In the second of two reports from Marrakesh, you’ll find some tips about eating out.
Marrakesh has large numbers of riads, perhaps 200 or more. Enterprising owners have refurbished, extended and embellished houses in the oldest parts of town to provide luxurious accommodation. The riads Mr EF and I came across were in quiet locations and in many cases down a maze of tunnels – do arrange to be collected from the airport it is extremely difficult to find where you are going the first time!
Apart from being wonderful places to stay, riads are often the very best places to eat as they have their own dedicated chefs. You don’t have to be staying at the Riad, but you must pre-book by lunchtime at the latest – just ask someone from where you are staying to book for you they will be happy to do so. When you arrive, just mention the name of where you are staying rather than your own name. I suggest doing a bit of research – by all means use your guidebook for some tips, but bear in mind they will be out of date. Check out recent reviews on Trip Advisor to ensure which are the very best to try. There are other restaurants in the old quarter, such as Le Foundouk but they are very tourist oriented and the food average (and terrible music). We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with the Simbade the chef at the Riad El Rimal who very patiently explained how to make a fish and a meat tagine. We’re still experimenting with his recipes and will share them in another post.
Wherever to you do eat, you’ll find that tagines and couscous are staples on the menu. Do try the pastilla (or bastilla) if it is available. It’s an unusual mixture for British palates, but think of mince pies and you’ll do fine. It’s usually meat (usually pigeon) and almonds encased in a filo-like pastry, topped with icing sugar and cinnamon. Made well, it is delicious!
At lunchtime, try one of the wonderful Moroccan salads made with locally grown ingredients. You’ll find that are served hot (as in the picture below of a delicious tomato and pepper mixture with charmoula spice) as well as cold. Moroccan flavouring is subtle and it is all down to the expertise of the chef as to whether it is really delicious or simply OK. If you’re hankering after a sandwich, Cafe des Epices is a great place to head to – they even have WIFI. Salads cost around 20 dirhams, tagines from 60 (there are currently 13 dirhams to a pound).
Whilst you won’t usually find fine dining in the old town, there are exceptions. We visit La Sultana on our last night. This is a fabulous hotel right next to the Saadian tombs (well worth a visit). You can dine on French haute cuisine, or take the opportunity to try a range of delicious Moroccan specialities with the most impeccable service and delightful music from an oud player. The prices are European, but well worth it for the ambiance and high quality food – you dine under the stars next to a pool.
And for those of you with a sweet tooth, do try the Marrakeshi equivalent of baklava. These are delicious light pastries filled with nuts and fruits, flavoured with rose water – delicious with the ubiquitous mint tea or coffee
A word of caution. Street restaurants will display prices for food but not drinks. This is the way some make their money, literally making a price up on the spot for incautious tourists – watch out for this in Place des Ferblantiers in particular. You can of course eat out at the stalls in the main square (but with caution as I suggested in Part 1).
To stay in a riad, check out Luxury Riads
La Sultana (information on the accommodation only)