As you may or may not know I have had a long-standing love affair with Morocco. So much so that some family members of mine have been wondering (read: asking inappropriate questions) if I have a Moroccan boyfriend. This is not the case, I am simply in love with the country. The sights, the sounds, the smells, and of course, the Moroccan food.
Actually no, scratch that. I am here to tell you an honest secret – I am not a huge fan of Moroccan food. I once had a Moroccan lamb dish at Pot Luck Club in Cape Town which tasted like I always imaged Moroccan food and it was amazing. But the reality of the local cuisine once I got there was a different one. I couldn’t appreciate the couscous which was hand-rolled and steamed for hours and always seemed to be served with overcooked vegetables and while I liked the tagines, they didn’t help with my efforts to reduce eating meat and the vegetable tagines came, again, with those overcooked veggies. In addition, there was loads of bread (I am a bad German, I am not a big bread fan) and everything else was overly sweet, which I didn’t care for except for my mint tea.
So while love usually goes through the stomach for me I fell in love with Morocco despite its cuisine, a first for this traveling foodie.
I always seem to get in trouble when I write that I didn’t like a country’s cuisine and when I posted something about Brazilian food not being the greatest (something that many Brazilians agreed with) I got comments of people telling me how offended they were. So I might be setting myself up for some criticism again with this one but here is the thing: I remember that I was utterly disappointed when I first came to Morocco because I had such I high hopes for the Moroccan food and I know many people feel the same.
If you are heading to Morocco for the first time, I don’t want you to get your hopes up and be disappointed but rather present you with a great solution and advice on where you can get a taste for the real Moroccan food: Marrakech Food Tours.
Marrakech Food Tours
There might be a couple of options (not that I would actually know) but there is just one original Marrakech Food Tours which is run by my friend Amanda and her husband Youssef. They are one of those super inspiring mixed-international power couples (if you want to oooh and aaah, read the story of how they met over on Amanda’s blog Maroc Mama) and started Marrakech Food Tours with the premise of showing real Marrakech cuisine to visitors. The tours are put together with the question in mind – which Moroccan dishes would Youssef’s parents approve of and where would Amanda’s American parents also like to eat.
I did my first Marrakech food tour a few years ago when I was in town on my own and Youssef himself was my guide. It turned into a fun and educational afternoon as well as a culinary feast with no overcooked vegetables in sight.
Marrakech food tours are offered in the early evening and last until about 10pm. There is something magical about how the city comes to life once the sun sets but it can also get a tad bit crowded and overwhelming so making your way through the maze of the medina with a guide is a great idea especially if you are new in town.
Each tour can be somewhat customized and cater for most food intolerances and allergies. Amanda and Youssef are even in the process of setting up an entirely vegetarian Marrakech food tour which is almost vegan. For now, you can just tell them what you can and cannot eat and your street food tour Marrakech will be adjusted accordingly.
Starting point for all tours is the big post office on Jemaa El Fna, a place even first-time visitors in Marrakech cannot miss. From here your guide will lead you into the medina, making this also a great walking tour of Marrakech and you will be guaranteed to not get lost.
During my recent birthday celebration LINK we were a group of six and thus had our own guide, Sofyan, but even if you are traveling on your own don’t worry – you will be put in a small group with other food enthusiasts and make friends in no time – a food tour is a great alternative to eating alone.
One of the first stops was the ‘meat alley’ where local shops display their wares and let’s just say it is not for the fainthearted or the vegetarian. Tangia (not to be confused with Tangine) is a typical Marrakech dish, usually prepared by men. It is also cooked in a clay pot albeit an urn-shaped one that is put into the ground for long slow cooking – it is the most tender meat you will ever eat and one of the yummiest Moroccan dishes I’ve had. Also, available in the meat alley – sheep head. Sheep are cooked in whole in the ground here and the local vendors like to show off what you are going to eat later – teeth, tongue, and eyeballs included.
While our vegetarians had to see those very visual Moroccan delicacies they got bean stew instead.
From here we moved on to the olive section of the medina where you will find anything from plain olives to ultra spicey ones, some with herbs and some that taste lemony. Did you know that black and green olives are one and the same only harvested at different times? Olives are a staple of Moroccan cuisine and a great snack for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
If you are eating in Marrakech, you can’t pass up on two of the most famous Moroccan dishes – M’semen and Harira. M’semen is also when filled referred to as a Moroccan pizza though it is rolled up like a slim wrap making it the perfect Marrakech street food to go. Harira is a Morrocan soup made with chickpeas and vegetable usually eaten with dates or a very sweet pastry which creates a lovely contrast between sweet and savory in your mouth.
