Conveniently located just opposite the open air food stalls of Jemaa al-Fnaa is ‘Snack la place’, a cosy restaurant that you will discover to be humming with tourists and locals alike, night and day.
Snack la place’s menu offers a delicious variety of flavoursome Moroccan dishes at very affordable prices. Try your taste buds by ordering a bowl of locally sourced Marakshi olives for 5 Dirham’s (£0.39), these make the perfect partner alongside a traditional meal of couscous and chicken will set you back 25 Dirhams (£1.93).
Snack la Place location in the very heart of Jemaa al-Fnaa makes it the ideal space to sit and observe the thriving open air food markets that come alive in the centre of Marrakech as the sun sets over the city. If you’re not yet feeling adventurous enough to throw yourself at the the food stalls, enjoy some light refreshments at Snack la Place and scout out one of the many open air stalls to try at a later date.
For those who haven’t tried the Moroccan dish, Tanjia, Snack La Place is an ideal restaurant to do so. Tanjia is a delicacy that’s specific to the red city of Marrakech, where pieces of lamb or chicken are marinaded in Moroccan spices and slowly cooked in an oval shaped pot. This process is often carried out over several hours above the scorching flames used to heat local Hammam’s and it awards this dish a remarkably flavoursome taste.
At Snack la Place this dish can be tried in average portions and at fantastic value, 25 Dirham’s (£1.93). After a five minute walk from the Riad Dar Habiba you will find yourself in the thick of Jemaa al-Fnaa, which acts as the beating heart of the red city of Marrakech and the central hub for anything from Moroccan cuisine to street performances.
As you unwind in one of the cafe’s or restaurants that are lined along the edges Jemaa al-Fnaa, don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of a group of local acrobats who often descend towards the South-Eastern corner of the square.
The troupe are an illustrious bunch and after vaulting and somersaulting their way through the square, they quickly disperse into the thriving crowds passing through Jemaa al-Fnaa.
So I ask a nearby local for more information surrounding the history of acrobatics in Marrakech. I’m told that that the practice of acrobatics is revered not only in the red city but across the entire nation of Morocco. Also if an acrobat show’s unbridled natural talent, it is often said the blood of H’amad Amous could run in his or her veins.
Amous, the local Marrakshi goes on to describe is was a leader of a famous clan of acrobats in a time gone past. People would say that salt flowed through the bones of H’amad Amous and his followers and this is what allowed them to bend and propel their bodies in impossible ways.
Although the legend of Amous is encompassed by both fiction and fact, a ten minute stroll from Riad Cinnamon through the renowned souk district will take you to the beating heart of the city, Jemaa al-Fnaa where the acrobat’s of Marrakech still practice their trade to this day.
During your visit to the red city of Marrakech, one thing you cannot afford to miss are the olive sellers of the central square. You will find them lined up in the Northern reaches of Jemaa al-Fnaa as the square and the famous Souk district connect with one another.
It’s important to note that Morocco is a country of regional delicacies. Between Essaouria and Agadir, Argan trees paint the landscape in a luscious green. This is where the nutty and intensely flavoured Argan oil originates from. The same notion applies to dried fruits and dates, these sacred Moroccan staples are at their most delicious when grown in the deep Saharan South, from the regions of Goulmima to Zagora and the Draa Valley.
Therefore, whereas you might have to travel a little way to sample the freshest portions of oils and dates, some of the finest Moroccan olives are at your doorstep. Hand-picked from the groves of the Atlas region, the olives that grow around Marrakech all four seasons and, as many Marrakshi locals would tell you, the olives that find their way to the market stalls of the red city are of some of the highest calibre in the country.
Olives are picked at various stages of ripening to determine their colour and subsequent flavour and texture. After this is complete the olives can be marinaded using a host of Moroccan herbs to create an array of different flavours. For around 5 Dirham’s (£0.39) you can purchase an entire bag of olives, so why not sample all the different olives on offer?
The central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa is but a 10 minute stroll from the Riad Papillon in the heart of the Marrakech Medina.
During your visit to Morocco you will discover Marrakech’s central square (Jemaa al-Fnaa) to be a sensory overload of sight, taste and sound whether you visit at night or at day.
One stall that you might hear before you see however, are the various CD sellers that are scattered about Jemaa al-Fnaa. As well as selling a variety of local music that’s impossible to buy hard copies of in Europe, come night and day they will be setting the rhythm of the square, filling the air with the sounds of Gnawa and the Arab world.
After working with a team of international journalists and DJ’s on a radio station in Oslo, Norway I’ve become keen to find new and interesting sounds that don’t make it onto the airwaves in the British Isles.
