How to eat like a local in Marrakech

December 05, 2018
Rachel Davey

There are so many reasons why Morocco is a popular destination for every type of traveller. It could be the beautiful architecture, the beaches, the rich culture or the super affordable flights from Europe — or all of the above. However, another reason travellers are coming to Morocco in doves is for the culinary delights on offer.

The epicentre for some of the best food in Morocco can be found in the city of Marrakech. The highlight of any visit here is to experience the carnival-like atmosphere of Jemaa el-Fna, also known as the main square or marketplace of Marrakech.

Jemaa el-Fna is located right in the centre of the medina and it’s also where you’ll find all kinds of entertainment in the evening. The square really comes to life just as the sun is setting for the day, filling with buskers, snake charmers, dancers, street peddlers and swindlers.

Jemaa al-Fna Square

Exploring Jemaa al-Fna Square | Photo by Very Hungry Nomads

Amongst all of this, some of the best food can be found in the medina and around the main square. It’s hidden in the small alleyways and courtyards, and more often than not, found in the last place you’d expect to find it. So if you’re not an in-the-know local, how do you find all these tasty gems?

I’m a self-obsessed food traveller and on this trip to Marrakech, I wanted a local experience. I wanted to eat, shop and drink fresh Moroccan mint tea surrounded by locals, and to learn more about the city at the same time. I decided to join an evening food tour of the medina, which turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to Morocco.

This introduction to the city, its people, the sights and the culture was wonderful. Most importantly, I picked up some insider tips for how to find the best food for the rest of my travels.

I met Ali, our friendly local guide, at a central café near the main square, along with five other people who were also keen to taste the city’s best local foods. After a brief overview of the history of Jemaa el-Fna square, we set off into the sprawling alleyways of the maze-like medina. We passed by small spice shops, stores selling leather bags, and some of the most beautiful ceramics I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

We popped out from a small street into another square and what I immediately noticed was that we seemed to have left all the tourists behind — perfect. Ali explained that we were going to try a very popular Moroccan snack: fresh donuts accompanied with mint tea. Locals tend to eat a larger dinner later in the evening, so it’s common to eat a snack in the early evening. The donuts and the tea together were a winning combination.

Donuts being fried in Marrakech

Trying some fresh donuts | Photo by Very Hungry Nomads

Continuing on through more small streets, we took a side step into a door that revealed an underground oven. Ali explained that the baker uses the oven to cook or bake food for the local people. They bring their dough, fish or food to him and he cooks it; the price they pay depends on the product and the weight. A genius idea, I thought.

Cutting back through the medina, we arrive at what is clearly the place where you buy the freshest olives in the city. This place had many small mountains of marinated olives and jars of preserved vegetables, pastes and pickles. We tried several different olives and learned which olives are best to be eaten on their own, and which are best to use in cooking local dishes.

By now, the sun had well and truly set and the moon lit up the main square. We followed Ali into the centre of it all and he led us to the best harira soup stall of them all. I quietly thought that I’d never have found this place without him. To be honest, I probably would have already lost my patience with the hundreds of restaurant owners swinging menus in my face and shouting menu items at me.

Either way, I knew the soup would be good because the place was packed. We sat and ate the delicious traditional Moroccan soup, smiles all around.

Then it was time for something sweet. The store that Ali bought us to was entertaining in itself. A smiling man stood behind a wall of colourful sweets. Some baked, some fried, all delicious.

Moroccan sweets

Time for something sweet | Photo by Very Hungry Nomads

But the main event was coming up: time for dinner! We were led into what appeared to be a small local eatery, until we climbed three levels up to the rooftop. We were served beef tanji, a delicious meat stew accompanied by some fresh bread. We enjoyed dinner with fantastic views of the square below and learned more about this delicious country from our guide.

Our food tour was almost finished, but there was one last stop. We strolled back into the main square and Ali handed us some fresh herbal tea from a street vendor. It was digestive tea and Ali explained it would help to settle all the fantastic foods we’d eaten over the past few hours. The tea was wonderful with a strong aroma of fresh ginger, spices and herbs combined into a small glass of hot tea — an ideal way to end our evening.

The entertainment continued all around us in the main square as the tour came to an end. Ali bid us farewell, and I said goodbye to some new friends. What an amazing (and delicious) evening.

Want to follow in the writer’s footsteps and eat your way through Marrakech? Hop on our Inside the Medina food tour to sample authentic local delicacies!