not working. If you are prepared to hold your ground and wait patiently, you may find that eventually the “problem” is solved.
Buy the Marrakesh Marco Polo Spiral Guide.