So after approaching one of the stalls I was delighted when the stall owner, whose name was Jalid came over to tell me more about the types of music the stalls collect. Jalid informs me that the stall collects Western sounds as well as Arabic, Berber, Gnawa and traditional Arabic music from artist’s hailing from all over North Africa.
Jalid goes on to tell me that in the 5 years he has been working in Jemaa al-Fnaa he has developed a love for house music. So after a long week’s work Jalid and his friends exchange the timeless traditional characteristics of the Marrakech Medina for the bright lights and modern bustle of the new town of Guiliez, in search of discos and contemporary music.
During your stay in Marrakech, strike up conversation with one of the many music salesmen scattered through the city square, they will be delighted to hear you take an interest in the native sounds of North Africa. They will also be more than happy to recommend an artist for you and a CD from a local musician makes for an eye opening gift for a friend back home.
Finally, don’t be too shy to recommend some music from your own corner of the world to the salesmen themselves! Music is their passion and they will only thank you for it. Jemaa al-Fnaa is the beating heart of the red city of Marrakech and is only a 10 minute walk from the luxury Riad Star.
El Waha Café Restaurant is located on the eastern side of the central square of Marrakech (Jemaa al-Fnaa), a convenient 5 minute stroll from Riad Dar Habiba but only a 10-15 minute walk from any of our other Riad’s.
El Waha offers a similar selection of traditional Moroccan dishes as other Café Restaurant’s in the area such as Taj’in Darna, what distinguishes El Waha however is it’s rooftop terrace which is one of the highest in Jemaa al-Fnaa.
After a short climb to the terrace you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of Jemaa al-Fnaa and the high Atlas mountains that surround the red city whilst enjoying a glass of Moroccan mint tea.
Another charming characteristic at El Waha is the option of being able to enjoy local cuisine and refreshments on a set of Moroccan sofas towards the back of the terrace. From this cosy corner you can still gaze over the bustling hub of the red city whilst enjoying a gentle breeze and some respite from the intense Moroccan sun.
As the sun set’s over the central square of Marrakech, performers, magicians and musicians descend on Jemaa al-Fnaa to perform for the thriving crowds that circulate within the area. One group of musicians who call themselves the ‘Argan group’ have become particularly popular in the square for the atmosphere they create with their array of percussion instruments.
Hailing from different Berber villages scattered around the outskirts of the red city, the musicians meet with their instruments in the centre of Marrakech to captivate the crowds of the Medina.
The Argan Group’s style reflects that of which is typical in the Rif Valley (Berber: Arif Valley) in the very Northern reaches of Morocco.
Although it’s impossible to understand the flurry of Berber and Arabic singing that pierces the smoky air of the square, just watching the group of musicians keep the steady cadence of their music whilst sharing out glasses of Moroccan mint tea and ushering curious passersby closer into the circle is a truly remarkable sight.
I quickly learn that the only way to speak with Argan group and find out more about them is by accepting to dance with the members inside the circle! After learning to dance in the traditional Berber style I learn from a man whose name is Omar that the group have been playing together since 1998 and as well as street performances they are often asked to play at weddings and other special celebrations.
The central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa is only a 5 minute walk from the Riad Dar Habiba. As you discover the street performers of Marrakech don’t be surprised to be asked to dance along too! In this corner of the world it is often not often to simply sit alongside the musicians as the line between performer and spectator is often blurred!
Taj’in Darna is a cafe/ restaurant located on the Eastern side of Marrakech’s central square. Serving a variety of traditional Moroccan dishes and refreshments it’s cosy rooftop terrace is the ideal space in which to stop and refresh your batteries after a day spent exploring the red city.
Due to the stunning panoramic views of Jemaa al-Fnaa from Taj’in Darna’s terrace you can expect to pay just a few more Dirham’s for a meal here compared with nearby snack bars such Snack Toubkal. A Moroccan chicken tajine is around 45 Dirham’s (£3.44) and a glass of sweet mint tea is 15 Dirham’s (£1.15).
As Taj’in Darna is located in the cities central square it is only a short walking distance from any of our hotel Riad’s. I often went there during the holy month of Ramadan to enjoy a salad with the seclusion that the Cafe’s terrace offers. If you are feeling adventurous, I would recommend that you try the range of Moroccan Pastilla’s that are on offer at the restaurant. Combing both salty and sweat this hand-cooked meat pie is baked and sprinkled with both sugar and cinnamon for a unique, delicious taste.
The ideal time to visit Taj’in Darna is as the sun starts to set across the red city. As you enjoy the rich and flavoursome dishes that Morocco has to offer you can look across the square of Jemaa al-Fnaa and watch it burst into life as musicians, storytellers and performers pour out onto the streets to prepare for the night ahead.
