The most incredible depiction of Marrakech, and the biggest draw, is the night markets of Jemaa El-Fna Square.
From snake charmers, to monkey handlers, to wandering tortoises, to teeth pullers and henna tattooists, the Jemaa El-Fna is one crazy square 16 hours a day.
They’re the stuff of incredible photos, films, novels and legends, but there’s also another word for them – overwhelming.
Food, glorious food
Come about 7pm the resourceful night stall holders will transform the square into an open air restaurant in less than five minutes. Tents are up, tables are out, the food’s cooking and the customers are in.
Step within an earshot radius of the market stall owners and they’ll be calling you in to their numbered tent. Their stall is ‘the best’, ‘the cheapest’, ‘the favourite’.
“Hey lady, 117 you’re in heaven!”
The cheeky stallholder made us laugh and we had no reason not to, so off we trundled to indulge in the stack of sheep’s heads, prawns, kebab meats, breads and soups that formed the front of his stall.
We sat at picnic benches shoulder to shoulder with the other patriots facing the mound of food. We tried to decipher the laminated menu and looked to our new table friends’ plates for inspiration.
Everything was around €2-€4 so we went for the top ten items and tried to get the waiter’s attention. The ‘restaurant’ was manic. Seated guests frantically call the waiters, while they’re off trying to drum up new trade from passers-by. The chef and his teenage sous chefs in the makeshift kitchen just couldn’t cook fast enough.
We got our order in and received some bread as a reward. In less than three minutes our table was filled with little plates – peppers, olives, meats, spices, mini tagines and skewered kebabs. It’d been a long day exploring the souks so we got stuck right in. Just as I brought the bread dripping with sauce to my mouth some new table friends squashed in to the left of us. I felt their eyes bore into me.
“All you need is a cold beer to knock that back with,” said the guy.
I offered half a laugh and nodded as I devoured the kebab meat in front of me and swigged at the coke. A beer would be amazing right now, but of course in Muslim Marrakech alcohol is hard to come by.
The food was incredible. It wasn’t long before we’d as good as licked the plates clean. We were quickly handed the bill – a feast for around 200dh – and ushered out of the tent.
I was in Marrakesh when it was bombed in 2011.
The rest of the markets
As we wandered around the rest of the markets, we soon realised they just the same food stalls repeated over and over again.
“Hey lady, you need fattening up, eat here!”
We stopped to look at the snails that were deemed a delicacy here: not for us today though. The churning of the meats I’d just eaten was feeling greasy in my belly and it didn’t take long for the calling, pushing and shoving of the stallholders to wear me out.
It was time to take stock in a roof garden with a cup of mint tea. We choose one of the bars lining the Jemaa El-Fna Square and enjoyed the birds-eye-view over the markets of Marrakech in comfort from an armchair.
I watched as the steam rose from the hot vats and the waiters carried on plying for trade. It was must be tough, trying to charm people to choose their restaurant over the 100s of others.
I looked around taking in the view, and like a hawk I spied a bar over the way. Within a chink of a ‘cheers’ we’d skipped over and were sat on La Boheme roof garden with a cool glass of white wine in hand. Finally satiated, the beautiful view revived my excitement to get stuck into the souks again tomorrow, but for now, the rest of the bottle please.
- Cost: flights from £80 from London with Ryanair and EasyJet.
- Flight time: takes 4 hours to cover the 2000+ miles.
- Accommodation: from £3.66pppn on HostelBookers.com.
- Souk entry: free!