Experiencing different cultures around the world is one of my favorite travel pastimes. I love to eat ethnic food, buy ethnic jewelry and clothes, go to ethnic music or theatrical performances, wander through unique gardens, visit distinctive historic and religious sites, etc. Deep cultural immersion is the over-riding goal of most places I travel to.
One of the best ways to begin to absorb a different culture is to experience its food. On my 50-day solo around the world trip I participated in numerous food tours which I have found to be a great way to learn about a place’s history, culture and food and accordingly, how these three things are inseparable. In Marrakech, I took the best food tour of my around the world trip.
On the second day of being in Marrakech, I asked the concierge at the Dar Ayniwen, the fabulous riad where I was staying, to book me a spot with the best food tour in the city. He shared there were several tours available but the most authentic Moroccan food tour was the one hosted by Marrakech Food Tours. Agreeing, I told him,” that tour sounds like the one I want, book it.”
The next evening I was to meet Youssef, a local and one of the tour owners, at the Post Office in front of the D’Jemaa El Fna Square at 6:00pm. The tour started promptly at the designated time with Youssef giving the tour participants some background information on the company and the tour’s itinerary. He shared he and his American wife, Amanda who has a food/travel blog called MarcoMama, started Marrakesh Food Tours to give travelers the opportunity to eat where the locals eat and to experience “real” Moroccan food all while learning about the city’s interesting, exotic culture. He warned the places where we would be eating were not the fanciest but they were where the “best of the best” local Moroccan food was served.
Youssef explained the tour had a “progressive meal” format where you would sample different courses of Moroccan food with the final course being a plate of tasty desserts. He said we would be wandering through the souks stopping in the various food markets, visiting a community bakery, learning a little bit about Marrakech's history and culture , all while stopping to eat at his individually chosen restaurants. Purposefully, I hadn’t eaten much that day so I could enjoy what I was about to experience. I have been on many food tours and knew it was difficult to make it to the end with any type of appetite if I had eaten breakfast and lunch.
The route to our first restaurant stop was past the olive and spice markets where we sampled different types of olives and learned about the colorful, pungent Moroccan spices. Youssef shared we would next visit a tangia restaurant. Tangia, not to be confused with tangine, is a slow cooked stew-like dish prepared in a terracotta pot that is left to simmer in an underground oven for 3 to 4 hours.
We were shown how the dish was composed. The pot is filled with various spices, olive oil, onions, chunks of lamb and any other type of fruits or vegetables the chef wanted to add. Wax paper is put on top of the cooking vessel and then it's lowered into the hot ashes of an underground oven. Because the lamb tangia is so tender, cutlery is not needed. Moroccans eat this dish comfortably with their hands and bread.
Delish!! The group spent 20 minutes enjoying this traditional Moroccan specialty on the open-air, second floor patio of a small family restaurant. We were also given there the option to try some of Marrakech’s more exotic foods such as sheep’s head, kidney, brains or testicles. Several of my tour mates were game to try these options but I stayed with the slow cooked stewed lamb.
Stop two was sampling sardine keftas, fish meatball sandwiches filled with chopped herbs, red onions, green olives topped with a red spicy sauce. This course was my least favorite on the tour. Here Youssef told us we would now be going deep into the Medina where the group would visit a community oven and bread bakery. In Marrakech many women prepare bread dough daily to be baked in these ovens and then later sold by them on the open market.
After touring the communal bakery and ovens, we sampled several different types of Moroccan salads, which were fairly light but tasty, thank goodness, because I was getting full by now. All of the mouthwatering food we were sampling was prepared that day with the freshest ingredients possible. Youseff said Moroccans don’t like to waste anything especially food. Consequently, food portions and their preparation are carefully controlled.
Our second to last stop was touted as the “highpoint” of the tour. We would be enjoying a traditional Friday Couscous dinner at Naima’s, a four table, award-winning restaurant owned by three women of different generations: a grandmother, mother and daughter. Couscous is a sit down, communal meal eaten once a week on Friday after noon when most Moroccans have taken off of work. This one dish meal of seasonal vegetables, caramelized onions, and raisins served over wheat, barley and/or corn is a vegetarian’s delight.
We ate and communed with each other and the three warm, sweet women cooks for nearly forty-five minutes. We were served the delicious couscous on a large, round, traditional Moroccan tray with only eating utensils. We were to share the couscous right out of the one big plate like the Moroccans do. Hot mint tea, water or another drink of your choice also accompanied the meal.
Thoroughly stuffed and satisfied, we said our heartfelt goodbyes and wander out into the alleyway of the Medina past dried fruit stalls and dessert vendors to complete the tour. Our final stop presented us with a plate of sweets or a smoothie with some more mint tea or coffee. Sadly, I could hardly eat another bite of anything. So I just nibbled on a few of the delectable dessert items. We were all more than full but in a joyous frame of mind at this point.
The tour had exceeded my expectation. Youssef’s happy, informative demeanor, the group’s camaraderie and the superb quality of the Moroccan food we had all consumed made this three hour excursion more than worth it; a real bargain and very special! While this food tour is the most expensive one in the city, it is definitely the best food tour because you eat where the locals eat and they love their delicious cuisine. You will too!!
Below is a video of the Marrakech Food Tour experience produced by two travel bloggers illustrating what this unforgettable food tour is all about.