The spiritual center of Marrakech’s old medina is undoubtedly the Djeema El Fna. An UNESCO World Heritage site, this square is the largest of its kind in North Africa and thrives in its anachronistic oddities such as fortune tellers and snake charmers. While the square is a Mecca of cheap shopping, it also is home to some of the best food in Marrakech.
I have recently written about the pitfalls of restaurants that are adjacent to tourist areas and how they are almost always poor quality and tremendously overpriced. This rule does not necessarily apply to Marrakech. The main reason for this exception is the fact that food is at the center of any visit to this ancient city, and great food is found everywhere. While the Djeema El Fna is a major tourist draw, it attracts even more locals who shop and eat there. This is why I felt no remorse on our first full day in town when we ate at a restaurant on the periphery of the square, the Café de France.
There were many reasons not to eat at the Café de France. It seemed that the clientele was comprised entirely of tourists, they had a pizza menu and, judging by the overly branded awnings, Coke was a major sponsor. Even so, we were exhausted, hot and hungry and needed a nosh. It was also our first real meal in Marrakech and I was a little worried my partner would hate it. We are both picky eaters, but he takes it to a whole new level. Marrakech had been my idea and I just wanted him to enjoy the experience.
I had done some research beforehand and knew that tagine would probably be something we would like. Tagine is a simple chicken dish, which we actually learned to cook while in Marrakech. We both ordered the tagine au frites (with fries) and waited anxiously.
The waiter proudly brought out the steaming tagine pots and unveiled them with tremendous flourish. The smell is what hit me first, an exotic combination of saffron and garlic that sent my taste buds into an anxious frenzy. The aroma was only the appetizer, the chicken itself was simple perfection. With just a few ingredients, the cook managed to create a delicate masterpiece worthy of any five-star restaurant.
We were both in heaven. We took our time to carefully taste the chicken and watch the reality show that is the Djeema El Fna. It was a perfect afternoon, and one that we would recreate several more times. By the end of the week, we had
patronized the restaurant at least three more times and became friends with the head waiter, who was a character in his own right. While the temperature was sweltering, he was always meticulously coiffed in a suit and whenever he brought out a new order, he did so with a strange cadence announcing the dish loudly to all within earshot.
When you visit Marrakech, don’t feel like you have to seek out the most obscure and hard to find café. At least in the medina, delicious and affordable meals can be find throughout.