Lamp’s have held a hugely high value in Moroccan architecture and design for hundreds of years and are used in all four corners of Morocco to decorate shops, restaurants and houses. Hand-crafted Moroccan lamps come in all shapes and sizes and often take a painstakingly long time to complete.
In Jemaa al-Fnaa many lamp salesmen can easily be found among the street shops that line around the edges of the central square. Though these boutiques are nameless, there is one however which specialises in traditional Moroccan lamps which is nearly impossible to miss.
After a 10 minute walk from the Riad Star towards the centre of the red city, I spot the lamp boutique and immediately images of Aladdin’s cave are conjured in my mind. I have to stoop under the array of Moroccan lanterns hanging from the shop’s ceiling, all of which are designed using different patterns, sizes and materials.
I talk to the shop keeper, who introduces himself as Omar. He explain’s that he and a friend have been in the trade of collecting lamps in Marrakech for around 10 years. He goes on to explain to me that traditional Moroccan lamps are used in the interiors and exteriors of homes and that their unique design is important to many Moroccans.
I would recommend returning to the lamp shop after the sun sets. From then it is easier to get an understanding of the unique ambiance that the Moroccan lanterns create. As the flames dance within their casings the unique patterns of each lamp are illuminated on the surrounding walls, giving the boutique a stunning and truly mysterious feel.
You never truly quite know what to expect before venturing into Marrakech’s thriving central hub, Jemaa al-Fnaa. A five minute wander through this ancient space and you will witness acrobats, story tellers and magicians all competing to hold the gaze of the moving crowds.
There is one act, however that is perhaps quite different from the others. A troupe of four musicians, Abdulrahim, Mostafa, Abdelrazak and Said make up the group known as ‘Amal Saha’ and unlike the mysterious, healing sounds of Gnawa music in the square, Amal Saha’s songs are powerfully charged with optimism.
Abdulrahim disappear’s shortly after as the crowds begin to swarm around the group once more. Soon after the steady cadence of the band’s drums slowly fills the air with sound as screams, claps and shouts erupt from the crowd. Although Amal Saha’s lyrics are of course in Arabic, the raw, uncompromising riffs flowing from the bands electric banjo through to a megaphone powered by a car battery are without need of a translation. This was not so much of a conventional music performance in which a band plays music for an audience to listen. As the drums, guitars and shrill cries of Amal Saha pierce the already wild atmosphere of Jemaa al-Fnaa I learn that this is a performance in which both musician and crowd are animated under the same energy of expression.
And unlike the various punk concerts I attend back in the United Kingdom, Amal Saha are encased by a crowd of parents, children and the elderly, all chanting in unison.
Jemaa al-Fnaa is a five to ten minute walk from any of our Riad’s and a night spent with Amal Saha for me was another case example of the remarkable experiences that can be had just from walking through the streets of the red city of Marrakech.
The centre of Marrakech (Jemaa al-Fnaa) is not only the cultural hub of the red city, it’s also a thriving centre for cuisine. Here you will find restaurants, cafe’s and open air stalls to match any budget.
Tucked away on the Eastern side of Djemaa al-Fnaa as you enter the square from Rue Riad Zitoun Lakdim is ‘Snack Toubkal’.
Day and night, Snack Toubkal is a bustling eating spot for tourists and locals. As one of the waiters guides you to your seat don’t be surprised to overhear a melting pot of different languages conversing with one another whilst enjoying a range of traditional Moroccan dishes.
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of Snack Toubkal is it’s incredibly cheap. A Moroccan salad (tomatoes, onions and parsley infused with a range of spices from fresh dill to Ras el Hanout) costs only 5 Dirhams (£0.38) and a home-cooked chicken or lamb tajine is 25 Dirhams (£1.91).
For this reason Snack Toubkal is the ideal location to try a variety of different dishes you might be unsure about in the higher budget restaurants. Go with a group of friends and mix and match each others dishes to discover what appeals most to your taste buds whilst recharging your batteries from a day spent in the Marrakshi souks.
Conveniently placed in the central square, Snack Toushkal is easy to locate and only a five to ten minute walk from any of our Riads hotels. If you visit the cafe during the day, I would highly recommend trying the classic Moroccan soup dish ‘Harira’. Full bodied and fragrantly seasoned with ginger, pepper and cinnamon, Harira is again a cheap and truly delicious dish that will make your trip in Morocco all the more special.
