The first time I came to Morocco I did not only not love Marrakech, I also didn’t like Moroccan food. Oh the shock and horror, I know, I know. But to be honest, it just seemed rather bland to me. The vegetables of any tagine were always overcooked (spoiler alert – they still are, I just don’t order them!), the sugar/chicken combination of the pastilla freaky and that the cows brain on the market were not to become an all-time favorite was kind of a no-brainer. Pardon the pun.
While the world seemed to be raving about Moroccan food, I was sad and wondering if I had done something wrong and somehow missed all the great food these other people were eating. Only my friend Claire was on my side and declared over an especially scrumptious dish of so-called Moroccan lamb at our favorite, the Pot Luck Club: This is how I pictured Moroccan food would taste like! I could only agree with her, but we both knew that we were far off from eating original Moroccan food here.
Still I returned to Morocco, liking it enough to give Marrakech a second chance and to not care too much about the food. After all, there is nothing wrong with eating little meatballs in tomato sauce for a week and drink mint tea.
Everything changed when I stayed at La Mamounia and they invited me to dine at their Moroccan restaurant.
They offer Moroccan dishes but, of course, elevated. Ever since watching Masterchef this is a word I really like when it comes to cooking. Here it meant the pastilla was filled with lobster and the meatballs with foie gras. The couscous was flaky AND buttery, the vegetables still had bite and there was the most beautiful Moroccan wine to wash it all down with. I was in foodie heaven.
When I returned to Marrakech now those meatballs were the reason I contacted the Mamounia and asked whether I could come for dinner again. I could and they would also give me a room for the night to sleep my food baby off.
I mentioned before that I am a creature of habit and so I ate the very same dish again. And once again, it was Moroccan heaven on a plate.
To have a bit of elevated variety I also dined at the La Grande Table Marocaine at Royal Mansour, headed by Yannick Alleno. Yannick is a chef my brother had already told me about. As you may or may not know my brother is my food guide so if he tells me about someone or something, it comes with good references already. I was not to be disappointed.
There was tagine of langoustines & white beans, a dessert of rose jelly and those petit fours. Luckily the waiters were kind enough not to blink an eye while they are loading up a big plate for me. Not my finest princess moment, but definitely one of the yummiest.
I know that hotel restaurants can be a bit of a bummer even if the rest is great, but here you won’t be disappointed. And if you want to have a taste of not one but three tagines in one dish, I recommend eating at Al Ain in the Royal Palm.
All three hotels allow outside guests, so if you are looking to treat yourself to a more than royal feast, I recommend you get yourself a reservation.
But now I can see your pleating looks – where can I eat in Marrakech for the rest of the week? Without having to forgo my next plane ticket? (that is usually my thought process – fancy dinner here or plane ticket to there?). While my first truly great Moroccan meal was at La Mamounia from there it started to trickle down and all of a sudden I found all these great options on where to eat in Marrakech. So here are some of my favorites:
After a really horrid dinner experience on Jemaa El Fna just to get a table for a proper sunset shot, I wanted to stay clear of all the restaurants too close to the action. Then I read about Chez Chergounez on Conde Nast Traveler who raved about it and I decided to give it a shot. I needed to further convincing than one plate of brochettes and fries to come back many times. Moroccan classics done quick and well all served with a front row view of the Place.
While it is maybe not the most authentic and has become a bit too popular for tourists to make for a great crowd, I still really like Nomad. The roof terrace offers one of the best views over the medina and the Place des Epices, water mist sprinklers in summer and some cool tunes. I always eat their chicken brochette with harissa and never leave without having amlou ice cream and verbena leaf sorbet. And of course, it is so very convenient that Chabi Chic is just downstairs and Terre d’Eveil just around the corner!
Le Jardin is equally well-liked though personally I think the food is a bit overrated and again, not very traditional Moroccan. However, its garden-riad setting is beautiful and really tranquil with lots of green in the middle of the souks. I really like the setting so I would definitely recommend it for a coffee, a salmon tartar or if you want a tortoise to nibble on your feed.
Come here for a camel burger (indeed, that is a thing!) or a smoothie and most importantly hikayat. This is the Moroccan take on Arabian Nights but in English – storytelling! It is also an excellent place to answer all your stupid and not so stupid questions about Moroccan life and customs – book a session with ‘Kech Download to learn everything about food, society, religion.
Merguez at stall 31
While some locals argue that there is no good food to be found at the food stalls that pop up every evening on the Jemaa El Fna, I will argue you can. Also, it is just such an amazing experience to see them come to life once the sun sets, the enticing smell of barbecued meat and yes, of course, the usual shouts and bartering of the vendors. As per usual, go where you see mostly locals or at least long lines. What to eat? Meat skewers, merguez from stall 31 and for the more adventurous snails in broth.
This place is probably not the greatest in terms of food but I really like it. It is close enough to all the action of the Jemaa El Fna to be vibey but removed enough so you can sit there with your book and chill. Also, they make some really good fries and the portions are manageable which is something very un-Moroccan but I appreciate it.
For a “Casablanca” vibe I recommend Le Grand Cafe de la Poste and next on my agenda to try are Al Fassia, a restaurant run by women offering awesome home cooking and Salt, a new-ish restaurants with temporary international chefs and changing menus.
And as always, get lost and find yourself some street food and local snacks. Here is what to have:
M’ssemen – A square type of pancake which can go either sweet or savory.
Moroccan donuts…for a lack of better word. Big or small, with or without sugar – the most delicious snack when freshly fried!
Hout Quari – Sardine balls that are usually served in a sandwich.
Brochette – Meat skewers.
Tangia – A traditional Marrakech dish of slow cooked lamb, usually prepared by men in an urn which is put on hot coals underground. The meat gets super tender, almost falling off the bone. Scrumptious!
Harira – A tomato base soup with chickpeas, lentils and vermicelli noodles that is usually served with some dates for a nice contrast of savory and sweet.
Then there is olive oil (the Moroccan olive oil is one of the best I’ve ever had and yes, that includes olive oil from Italy, Greece, and South Africa!) and argan oil to dip bread, yoghurt, olives, amlou (a spread of argan nuts, almonds, and honey – especially delicious on a crepe), fresh orangejuice from any of the vendors on Jemaa El Fna, cumin on your eggs or anything else for this matter, fresh seasonal fruit, and of course, all the mint tea! Because you know, keep calm and drink mint tea…
As you know, I will probably be back soon so if you have any other recommendations where to eat in Marrakech, I would love to hear them!