After a pleasurable few days in ugly, unloved Casablanca, I had high hopes on my arrival for three days in the stunning city of Marrakech.
It’s beautiful all right. The twisting alleys of The Medina., the explosions of colour in the labyrinthine souks and the well preserved remnants of its royal past. It should be the perfect place to experience Morocco and Moroccan cuisine at its very best.
More the shame then that, despite its many attractions I never found myself warming to it at all.
In part it is down to the vast numbers of tourists, mainly French, who come here in legions (see what I did there?) next Spanish, a smattering of Brits and plenty of fearful looking Americans with their unerring ability to blend in seamlessly with the locals.
I was adding to the tourist numbers by one, obviously so it little behoves me to complain, but I will anyway. Like all cities that begin to predicate themselves on the arrival of visitors from many nations, everything in Marrakesh seemed neutered.
Even the mayhem of the Jemma El Fna with its snake charmers, acrobats, dancers and fortune tellers felt more like a ride in a theme park than a real expression of the character of the city. The bustling streets had all the edge of a well-polished billiard ball.
I was half expecting to hear the ringing tones of Disney’s “It’s A Small World”
As with the city itself, so with the food, much of which was aimed at providing opportunities to spend cash rather than to experience quality.
That is not to say that I have not found possibilities of eating well, very well in fact, but it took the help of the owner of my charming and well-placed riad to help separate the good from the bad.
My stomach has been good to me on this trip so, returning the favour, I avoided the stalls of the night market where plates are cleaned by dipping in a bucket of the same water all night and I gave a wide berth to the fruit stalls offering freshly squeezed Hep’ A in a glass. Instead, I sought out a couple of higher end restaurants. One in The Medina and one in the new town.
Riad Dar Mimoun came highly recommended and, like most riads offered a variety of set menus which gave me the opportunity to try more royal Moroccan cuisine including the best example of a pastilla I have tried to date. The sweet, savoury combination of the pastry stuffed with chicken and almonds and then dusted with sugar is not to everyone’s taste, but it was one of the highlights of my visit.
The classic tagine of lamb with prunes and almonds was less surprising but equally well prepared. The bony chunks of lamb giving up blubbery marrow when sucked.
For my last “blow out” meal in the city, a visit to the highly recommended Rotisserie De La Paix. Situated in the new town built by the French in the 1920’s the restaurant has a pleasant shaded garden which in 38o heat was a welcome place to sit and have my first alcohol of my time in Morocco, a half bottle of the rose wine for which the country is well known.
Rotisserie De la Paix is well known for its grilling and, top of the tree is their “Royal” Mixed Grill offering, which comprised a colon challenging plateful of kebabs, sausages, chops and chicken alongside fiery dipping sauces.
It’s not cheap by local standards with the meal including some of that diabetes inducing tea (try asking for it without sugar. It is worth it to see the look you get) coming in at £23 but, given that I did not need to eat again that day, not bad value.
I can certainly understand the appeal of Marrakech and don’t regret adding it to the EAT MY GLOBE itinerary, but I am also certain that I feel no great desire to return.
Next up, Fez.