“ I hope you are hungry?” Youssef asks me. We meet on the main square, Djemaa el Fna, where, together with 8 other food enthusiasts, I’ll be going on an evening food tour with Marrakech food tours. I’m really looking forward to this; in Europe the knowledge and offerings of Moroccan food is very often limited to tajine and couscous, so I’m curious what lesser known delicacies await us!
After having explored the most stunning palaces of Marrakech all day, it’s time to explore the culinary side of the city!
The Djemaa el Fna isn’t the best place to find good quality food. The bigger food stalls are mainly frequented by tourists, used to grilled meat and tajine. Nothing wrong with it, but you can hardly call those authentic; you’ll be rubbing elbows with fellow tourists, eating grilled chicken and fries.
This said, it’s not only home to tourist trap stalls; the more adventurous gourmet will be able to find lesser known Moroccan specialities of snail soup, sheep’s brains and skewered hearts as well. This is where the locals dine!
The aim of the tour is to show us the local specialties, so Youssef takes us to the entrance of the medina, where a family business has set up a few stalls, booming with local customers. On the menu: mechoui (slowly roasted lamb prepared in an underground clay oven, sometimes for over 9 hours!)) and sheep head. Yes, you read that correctly, SHEEP HEAD! I’m not brave enough to try it and instead concentrate on a less adventurous option: tanjia. Tanjia (also spelled tangia) is a true Marrakech specialty and can be difficult to find elsewhere in Morocco. Don’t confuse tanjia with tajine, the famous meat and vegetable stew, often served with couscous.
The tanjia is named after the tall, jug-like crock- pot it is made in. It consists of seasoned lamb, preserved lemon and various spices, served in a clay pot and traditionally cooked in the ashes of a hammam. Traditionally men would bring the tanjia to the hammam on a Thursday evening and collect it on Friday morning after it had been cooking slowly overnight in the hot embers and ash. Minimal effort involved!
It is very tender, but I personally prefer the mechoui, simply served with some cumin and salt.
We venture further into the medina and after munching on a few tasty olives, Youssef introduces us to another local dish: “Hout Quari” or “sardine ball sandwiches”: grinded sardine flesh, raw onions, olives, tomato sauce, butter, harissa and a mix of spices served in a sandwich. It might not sound very inviting and the combination may seem a little odd, but these toppings work really well together! As a group we unanimously decide that this will be our future snack for the rest of our stay in Marrakech! This is fast food, Moroccan style!
I’m already pretty full by now, but more than happy to make place for the “pièce de résistance” of the evening: vegetarian couscous with caramelized onions and prunes.
In a city where you can find mediocre couscous on every corner of the street, Youssef wanted us to taste “the real thing” and made sure he chose the perfect place to include in the food tour. Together with his wife Amanda, he stumbled upon a tiny place where grandma is behind the pots. They knew straight away they were on to a winner! I ate a fair amount of couscous in my life, but this is truly something else! The sweetness of the prunes and caramelized onions mixes perfectly with the salty vegetables!
The great thing about this tour is that you not only get to taste dishes you would probably not have found on your own, but it also takes you behind the scenes and gives you an insight into the cooking traditions of the country. We crawl into the dark corridors underneath a local hammam to see how tanjia is cooked and descend into a century-old bakery where amidst flour, yeast and sugar we find out the traditional way of baking bread.
There’s so much to try and taste in Marrakech. We continue tour tour by tasting an array of snacks from the local food stalls: from babbouche (boiled snails) to cactus fruit, from stuffed spleen to dates, … my stomach truly is truly stretched to its limit!
The tour finishes with one of my favourite Moroccan drinks: avocado and date juice. I have very fond memories of observing everyday life in the ancient medina of Tetouan, sipping avocado juice among the traders. Milk, avocado and sugar (or dates) is all you need for this heavenly drink. You can find it in most of the coffee stalls and accompanied with Moroccan pastries, it is the perfect finish to any meal!
I recommend anyone on a visit to Marrakech to try this tour! Marrakech Food Tours is run by husband and wife, Youssef and Amanda. Youssef grew up in Marrakech and for every stop that they add to their tour, they ask themselves: “Would Youssef’s mother eat here?”. It doesn’t get more authentic than this! At no point in this tour are you forced to eat anything you don’t want. There are many stops along the way, so if you don’t like one, chances are you will love the next one. Just let Amanda and Youssef know if you have any allergies or dietary restrictions,
If you want to try some of the recipes at home, have a look at Amanda’s blog: Marocmama.
Marrakech Food Tours provided me with a complimentary ticket to attend this food tour, as always all opinions are my own!
Have you been on a Marrakech food tour? Or maybe been on a food tour in another city? I want to hear all about it!