On a spontaneous and unexpected trip, I was back in Africa in 2017. It was my first time to spend Christmas on this continent and completed a personal 5 continent Christmas (Asia, Africa, America, Oceania, Europe) so I guess I’m done with that now. Polish and Northern Irish Christmases for the rest of my life beckon. I also made up for my 2015 failure (though not my fault) to tour Morocco and Western Sahara which was not my fault at the time due to the corrupt Algerians. This time I made amends.
My original trip to Morocco (which was all planned) was part of my (It never happened) North West Corner of Africa 4 Country Tour to celebrate my 100th country. I was supposed to backpack Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Western Sahara on that trip, but Algeria refused my 8 day tourist visa (which cost me £1,500 – money I never got back!) so I had to skip Morocco and Western Sahara and leave Algeria after only 17 hours. I also had a food tour organised and a cooking class and all my hostels and reviews lined up. It was the only trip of my life that I had to cancel everything. So now I was finally here and I decided to do an evening food tour of Marrakesh with Marrakesh Food Tours while based in the cool Kaktus Hostel in Marrakesh. It had me warping my mind back to some previously cool food tours and cooking lessons from my travels – namely the Gracia Food tour in Barcelona, the dumplings of Chongching and the superb food tour in Poland’s Gdynia in 2016.
Tours have limited numbers of people on them, so it is essential to get your place booked in advance. I did the Evening Food Tour, but you can see there are other food tours:
Gourmet Food Tour
Walk the Kasbah Sandwich Tour
Shopping Tour (limited basis)
The Start of the Tour
The tour starts outside the Post Office in Place Jemma El Fna at 18.00. Here I met my guide Youssef, his local Moroccan sidekick and our group for the night, which included 2 ladies from Finland and a Danish family. The entire food tour is conducted in English.
The Eleven Stops of Our Food Tour
Every food tour with Marrakech Food Tours might have some twists and differences depending on time, season, how busy certain venues are etc. Our tour had a whopping 11 stops, 9 of which we ate at! I will take you through each stop one by one, but I won’t be mentioning the exact names of all these places – that’s part of the mystery of the tour! In fact some of the places are so unusual and off the tourist track, they don’t have names! This is as authentic a tour as you can get in Marrakech, which was my main incentive for booking it. Come hungry as you will be eating a lot. The food tour lasts three and a half hours (18.00 – 21.30).
1.Market Stop in Place Jemma El Fna: Khunjul and Sleelou
We start things off in the famous Jemma El Fna – this is the main square and market in Marrakesh. It’s world famous and listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here, Youssef takes us to a little market stall. We have two treats here. First is a spicy hot drink, which I wrongly class as a type of tea – it’as not tea but it sure is sweet, tangy and tasty. It is a Moroccan hot drink called Khunjul.
After the khunjul, second up we are treated to a sweet dessert, which is known as Sleelou. It is kind of like a Moroccan “brownie style cake” but this has a totally different taste. I liked it and wanted to eat more, but I was aware we had a big tour ahead and had to keep room in my stomach!
Next up we head straight into the Medina – those textbook poky market streets that I have also loved in countries like Palestine, Iran, Iraq and Tunisia. Our first stop in here, in retrospect is the highlight of the trip.
2.Sheep Furnace Restaurant: Sheep’s Head and Tangia
I won’t reveal the name of this place but it is in the Medina and is something special. Before we get down to dinner and devouring the sheep, we get to see how they cook it. It’s a huge surprise for me. The sheep are all cooked in an underground furnace.
These furnaces and completely underground, below the Medina. I wouldn’t even know they were there. The dead sheep are lowered down into the furnace by ropes and hooks, and the lid closed. Two hours later the meat is ready to eat. Moroccans don’t believe in wasting food and so tonight we are going to eat as many parts of the sheep as we can.
This includes the roasted sheep’s head and the tangia (sheep meat in local sauce). The highlight here for me is the chance to eat the eyeball. It is the first time in my life to eat the eyeball. I remember seeing it happen in Iran but I never ate it. Now is the time! Bread is provided here but no cutlery of course – we eat as the Moroccans do with our hands.
The sheep’s cheek and the tangia were both delicious and the eyeball was surprisingly good! We also ate the tongue and shin of the sheep. Only William from Denmark and I ate the eyeball, and for this we got a special sticker to say “We ate the eyeball”!
3.Olive Stall – Olives, Lemon and Chilli
Next up, and still in the Medina are some snacks where we can try about 8 or 9 different types of olives. The first 6 are plain olives. The final three are with added sauce and spice. All delicious, all local and sold by market vendors who set their stalls up daily here in the Medina. These can be bought from these little market stalls as any time – just tell the guys how much you want and don’t forget to bargain for a good price.
After the olives, it’s a specially oiled lemon and some very very hot spicy chilli peppers. The chilli peppers are too hot for me to handle – I eat only half of one.
