You simply can’t mention Marrakech without sparking a conversation about food. The flavours, smells and colours of this bustling ancient city need to be seen (and tasted) to be believed.
North African meets Mediterranean, fresh local produce, centuries old traditional methods of cooking and the warmth of the local people wanting to share their culture all combine to make Marrakech the perfect foodie city break.
I recommend staying right in the Medina (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the walled old town of Marrakech.
That’s where you’ll find the markets, street food and juice stalls lining the squares and lanes of the city.
Although getting lost is all part of the fun, it’s quite the maze, so allow me to simplify the food and drink offerings for you.
Hotels and riads in Marrakech will all serve up a selection of hot out of the oven pastries, bread and pancakes with preserves, freshly squeezed orange juice and mint tea. Venture further afield on at least one morning to eat with the locals though.
For Berber eggs, a kind of breakfast tagine, try Café Guerrab. Head up to the roof top for views overlooking the city, as the market stalls slowly set up for another bustling day in the medina.
Served with two types of olives, orange juice and fresh bread the whole lot will set you back less than €8 including coffee and water.
A great veggie option alone, or you can add salted meat for a more substantial start to the day. Café Clock is another good choice for Berber eggs, from €2.
For a lighter option, or when it’s too hot for a big meal, walk to the juice stalls in Jamaa el-Fna – the main square in Marrakech.
Here you’ll find rows and rows of brightly coloured fresh fruit juicing carts and you can try before you buy, although a glass will only set you back about 40c. They’ll make any concoction of fruits, the blood orange is a favourite though.
Lunch time is when Marrakech really starts coming to life. The tagines have been slowly sizzling all morning and you can begin to smell the street food vendors grilling meat and fish.
When the heat starts rising, you might want to avoid the hustle and bustle and take shelter from the midday sun for an hour. Seats in the shade at Nomad fill up fast, so you might want to make a reservation (there’s a booking form online).
Their couscous is a speciality and comes piled high. It’s organic, hand rolled and gluten free, made from local quinoa and sorghum (another cereal grain). Served alongside slowly braised beef and tender vegetables, it’ll keep you full all day.
The spiced lamb burger with harissa mayonnaise is another winner. Main courses are around €8-12. Everything is modern Moroccan with a bit of a hipster edge at Nomad, but just across the square, you’ll find Café des Epices with a more laid back authentic Moroccan feel.
Try the kofta sandwich and spiced coffee. Café des Epices probably has the best view of the small square down below, so try to get a seat overlooking the men and women weaving baskets and grinding spices, the perfect photo opp.
Right beside the airport you’ll find Beldi Country Club, a quiet haven in the countryside, surrounded by lush gardens, cacti, rows of roses and dotted with gorgeous pools to cool off in.
They do a deal for less than €40 which includes a three course lunch and day access to the swimming pool. Worth every penny. Finish off your meal with pistachio ice cream and iced rosé in the sun.
When ordering tagines, you can choose salty (with olives) or sweet (with dried fruit). Café Arabe has good options for both. The merquez sausage is delicous, as is the chicken with preserved lemons and green olives. Serves with a mound of steamy, fluffy couscous of course.
There are some great veggie options too and portion sizes are hearty, with reasonable prices. The rooftop is the popular spot and gets busy around sunset, so reserve a table in advance for larger groups.
No trip to Marrakech is complete without a visit to the night food market in Jamaa el-Fna. Just follow the unmistakable aromas wafting from the lines of grills and stalls that mysteriously appear and come alive after dark.
The fare is pretty similar at each stall, so once you’ve chosen (we liked number 55) make your selection from the raw offering of fresh meat and fish skewers, couscous and sausages, to be cooked to order.
The merquez are excellent and if you’re feeling adventurous, try the pastilla. A sweet and savoury local delicacy, traditionally made with pigeon, encased in pastry and dusted with sugar and cinnamon – surprisingly tasty. If you still have room for something sweet, you can stop one of the pastry carts rolling by and fill up a box for a couple of euro.
Since Morocco is a majority Muslim country, you won’t find alcohol that readily available, but most hotels will have a bar. You’ll pay for the privilege though, a standard G&T is around €10 and cocktails at La Mamounia hotel run up to €30 (for a Bellini). Instead, grab a seat for sundowners at Café Arabe (see above) where a bottle of Meknes sauvignon blanc costs a much more reasonable €16. Served with breadsticks and olives, it’s the perfect way to while away an hour.
For ice cream with a view, choose your flavour and climb the stairs up to Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier’s rooftop terrace. Probably the best view of Jemaa el-Fna both during the day and at dusk when the lights start twinkling below.
Honey-covered biscuits and pastries with almonds and pistachio steal the show when it comes to dessert in Marrakech, the Moroccans have a very sweet tooth (wash them down with sugar-laden mint tea to really dine like locals!). You’ll find stalls within the medina where you can choose your favourite to take home from as little as €1.
– Haggle in the medina, never pay full price, try for about a third and have the exact amount in cash ready.
– Visit Jardin Majorelle; the gardens previously owned by Yves Saint Laurent. Entry from €7.
– A cookery class, ask for details in your hotel or riad.
– Stock up on spices, especially the traditional Moroccan mix Ras el Hanout. Also save space in your luggage to bring home a jar of preserved lemons, argan oil and mountains of olives they’re ludicrously cheap and absolutely delicious!
For an authentic feel, stay within the medina in a traditional riad. The ornate buildings surround an open air courtyard, usually centred around a small pool. Each one is unique with mosaic tiles, colourful Berber rugs and gorgeous greenery.
Try kayak.ie to search one that suits your budget and always opt in for the transfers from the airport, you’ll never find your way among the winding lanes and alleys otherwise!
Obsessed with travel and beauty and unable to find a traditional career that satisfied both passions, I decided to forge my own path by combining the two. I have a tendency to do that, just go ahead and jump two feet in before testing the waters, but luckily it seems to have worked out for me. And more importantly, I have fun doing it.
Visit Nadia’s travel and lifestyle blog, the daily s’elf, to read more about her adventures.