I am two days removed from eating dinner at the Jamaa el Fna food stalls and I am functioning in all aspects of daily life. While the smells of grilled meats and constant stimulus will bring you in, I have a few tips and insider knowledge to pass along on your visit to Marrakesh.
First off, I posed a question to a local guide on which stalls are better and if there’s a super-secret menu. He smiled and said, “I don’t eat there. It’s for the tourists.” Wonderful! I got that same answer when I asked about a guide about the Beijing Night Stalls. So if you think that you’ll be sitting next to locals after a long day of work, think again.
The other question is if they are serving the same food and menus. Indeed, it’s all grilled meats, poultry, fish and vegetables along with your fried foods. The prices may differ from 5MAD ($0.50us) between stalls but that’s not much of a difference. Most have laminated English menus.
Some will grab you and tell you that they are different, but really it isn’t. It’s like those halal carts in New York City. It’s all the same meat or meat-type product.
Some stalls will have the steamed sheep’s head in a gravy-like broth served over couscous, but I passed on that. I told the hucksters that I had sheep’s head for lunch.
Then there is the popular Marrakesh delicacy, snail’s soup. I was up for that challenge, but needless to say, it’s not something I recommend. It’s too earthy and murky tasting and I don’t seek out snails to begin with. I’m not that Andrew Zimmern guy from Travel Channel. If you do go for it, it only costs 10-15MAD.
You’re safe bet is the grilled meats, breads, fries and some Moroccan treats. Wash it down with the local drink of choice, bottled water. I passed on the raw vegetables and salads. I suggest you do as well, since who knows where that is from and how many flies have been swarming around it.
The grilled meats are cooked over searing hot coals so it kills any bacteria. The bread is baked that day so you can make yourself a little sandwich or dip in the hot sauce or mild tomato sauce. It’s served on a hot skewer as well. Just avoid having it contact with a plate. The stalls don’t have running water and who knows how that plate was washed. Each stall has plenty of butcher’s paper at the table.
How was it? It was good. Hearty, filling, basic. The hot sauce gave it some nice flavor. You’re going for atmosphere, not food.
For how to pick which stall to go, if you do I lap like I did, you’ll be grabbed, harassed and barked at to no end. You just need to go in with a fun attitude and joke with them. I grabbed them as well. They will appreciate your good humor. They have a competition with each other and it can get boisterous.
Guy: “Hello. Français? English? Please sit.”
Me: “I’m going to check to see if I have a reservation at stall No. 14, if not I’ll come back. Do you have Groupon deals?”
That confused him.
If you don’t want to be yelled at, just pick a stall at the end of the row like I did. I sat down at No. 1 because there was a lot of seating and I could make a quick exit. Sit facing the pathway, not with your back to it because you’ll get fake watches shoved in your face while eating. It can startle you. Plus, you want to see the parade of tourists past by.
The thing that I found funny is that while you are sitting down, other push carts will pass by and sell you more food and treats.
My total bill for water, grilled chicken, fries and an Moroccan pastry was 70MAD, about $7-8. Not a bad deal, and it comes with a show.