In the shadow of Koutoubia Mosque, the minaret you see on the front of every guidebook, is the Djemma el-Fna, Marrakesh’s chaotic hub. In the morning, the square is lined with vendors selling freshly squeezed orange juice at just four dirhams a glass.
Henna artists set up makeshift stalls under shades and proffer laminated cards showcasing a range of designs which can adorn any limb you desire. Similarly, as lunch rolls around the street performers set up shows – ranging from snake charmers, dancing monkeys to acrobats. I’m not sure their animal welfare is quite what we are used to.
But the djemma really gets going once dusk sets in and chefs set up their temporary kitchens, with food stalls serving an array of tajines, grilled meats, couscous and fresh veg. For the more adventurous there’s snail soup or sheep’s brain. At first, it is as my Mum described, a bit like a gauntlet run.
Dinner at Djemma el-Fna
As soon as you step out of the taxi onto the square, it is an assault on the senses wafts of grilled meats and noisy. You are inundated with menu offers from many sellers using their best English phrases, you’ll certainly hear yells of ‘lovely jubbly’ and ‘see you later alligator’ called in your wake. Tom and I picked a stall whose tables were filled with families and friends chowing down.
Sat on long trestle tables with plastic tablecloths, each place is denoted by disc-shaped khboz, a Moroccan white bread, which you can snack on at one dirham a piece. We dipped our khboz in harissa paste, a salted lemony chilli dip; and between us we had several different brochettes, or kebabs – chicken, pork, lamb; as well as Moroccan salads, grilled aubergine and chopped tomato; and plates of vegetable tagine and couscous.
Now dessert was interesting – a poulet pastille – shredded chicken wrapped in thin pastry and dipped in sugar and coconut. A bit like a chicken-stuffed peshwari naan.
Morrocan food has a special place in our hearts – on our third date Tom made me a lush lamb tagine (clearly out to impress) and we did not having a traditional wedding cake, but a five-tier M’Hencha, called after its serpent-like shape. So we fully intended to eat our way through Marrakesh – one tagine at a time.