Marrakesh is a city in the foothills of Morocco’s snow-capped High Atlas Mountains. Restaurants, plush casinos and full cafés match their busy vibe to the bustling markets (souks) and lively street-life. But nowhere is Marrakesh magic more spectacular than at its Jemaa el Fna market.
Situated in the old fortified medina quarter – the old city – this souk is the nerve-centre of Marrakesh’s economic life. It’s the largest market in Morocco and spreads its canopies and stalls all over the big city square. Here you can buy almost anything – from spices to mountain boots, kaftans to mint teas, camel meat to dried fruit ‘n nuts; along with harira and date soup and delicious beef tagine with apricots.
Jemaa el Fna is also an ever-changing daily street drama. All over the show there are actors, acrobats, Berber story-tellers, musicians, magicians, snake charmers, traditional healers and Chleuh dancers. And they make the most of everyone as their audience – even people stuck in the streets’ traffic-jams. Try not to miss the boys with their tethered Barbary apes!
Then, as late afternoon turns to evening, fun-seeking tourists and night revellers arrive. The amount of food stalls multiply and let off cooking-smoke, and couscous topped with tender lamb starts to overtake the smell of deep-fried eel and ginger. Trading throughout the night, night-after-night, the square turns into a vast food festival.
Jemaa el Fna’s Moroccan foodie delights have taken their influence from far and wide. Africa, the Mediterranean and Arab lands are represented, dish by dish. Spice merchants here try to outdo each other with their ‘secret’ blends. Enjoy garlicy l’escargot, or local specialities such as grilled brochettes and spicy sausages. Zaalouk – eggplant and tomato salad – is also delicious.
Added to this, there are a wonderful variety of desserts, including, kaab el ghzal (gazelle’s horns) – a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar; and Halwa shebakia, a pretzel-shaped dough that’s deep-fried, dipped into a hot pot of honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. As for Moroccan beers, there are some highly-quaffable light lagers. Also, try the nation’s famous bittersweet pilsners.
The Jemaa el Fna souk is chaotic and crowded – a very original North African cultural space. Your senses will run into overdrive as you shop in a market like you’ve never shopped in before.
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