25 May A night out in Jemaa el Fna
As smoke rises from the grills, young men speak in several languages to lure in clients promising the best food in the square. Meanwhile storytellers draw crowds of interested listeners with their lively and animated tales. Nearer to the food stalls are the musicians who will happily make a bit of noise for passersby for some spare change. And along the perimeter are colourful and lively orange juice stands where a fresh-pressed juice is a mere four dirhams.
In fact, a trip to Marrakech is just not complete without an evening in Jemaa el Fna, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 for its Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity traditions.
It may just be the greatest outdoor theatre on earth.
We love to head off around sunset to watch as the boys set up the food stalls down below. Carts are pulled and pushed carrying the goods needed to set up the pop-up restaurants including power supplies late afternoon and taken down at the end of the each night. In front of us we admire the changing colours in the sky as the sun sets over the Koutoubia Mosque while listening to the several muezzins call the sunset prayer. All of this as we sip a tea or nous nous from one of the rooftop terraces surrounding the square.
With several options – barbequed meats, calamari, egg and potato sandwiches and even harira soups, decision-making can be difficult.
Not all street food is created equally however and that can certainly be said of the freshly fried calamari that locals queue up for, waiting patiently for a bench seat amongst families and friends dining at stall #14, Krita. With the fish purchased daily from nearby coastal towns, the team here are friendly and accommodating. It may just be the best calamari you’ll ever eat! Be sure to order a side of grilled green peppers and zaalouk (eggplant dip).
A Marrakech institution, Café de France is popular with tourists and locals. Expect to see groups of men meeting on the ground floor while visitors tend to head up to the top terrace to admire the views. Or head over to the Café Glacier for a milkshake on the top terrace.
Don’t let the crowds put you off. Jemaa el Fna is a great place to experience. Children’s games, dentists, musicians and even herbalists, the magic of the square must be experienced.
Remember: If you take a photo of one of the entertainers or enjoy a performance, tips are expected as this a job for the locals. Expect to pay about 20 dhs.