4.Market Stall: Fried Wrap – Msemmen Omara
Another taste of Moroccan street food is up next and again, I devour it. This is cooked using dough right in front of our eyes, from a local lady. This lady has clearly been making these wraps for years – she knows what she is doing. There are two types of wrap sold here – the Msemmen Omara (or the Rghaif She’ema ou Bsla). The taste is like a typical spicy dough wrap which seems to me to be a fusion of what I had tried previously in Palestine, Iran and India, all in one. Except this is nicer. It’s Moroccan and well prepared in front of us by an expert.
5.Doughnut Stall: Singe and Sfinge Bil Be’ed
Around halfway through the tour, another stop in the Medina for fried doughnuts. These are fried right in front of us and there are two types of doughnut we try here. The first one is called Singe and tastes similar to doughnuts I had as a child in Northern Ireland, but with much less sugar and much more oil so it’s definitely a new sensation.
After the Singe doughnut, our chef in front of us breaks an egg and inserts it in between two doughnuts. This is something new to try and looks a bit heavy on the stomach after we have all munched a full doughnut, so luckily we get just a small piece to try. I preferred the one without the egg! But it was cool to try the Sfinge Bil Be’ed too.
6.Local Bakery: Watching the Baking Process
Next up a little bit of local bakery life and we see the real locals at work here and how they work hard and how their expertise is needed to keep Marrakesh functioning day to day.
Here we watch how in the evening the dough is placed into the oven and cooked to be ready for most of the businesses in the nearby streets for the following morning. Trays with twelve pieces of bread are marked in their own special way so they know where the bread will go. The guy working here then puts them all into a stone oven at the back and bakes the bread. He knows what he is doing and is still able to talk to Youssef the whole way through.
The bread is then delivered to different cafes, restaurants and establishments in the city, again it’s a fascinating insight into Moroccan life here in Marrakesh and one that you wouldn’t get if you didn’t book this tour. We didn’t eat any bread at this stop because we already tried that bread at the second stop – we had it with the sheep meal.
7.Hamman Heating System
Another non-food stop next as Youssef gets us inside a cellar and basement room which is one of many hamam heating systems in the city. Having had a Turkish bath in Trabzon and visited Hamams in Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan, it was the first time I saw the system used to heat it. It is a furnace and basically heated by many different materials including mostly wood, but other items too. It’s hot and smoky in here and we don’t stay too long, but another great little part of Marrakesh life to experience. This is more than just a food tour!
8.Moroccan Hot Dog Stall: Merguez
At the Moroccan “hot dog” stall, again the food is prepared right in front of us by the expert chef here. He has his own cosy little stall here, with a TV on the left showing the live Liverpool v. Arsenal match. Yes, LIVE! Myself and the two Danish lads watch a bit of the match while he cooks us up the Moroccan sausage in a bread roll with spice. This food is known as Merguez. We are also given a water at this stop.
9.Local Restaurant: Cous Cous, Mint Tea and Moroccan Oranges
OK so my stomach got really full after the Merguez but we have at least two more stops left! The next one actually has four items and is in a little hideaway away from the main thoroughfare of the Medina. You would never find this restaurant if you were backpacking alone. It has no name, but it doesn’t need one. The lady that runs this prepares some of the best Cous Cous in town. It takes her two hours to prepare it – that’s how good it is. Before that we have a delicious (and very welcome) cup of hot mint tea plus a salad. Then the Cous Coius arrives. After the COus COus, we are given oranges. Moroccan oranges are great, but the cous cous here was delicious. My only regret is having a small stomach so I couldn’t really eat enough of it, or I’d have had to skip the dessert – final stop.
Youssef then stops us on the way to the dessert venue, and offers us a cactus fruit each, this is a spontaneous and extra stop. Despite being what I felt was well travelled, this was my first time to try such a fruit! We eat it on a cocktail stick like a lollipop. The taste is superb and it turns our lips red but I don’t like the way there are pips in it! It reminded me of pomegranate and of backpacking in Israel and Palestine all those years ago.
11.Dessert and Smoothie Restaurant
The final stop lives up to all expectations. We are getting a Moroccan Smoothie and I’m really ready for it. I was feeling rather tired that day. I opted for an avocado and milk smoothie (there were other options including orange and mixed fruit). This avocado smoothie was totally what I wanted – I loved it. It was accompanied with some peanuts and mini biscuits as the food tour came to a close around 21.30.
I returned to my hostel and my stomach was full, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow that night. I had one more day in Marrakesh before I backpacked my way south, crossing the border into Western Sahara, the disputed region. It was a crazy and short time in Marrakesh and I loved the food tour – if you are in town, I thoroughly recommend it!
Here are the details for booking a food tour with Marrakech Food Tours:
Here are some videos from the food tour: