Eat like a local – Marrakesh

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:

Marrakech Marco Polo Guide

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.

VEGETARIANS

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.

Photo credit: “IMG_0769” (CC BY 2.0) by Ninara via Flickr

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.

MONEY MATTERS

  • 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.

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Marrakesh Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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That Marrakesh Feeling

Marrakesh, with its brilliant riads and bustling souks, is a truly enchanting place. Find out what makes this Moroccan city tick and experience its unique flair – just like the Marrakchis themselves with Marco Polo’s insider tips.

Marrakech Marco Polo Guide

Thé à la menthe

No trip to Marrakesh would be complete without tasting some of the legendary Moroccan thé à la menthe (mint tea). If you want to try this sweet treat in the fairy-tale atmosphere of a palace filled with exquisite stucco, wood and zellij work, then you should definitely head to Dar Cherifa. It’s an extraordinary literary café where you can not only sit like royalty, but also admire temporary exhibitions and enjoy listening to concerts as you drink.

An evening meal at Jemaa el Fna

The food stands that are set up here every evening under the stars are the epitome of Marrakesh’s vibrant soul. Surrounded by acrobats, snake charmers and storytellers, you can either enjoy such simple dishes as fried fish and chips or try out something more exotic, like sheep’s head and snail soup. This is one experience you definitely won’t want to miss!

Storks chattering at the Palais El Badii

The El Badii palace is large, impressive, and almost completely empty. Nevertheless, a visit here is one of the absolute highlights of Marrakesh. Find a place to sit in the shade or at a café on one of the surrounding roof terraces and admire the palace walls while listening to the chatter of hundreds of storks. It’s a unique experience that gets even better just before sunset!

Haggle away!

At any respectable souk, you stroll around, haggle a little, and buy anything that takes your fancy. Things are a little more intense at the Bab el Khemis flea market, however. If you can’t find something here, you won’t find it anywhere! Sellers come from all directions in the morning to set up their stalls and try to earn some money with repairs or second-hand goods. The shoppers here – mostly Europeans – are on the lookout for the antiquities that pop up from time to time amidst all the other wares.

Hip Morocco

While you’ll come across the city’s poorest at the Souk el Khemis, you’ll mainly mingle with the upper crust when you visit the Hivernage, a quarter boasting rows and rows of hip hangouts, bars and rooftop lounges. If you feel like eating Thai food while you’re in Africa, this is the place to be – head to such restaurants as the beautiful Jad Mahal. The Hivernage is a melting pot of Moroccan and European influences, and money here is King.

Sweat in style

The spa at the La Mamounia Hotel is the pinnacle of Moroccan pampering. Entering the Hammam is like stepping into a dream from the Arabian Nights. The turquoise pool in its own little palace is surrounded by oriental lanterns and alcoves everywhere you look. It’s also furnished with big, comfy recliners with views of the world outside. There are few experiences that are more stylish and relaxing than a luxury steam bath – so take your time and enjoy!

Cyber-cuddling at the park

The Cyber Park, located between the New and Old Town, is special for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a beautiful swathe of green right by Marrakesh’s city walls. Secondly, there’s free WiFi everywhere – and we mean everywhere! – in the park, so you can surf the web on laptops and tablets while you sit under the trees. Above all, however, it’s where the youth of Marrakesh come to have dates and hold hands – a sweet and entirely innocent sight!

Live like a pasha

If you’ve ever wanted to live like an Arabian nobleman (and who hasn’t?), Marrakesh is the place for you. More than 1000 riads (city palaces) have been renovated and turned into small guest houses that whisk you far away from the noise and stress of everyday life. Treat yourself to a magical stay in such palaces as the exclusive Riad Enija or the more simple Riad Bamaga.

 

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Marrakesh Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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Top 10 Things To Do In Marrakesh

Marco Polo’s list of the top 10 things not to be missed in Marrakesh! Our best recommendations – from the top down – help you to plan your tour of Marrakesh’s most important sights. 

Marrakesh Marco Polo Guide

1. JEMAA EL FNA 
Complete with snake charmers, fire eaters and storytellers, this fascinating marketplace never fails to astonish visitors.

2. MEDERSA BEN YOUSSEF
The most beautiful Koran school in Morocco! Step inside and delve deep into the magnificent world of Islamic Maghreb architecture.

3. JARDIN MAJORELLE & MUSÉE D’ART ISLAMIQUE
The blue hue that fills the Jardin Majorelle is magical: it glows even when it’s pouring with rain. The small Islamic museum contains Yves Saint Laurent’s private collection.

4. PALAIS DE LA BAHIA
This large, well preserved 19th century palace has all the key elements of Islamic architecture: ornamentation, fountains, shafts of light and tree-filled courtyards.

5. SOUKS
All of the stalls in the bazaar’s covered shopping streets are miniature treasure troves that look as if they were set up by Aladdin himself.

6. TOMBEAUX SAADIENS
The Saadian Tombs, a magnificent tour de force of 17th century architecture, are the absolute highlight of the original (and fantastically beautiful) Kasbah quarter.

7. MOSQUÉE DE LA KOUTOUBIA
Impressive and famous: the minaret on the first mosque in Marrakesh is both the religious and architectural centre of the city.

8. LA MAMOUNIA
Stars and royalty come to stay at this legendary Art Deco hotel. Even a short visit to one of its restaurants or the spa will make you feel just like one of them.

9. MUSÉE DE MARRAKESH
This 19th century palace is a textbook example of Moorish architecture that enchants each and every visitor. It also holds some great exhibitions.

10. GUÉLIZ
The New Town is a smorgasbord of hip spots, galleries and chic boutiques. Don’t miss visiting the area if you want to discover the new face of Marrakesh!

 

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Marrakesh Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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