Guys, I have a confession to make – I’m in love.
It’s not with a person, but with a place. Matt and I just returned from Marrakech, and I can honestly say it has been one of my favourite holidays ever. I had the time of my life, and am already planning to explore the rest of Morocco in the not-too-distant future.
We ate delicious food, explored the city, haggled, drank orange juice, sipped on mint tea, ate some more, and just marvelled at all the vibrant colours around us.
If you ever go, you absolutely have to sit in a roof terrace in the Jemaa El Fna square, drink mint tea (with lots of sugar) and just watch as the square comes alive at night. It’s fascinating how quickly it changes. Just be aware so that you don’t end up with a snake charmer draping a friendly snake around your neck (saw it happen to some unsuspecting tourists). They will ask for money in return.
After your tea (which I became addicted to), you absolutely have to venture into the food stalls for dinner. Keep your eyes open for the tourist traps though – they’ll try and lure you in with funny english one-liners (“safe blood”) and promises of free drinks or free something. Don’t go for it, you’ll most likely end up with average, overpriced food.
Search for where the locals are eating. Those will be the busy stalls, where there is no one trying to drag you to their menu, and little english will be spoken. Worth it though. You might have to wait around 5-10 minutes for a seat, do a bit of pointing, but it’ll be amazing food at incredible price.
At stall 14, Matt and I got two different plates of fish, breads, two aubergine dips, tomato dip, chips, and bottles of water for £2 each! Bargain.
How cool are these escargot carts?
In the same square, both during the day and night, there are loads of orange juice carts. Take your pick. I chose mine at random and the juice was incredible, delicious, and cold. There are tales of people feeling a bit ill afterwards due to unclean glasses – I just took an empty water bater and he filled it for me no problem. Perfect start to a day.
Oh oh, and this guy below? He makes the most incredible smoothie you will ever have. It’s not a stall but in one of the streets off the square, leading to the souks. You’ll find locals gathered around gulping down glasses of the stuff. Not a word of english, but just hold up the number of glasses you want, and drink away. I need to try and recreate this, as I can’t not have it in my life. I detected layers of avocado, dates, banana, and strawberry.
Now that you’re fuelled up on smoothie and orange juice, dive headfirst into the Souks. They’re not for the faint of heart, mind you, but don’t take a guide. They’re busy, with bicycles and motorcycles zooming past, and shopkeepers trying to get you into their shops. So much haggling takes place it can leave you feeling quite exhausted.
Here is what I learned – know what you want before you start. No point in wasting time on something you’re only ‘meh’ about. Think of the maximum price you’re willing to pay, and ask them how much it cost. Whatever they say, start with about 1/4 to 1/5 of that and work your way towards the ‘best price’. Be reasonable, at the end of the day, they also need to feed their family.
I love dates and apricots! Reminds me so much of Aladdin’s cave!
Now, of course, the food. I had such good food, and there was not one minute where I felt hungry. Walking around the markets, pick up a pastry (or two) to fuel you between all that hard haggling you’re doing – you’ve earned it.
For eating out, one of my favourite meals was actually close to my Riad, at a small shop, where again not much english was spoken and there was a lot of pointing and guessing involved. Don’t be afraid to venture into small places that look a bit intimidating. Chances are, you’ll be eating authentic Moroccan food and not the generic stuff served at tourist-centred restaurants. Be brave. Also, try their yogurt! I loved it so much that Matt gave me his every morning.
Now, for spices, be mindful. In the summer, it can get really hot and many spices are not stored properly. Also, with things such as Saffron, there are a few tricks to making sure you’re getting the real deal (taught by the lovely Michel – more on that to come!).
The price – Saffron is rare, as it only grows in the base of the mountains and the cultivating period is so short (about 1-2 hours) before the flower dies and it goes to waste. Such a thing does not come cheap. If it’s on offer for 20 Dhs, it’s probs fake. Aim more for 80 Dhs.
The look – Fake saffron can have many nasties (such as dehydrated animal vessels – ew) so make sure you know how it’s supposed to look. Powder saffron is a big no-no. Think thin, longish strands of vibrant red.
The test – Saffron, when put in warm water, releases a yellow colour while the strand remains red. Only nature can make this magic happen, so if you do so and the water turns red, or the stem looses it’s colour, it ain’t the real deal. If the shop keeper says he can’t give you said water, walk away. He knows you know. With Argan oil, put it in the fridge – if it splits, it’s mixed with other stuff. Take it back.
Keeping up with an authentic Morocco, you’ll want to pay the Tanneries a visit. Ok, so the smell is definitely not inviting, but they do give you a sprig of mint before entering. You’ll learn (and smell) that leather is soaked in pigeon poop (yep) and what natural dye yields which colour.
Now, a few tips and tricks you have to keep in mind.
Some people will try and scam you. It’s inevitable, but you can take a few steps to avoid this.
First off, always agree on a price before hand – be it cabs, guides, and even meals sometimes. Cabs will always cost more for tourists, as many won’t turn on their meter. From the airport to the Medina, a cab will cost you around 100 Dhs if you know to say so, or else they’ll charge 200 Dhs straight off.
Second, beware of guides offering to take you somewhere. They will ask for a price (usually crazy prices) and no matter what you give they will always ask for more. Laugh it off and play it cool. Know where you want to go and have a map. If you need help, ask a shop-keeper or someone who can’t leave their business to point you in the right direction.
Thirdly, stay in a Riad. Honestly. They’re usually full of character, in the hustle and bustle of the Medina so you won’t have to take cabs, and can cost a lot less than hotels. We stayed here and it was great. We only took a cab to-from the airport as we walked everywhere!
Lastly, the basics. Ladies, cover up. It’s respectful and it’ll also save you feeling uncomfortable. On the same note, couples, tone down the public display of affection. Avoid tap water, rice (bacteria feeding ground), and make sure the cutlery/cups you get are properly cleaned. Remember, a smile goes a long way.
One curious fact – there are cats everywhere! I barely saw any dogs, but everywhere you look there are cats. Right by our Riad there was a mama kitten and her three kittens. So so adorable. Look at that little face!
And all this is just for the city of Marrakech itself! So vibrant and so alive. It’s so different from London, it’s not only a whole different continent, but it also feels like a whole different world. A world which captivated me with it’s colours, chaos, tastes, and smells.
So much I still need to share with you guys, but those things also deserve a post all on their own. With this post, I just wanted to focus on the superstar itself – Marrakech.