With its stunning sunsets, charming medinas and enchanting spice souks, Morocco is the perfect destination for foodies looking for a sun-filled break – even more so now that Ryanair has announced plans they are opening two new bases in Fes and Marrakech and starting flights from Essaouira and Rabat from April 2013, making it quicker and cheaper to visit this exotic corner of Africa than ever before.
If the thought of traditional tagines, sticky pastries and refreshing mint teas whets your appetite, we’ve got the low down on where to head in each of these foodie havens, and the ingredients that you should be packing in your suitcase to enjoy once home.
Essaouira lies on the Atlantic coast of southern Morocco, two and a half hours from Marrakech. Its seaside location brings about an air of relaxation that’s hard to find in some of the in-land resorts and means you’re guaranteed the freshest seafood.
The main buzz centres on Place Moulay Hassan, the main square, where you’ll find lots of fish grills selling the days catch. A hearty plateful of seafood, including bread, salad and soft drinks, should cost you about a fiver per person. Of course, you can sample the seafood in the city’s many restaurants too, with dishes such as shrimp and squid tagine, oysters, tuna steaks, prawn curries and more.
Also, you might want to consider staying in one of Essaouira’s countless self-catered riads (we recommend Dar Lazuli, where the apartments come stocked with Moroccan cookery books), and then head to the spice souks, food and fish markets to purchase everything that takes your fancy (easier said than done!) and head back to cook up a storm in the comfort of your own space.
Be sure to haggle in the markets for a tagine so that you can recreate some of your new favourite dishes at home. If there’s no space in your suitcase, pick one up back home; Steamer Trading Cookshops stocks ceramic tagines which will have you rustling up Moroccan delicacies in no time.
Situated in-land in the north of Morocco, Fes is a striking, bustling, medieval city encased by ancient walls. Locals consider it the cultural capital of the country and it’s a true shopper’s paradise, with jewellery, leather, ceramics and spices for sale on every corner.
Most tourists flock to Fes el-Bali, the old medina and a UNESCO world heritage site. There are approximately 9,000 alley ways to explore and most are dotted with eateries or stalls selling delicious treats. Spend your days exploring, and look out for the fresh fruit and veg; Fes grew so quickly in its early days because the land is especially fertile, and it’s still very evident today.
Moroccan food is famed for combining fruit and savoury ingredients, so look out for preserved fruit, in particular lemons, apricots and raisins, to bring home and give your meals an authentic Moroccan edge.
Probably Morocco’s best-known destination, Marrakech is a hustling, bustling city, located in the centre of the country. The old town souks are absolutely packed with stalls selling everything from carpets, to spices, to water, to potions, and are a prime place to pick up a bargain. However, the Ville Nouvelle, or new town, is fast emerging as a foodie-friendly destination too, and is well worth paying a visit.
Ensure you’re close to the Djemaa el Fna for early evening and watch the spectacle as street food vendors create restaurants out of thin air and get to work on their grills. The stalls are numbered, and all offer delicious food on the go.
As a foodie, it’ll be near impossible to walk through the markets and not be distracted by the huge range of spices on offer. Make sure you pick up plenty of ras el hanout so that you can cook up authentic Moroccan feasts back home, and consider stocking up on saffron too; it’s much cheaper in Morocco. Just be aware that some traders sell fake spice, so be wary if the deal seems too good to be true; it probably is.
Less known to tourists than Marrakech, Rabat is actually Morocco’s capital city. It’s situated on the Atlantic Coast, further north than Essaouira, at the mouth of the river Bou Regregm and has a relaxed, cosmopolitan vibe.
There are some fantastic restaurants in the city – many of which shy away from traditional fare and favour French influences. There’s even a Japanese eatery, so Rabat is a great destination to head to if you’re looking for diversity.
As always, the medina is hugely popular with tourists and you should head here to pick up any ingredients you want to bring home. Keep an eye out especially for argan oil; it’s fast becoming an ingredient de jour at home (it’s amazing on salads) and as such its price is increasing, but in Morocco, where it’s been used for years, it’s still remarkably cheap.
Image courtesy of- austinevan