Chris Griffiths reveals why food tours are a great way to avoid tourist traps and try traditional dishes
Navigating your way around a new city can be challenging even for the most experienced traveller. And when you throw a labyrinthine ancient medina into the mix, as well as overzealous shop owners who blur the lines between a good sales pitch and harassment, your introduction to a place such as Marrakech can become a nightmare.
If you don’t have much time in the Red City and are keen on your grub, it is best to book a guide, even if you are an expert backpacker who can read any map and find any backstreet restaurant. Yes, the very word ‘guide’ makes you want to cover your ears as you recall tedious tours of monuments and museums, but a food tour is likely to provide a depth to your experience that you won’t forget.
My love of culinary tours started with Marrakech Food Tours’ guide Youssef escorting me through the bustling ochre Medina. The complicated layout of Marrakech’s streets can appear overwhelming at first, but soon I felt I knew the alleyways like a local and was even able to remember the shortcuts during the remainder of my stay. And since we knew where to go, we could avoid street hustlers and tourist traps, and were able to find the city’s best local eateries.
But the primary reason to do a tour is obviously the food, such as tangia Marrakechia, a rich and scrumptious beef stew served up at stalls in the main square. However, there are some elements to Moroccan cooking that I couldn’t quite get to grips with. Slow-roasted sheep’s head and cow-hoof broth proved a test, as I am not accustomed to eating all parts of an animal. I was gently pushed into tasting one of two traditional meals that I would never have tried of my own accord. Snails slow-boiled in a spicy sauce turned out to be a winner, and I even found myself going for a second serving of the cheek meat from a sheep’s head.
It can sometimes be hard to go beyond the touristy menus and authentic street food can be difficult to find as it depends on the time of the day and which areas you are exploring. Yet Youssef helped me to understand the food from a locals’ perspective. Learning what the average family eats on a weekly-basis made me realise that the gastronomy isn’t just centered on softly spiced tagines and delicious, fluffy couscous. There are myriad dishes and influences ranging from tapas-style salads with vinaigrettes, yummy pastries, breads, sandwiches, noodles and soups. I found that an important aspect of what makes Moroccan cuisine Moroccan is that it is fresh and seasonal and has taken careful preparation.
So not only was I presented the city’s best eats but I was also given a lesson on the social and cultural aspects of everyday life in this fascinating North African country.
Six of the best places to eat
Good food isn’t found only on the streets. Here are our favourite restaurants in Marrakech:
1 Nomad Prepare yourself for seasonal and innovative food, with every dish on the menu featuring a unique twist. The sleek rooftop cocktail bar offers stunning views over the spice market inside the Medina making it great spot at night.
2 Café Clock This place is just as much a creative space (often hosting workshops and performances) as it is an eatery. It prides itself on celebrating the rich traditions of modern Moroccan culture.
3 La Maison Arabe This restaurant, in a beautifully restored house in the heart of the Medina, has an authentic Arab-Andalusian feel. It offers a refined dining experience centered around traditional Berber cuisine.
4 Latitude 31 An exotic garden space inside the Old Medina, with artistically presented dishes which never fail to surprise guests with their novel take on classics.
5 Amal Center Serving homely food in the Gueliz district, Amal’ means ‘hope’ in Arabic and the restaurant offers paid internships and hospitality training for local women in need.
6 Le Jardin This lush garden oasis space in a majestic 16th-century building combines traditional Moroccan and contemporary European flavours, with cocktails on offer, too.
Chris Griffiths booked his food tour through https://marrakechfoodtours.com
All pictures by Chris Griffiths