At this point, we were starting to get a little full even though there was no end in sight yet. We made our way to a little stall where the man in charge made freshly, deep-fried donuts, a skill we all admired because not only did he add little blobs of dough into boiling oil in lightspeed but also poked a hole in the dough balls once they made it into the pot. The finished donuts all golden, chewy and crispy were dipped into honey and even the non-pastry fans among us, myself included, agreed that these donuts were worth every sinful calorie and one of those culinary experiences in Marrakech not to be missed.
During any one of the Marrakech tours that Marrakech Food Tours offers you do not only eat though but also learn a lot about Moroccan cuisine and how it impacts the country’s culture and traditions. We visited one of many small bakeries where people from the neighborhood bring their bread for it to be baked. They are in every part of town and often if you just follow your nose or a particular warm gust of air you can see them behind random open doors. We learned that most bakeries also function as the local matchmaker since the baker knows everybody in the neighborhood and if two loaves in a pot would make a good match. Another place we saw was the oven of a local hammam. A few wonky steps down into darkness and you will find yourself in the office of a man who keeps the fire going all day for the hot water while offering the hot ashes for people who want to slow cook their meat dishes.
A highlight for all of us was a huge plate of couscous made by the matron of the second-hand market in the souks. This market is run by women who sell anything second-hand from clothes to pots and this lady is the go-to restaurant and delivery shop in the area. We started with a Moroccan salad with eggplant followed by homemade couscous with vegetables and even I could get behind this one though my stomach was suffering from a severe food baby at this point. After we quickly stopped for a couple of snails, a dish only some of us were enthusiastic about though the broth was delicious and a few local girls are eating a big plate of snails with gusto. I used my full stomach as an excuse to pass and dared my teenage nephew instead to give it a go.
From here we made our way back to the Jemma el Fna which was now in full swing with its food stalls (if you want to know what to avoid in Marrakech – they are it!), storytellers, acrobats, and overall excitement. It was time for dessert because Marrakech food wouldn’t be the same without something sweet at the end of a meal, an avocado smoothie or both. Luckily our pastries and cookies came with a takeaway box so I could focus on my smoothie and a lone dumpling-shaped rosewater delight. At this point, I was stuffed but happy and had definitely made peace with Moroccan cooking. Now when people ask me where to eat in Marrakech, I know the only good answer is – where not to eat in Marrakech?!
Tips for doing a Marrakech food tour:
- You can book your food tour Marrakech with Amanda and Youssef here. We did the Evening Street Food Tour but they also offer a Medina Mix Walking Tour which is a great way to explore some other places to eat in Marrakech as you will discover street food as well as some home cooked dishes.
- You will meet your guide at the post office and can just show him your booking confirmation, there is no need to pay anything once you get started. Your guide will take care of all your food samples and drinks while you are on the go.
- It is a good idea to bring some hand sanitizer and napkins. Some places have a sink but not all have soap and there is a lot of eating with your hands in Morocco. Also – Moroccan napkins are often a regular piece of paper and not very absorbant.
- Wear solid shoes – streets in the medina are quite hazardous at times and this a walking tour in Marrakech after all so make sure your shoes are actually made for walking.
- If you bring a bag or backpack make sure it has a good lock and a strap to wear it close to your body. It can get really crowded in the medina at night and we were almost pickpocketed had it not been to Sofyan’s eagle eyes who spotted the guy.
- Pace yourself when it comes to the food! I always suck at this and even wonder if I will ever get full when reading the description of a food tour but around the halfway mark I usually start to growl because I can’t eat anymore. Take it slow, don’t stuff yourself during the first couple of stops, and leave the bread alone unless you need it to mop up some delicious sauce.
- Ask questions. Duh, you would think that is obvious but I am always amazed to notice that people don’t do that and then I go in overdrive and ask everything and then I go in overdrive and ask everything. This is not just a food tour in lieu of dinner; a Marrakech food tour is a cultural experience and your guide is there to tell you things, not just about what you see on your plate but about Moroccan cuisine and traditions in general. So if you want to know something, just ask. Whether you want to find out a secret ingredient (he may or may not tell you), how iftar works or where to find the best restaurants in the Marrakech medina in case you ever get hungry again.
- I shouldn’t have to say that but of course, do tip your guide!
Pin for later!