From the red city of Marrakech to the sleepy oasis of Essaouira, one thing you will not miss on your visit to Morocco is the intense presence of ‘Gnawa’ music. From single musicians to whole troops practice this art form and you will instantly be able to recognise Gnawa in the streets by the distinctive beat of iron rattles or ‘karkabas’.
There is in fact a world of mystery encompassing the exact origin of this revered and celebrated art form. Moroccans agree that it originally crept into the country from the southern reaches of the Sahara deserts however there is much dispute as to how and who originally brought this unique style of music into Morocco.
This Gnawa musicias name is Omar and ever day as I walk from the Riad Dar Habiba down Rue Riad Zitoun el Kdim he is sat just outside the central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa, filling in the air with the steady cadence of Gnawa music through his 3 stringed bass plucked lute, called a ‘hajhuj’.
Although it’s uncertain as to how Gnawa came to arrive in Morocco, what’s important is that it did and that it spread to the four corners of the country like wildfire. Gnawa is so embedded in Morocco that some with a keen ear for this art form can tell the origin of a musician by the slight variations in style and performance in the same was a varying Darija Arabic accent.
Gnawa music is perhaps one of the most remarkable and fascinating arts that I have come into contact with here in Morocco. When you discover Marrakech for yourself you will see how perfectly synchronised this unique sound is with the beat of the red city.
The Riad Star
Served in a peppery broth called ‘babbouche’, the white snails of Morocco must be cooked slowly over a low heat using a balanced mixture of over 15 different spices. Babbouche is popular with the locals and you may be greeted with a smile (as I was) upon approaching a snail stall, as not many tourists pluck up the courage to try this wonderful dish.
Although you may be tempted to veer straight towards the open food stalls of Jemaa al-Fnaa, I would urge that you to make a quick stop and try a small bowl of babbouche. Although admittedly I was nervous at first, this dish soon won over my taste-buds and is one of the most intensely flavoursome delicacies I’ve had the pleasure of eating here in Marrakech.
At only 5 Dirhams (£0.38) a bowl, this is an experience you can’t miss out on. Jemaa al-Fnaa is only a 10 minute walk from Riad Cinnamon, Papillon and Star and as the central cultural hub of activity in Marrakech it will be one of the highlights of your trip to Morocco.
Camels have played a important role for North Africans for thousands of years. In ancient times they were crucial as a mode of transport and this tradition continues today in more rural areas of Morocco.
The guardian of the Riad Dar Habiba tells me that throughout Morocco these majestic beasts are universally respected. A camels hair can be made into an incense and this is used to treat nosebleeds, it’s hide is often tanned and used to make prayer mats. Some Moroccans also believe that a camel is the only sentient being that is able to see the Djinn, spiritual creatures mentioned in the Qu’ran that exist alongside humans and angels.
Of course the other uses for camels are their meat and their milk. Although I have not yet tried camel meat, I have been assured that like it’s milk it has a delicious and unique taste that’s quite difficult to compare to anything else.
Camel meat can be found in the Marrakech Medina, however milk is perhaps more widely available. Whilst visiting a supermarket on Rue Dar Daou just five minutes walk from the Riad Dar Habiba, I am intrigued to try this staple that is otherwise nearly impossible to find back home in the UK.
What many had assured me turned out to be entirely true. Although there are certainly similar characteristics to cattle milk, there is a completely unique and actually quite sweet aftertaste that is very difficult to compare to anything I have tried before. At only 13 Dirhams (£1) for half a litre I can say that I have made this rare and pleasurable staple a normal part of my diet!
As the holy fasting month of Ramadan draws to a close in the world of Islam, the red city of Marrakech comes alive as vibrant religious festivities for Eid go underway.
Eid celebrations are split into two parts, ‘Eid al-Fitr’ (festival of the breaking of the fast) which is followed by ‘Eid as-Adha’ (festival of sacrifice). There are some differences that mark the two unique occasions, Eid al-Fitr is also sometimes called ‘the sugar feast’ as traditionally women often come together to prepare a collection of sweet, delicious delicacies of which the family can enjoy as a whole.
Eis as-Adha on the other hand is a four day long festival which some households choose to celebrate with the slaughtering of a sheep or a cow. The spirit of charity and love runs sincerely through both of these religious occasions as family gatherings take place in homes and on the streets of the red city. Food is evenly distributed between family, friends and those less fortunate and many attend special prayer rituals throughout the Mosque’s of Marrakech.
During this enchanting time of the year, do not be surprised if the electric atmosphere of Marrakech comes directly to your door! The local boys of Rue Derb Jdid, next to the Riad Dar Habiba spend the afternoons of Eid making music together and passers by stop to absorb the scene as the sound of drums and singing fills the night air.
