Great Food Cities: 1) Marrakech

Jemaa el-Fnaa, the biggest and busiest city square in Africa, provides one of the most thrilling street food experiences in the world. When you’re over the thrill that you’ve walked straight into Arabian Nights – complete with camels, monkeys, storytellers, fortune-tellers and other clichés – you can sit back and enjoy the pure theater of eating out in Marrakech.

To the uninitiated, eating in ‘The Square’ can feel like negotiating an assault course. The stalls employ overzealous young men to lure in potential customers – and tourists are easy prey. But once you’ve found the sweet spot between being cautious and relaxing and having fun – it takes a while – you can begin to focus on the people around you. It’s a people-watching spectacular: the balletic motions of the man chopping sheep’s heads, kids fighting over the last snail in the bowl, the barely concealed tension between neighboring stalls.

Escargot stall number two comes highly recommended. The snails were a culinary inheritance from the French, of course, and here they are buttery, juicy and utterly delicious. Those with more conservative tastes needn’t worry. There are many stalls selling couscous and tagines, and excellent vegetarian versions of both dishes.

Tagine is the most famous of Moroccan dishes. I found this meatball tagine meters from the main square at a cheap restaurant called Borj El Koutoubia. A good tagine finds the perfect balance of sweetness and savoriness.

But it’s not all street food. There’s some excellent mid-range and high-end food in Marrakech. My favourite Moroccan dish is pastilla, a flaky pastry filled with pigeon meat and loads of cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds, ginger and cloves. There are also several excellent French and Italian restaurants in the New City.

In a place that can sometimes feel a little overwhelming (getting lost in the Medina was a half-hourly occurrence for me), it’s great to have a local show you round. Aziz offers Vayable experiences throughout Morocco and for his Private Marrakech Tour he can tailor a tour based around your specifications. Tell him you want to eat simple Morrocan food and be prepared to be dazzled.

Thanks to Simo, we can also now offer cooking classes in Marrakech. The four-hour lessons will tell you everything you need to know about how to create Moorish masterpieces from the relative comfort of your home. Snails and sheeps’ heads not mandatory!

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