As the Islamic calender is lunar, the exact time of the celebrations change every year. However many Marrakshi would advise that you try and plan your trip to coincide with this ancient festival. Especially towards the evenings as families and friends pour onto the streets, the atmosphere from the new-town of Guiliez through to the heart of the Marrakech Medina makes this time a truly remarkable event to be a part of.
Just a five minute stroll from the Riad Cinnamon and the Riad Star is the Cafe Arabe. Nicely situated in a sleepy neighborhood just north of the renowned souk district, Cafe Arabe offers traditional Moroccan cuisine in a modern and sophisticated environment.
I have been to the Cafe Arabe a few times now during my stay in Marrakech but I always find myself returning. The atmosphere inside the cafe/ restaurant is relaxed and welcoming and an hour spent here makes a refreshing contrast to the hustle and bustle of the souks.
On the menu are a variety of traditional Moroccan dishes, including salads and tajines. Cafe Arabe also offer a fantastic selection of alcoholic beverages, ranging from fresh fruit cocktails to a selection of Moroccan wines.
Whether it’s to enjoy dinner or simply to relax and have a drink whilst the cool Moroccan breeze washes over you from the terrace, there certainly is something on offer for everyone at the Cafe Arabe.
Located in the Mellah district of the Marrakech Medina along Rue Bahia Bab Mellah is Bahia Palace (Palais de la Bahia), just south of the cities central square and a five minute stroll from the Riad Dar Habiba.
The Bahia Palace and the stunning sets of tranquil gardens enclosed behind its walls are within easy walking distance from Djemaa El Fnaa and have thus become a hugely popular destination for visitors of the red city.
After speaking with some of the helpful tour guides within the Palace, I learn that the Bahia was constructed in the late 19th Century between 1894 and 1900 by the commission of a father and his son, Si Moussa and Ba Amed. Both were Viziers to Moroccan sultans and their intentions were to build a Palace that would outshine any other Palace of its time.
Indeed some may argue that they succeeded. Trickling fountains, fresh orange trees and shaded gardens are scattered throughout the walled pavilions of the Palace, allowing the name ‘Bahia’ meaning “brilliance” to live up to it’s standards.
Alongside the pastoral beauty within the Bahia palace, the level of craftsmanship that decorates the floors and ceilings of the complex is truly remarkable. Intricately crafted poly-chrome mosaic’s known as Zellij (or zellige) deck the ceilings of the rooms of the Bahia Palace, of which many were designed to house the wives of the ruling Sultan.
The Bahia Palace showcases a beautiful fusion between traditional Moroccan and Islamic architectural design and for only 10 Dirhams entry you can gain a fascinating glimpse into to history of the kingdom of Morocco. Make sure you stop by to admire this truly astounding landmark just a short walk from our Riad hotel Dar Habiba.
Nestled alongside Boulevard Al Yarmouk is the Marrakech Medina’s cyber park. If you are looking to seek some shade from the Moroccan sun or need to send a quick e-mail while you are on the move in the city, then the cyber park is the ideal location to spend an hour and recharge your batteries.
The Medina’s cyber park and it’s internet facilities are completely free to the public and the collections of fountains, orange trees and even some interesting viewpoints of the Medina’s ramparts make this shady oasis a great place to relax for those seeking respite from the bustle of the city.
Chebakia is a sesame based cookie, hand folded into the shape of a flower and then fried and coated in honey. During the holy month of Ramadan, Chebakia is one of the many specialties that’s widely consumed throughout Morocco and Marrakech is no exception.
Chebakia isn’t only eaten because it’s delicious, for many Moroccans Chebakia is the first thing that is eaten as the days fast is broken as the sun sets. This is because many people believe that by breaking their fast with this sugary confectionery will expand their stomachs and allow them to eat more as the night progresses.
On Rue Derb Toureg, a five minute walk from Riad Dar Habiba I discover the patisserie ‘Tera isa’, where Chebakia is specially made during Ramadan. The owner of the shop whose name is Hassan allowed me to film the various kinds of confectioneries and of course the Chebakia. I learn that the demand for sweet dishes in Morocco extends further than just for their sugary content but rather it holds a deep cultural significance that runs through the fabric of the Moroccan families.
For I discover that the time-consuming process of making Chebakia is more often that not a family affair. As the cookie’s are folded into the shapes of flowers (usually a rose) I learn that this design symbolises the respect and love that the family hold for each other.
If your visit to Morocco doesn’t fall under the fascinating time of Ramadan, don’t worry! Chebakia is still eaten outside of the holy month on special occasions and patisserie’s such as the ‘Tera Isa’ may still be selling.