Morocco Day 2-4: Grilled Beast

July 30-August 1, 2007–Marrakech

From about six o’clock in the evening and on into the wee, small hours, the center of Place Djemaa el Fna becomes a vast outdoor restaurant. Rows of long, picnic-style tables and benches are set up, and carts with portable grills are rolled in, along with food—mountains, valleys, and streams of food of all kinds.

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The whole “outdoor restaurant” area is about half the size of an American football field, but they manage to cram an impressive number of diners into that space. As you wander through, the hawkers lay on the pressure. They shove menus into your hands, they physically block your path, they put their hands on your shoulders and more-or-less gently “guide” you toward their restaurant. No excuse is sufficient. If you say you’ve already eaten or are still deciding, they want you to memorize the number of their stand so you can come back later, because their food is the best. In all, we ate outdoors three times at three different stalls and the fact seems to be: the food is essentially identical.

We avoid the fish places, the snail places …

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© 2007, 2013. All rights reserved.

… the tête de veau places, and the “I Can’t Actually Identify What That Is” places and settle, like most of the other westerners, on the standard: kebabs on skewers, tajines, and barbecued meat in general. Given the cost of meat in Italy, we eat it relatively rarely, no more than a couple times a week (chicken and sausage, never beef), and I’m starved for it.

You slide down the bench, cheek to jowl with other diners at a table that’s none too clean. In fact, anyone who’s especially squeamish would have a hard time here: there are flies everywhere, the food sits out on the carts without refrigeration for six or eight hours (so it’s better to eat early rather than later), and it’s smoky, smelly, and loud.

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© 2007, 2013. All rights reserved.© 2007, 2013. All rights reserved.

The waiters throw down pieces of paper about 5” x 8” and toss your fork and your bread on that. There’s maybe one menu for the entire table, which you share. There are no napkins. The waiters are distracted and super-busy; they never remember all of your order because they don’t write anything down. They’re calling to people outside, talking to other waiters, cajoling potential diners, delivering orders, yelling to the cooks, chatting with their friends—all at the same time.

In short, it’s a merry chaos. The food is basic but good – priced slightly on the high side, by Moroccan standards, but you’re paying for the performance as well. To be accurate, though, we never spent more than the equivalent of about €13 ($17) for the two of us, which included a salad of some kind (usually very heavy on the red onion), grilled vegetables, the meat-course-of-choice, a 1.5 liter bottle of water, and tip. For €6.50 at a restaurant in Bologna you can get … the cover charge, with enough left over for a half-liter of really scurvy, watered-down house wine.

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Our cooks, at our first “proper” meal in Morocco. © 2007, 2013. All rights reserved.

The guidebooks urge caution in eating at places like these, as well as at the many open-air food stands that one finds throughout the souk. We scoffed. On our last afternoon in Marrakech before heading north, we ate here:

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© 2007, 2013. All rights reserved.

In Chefchaouen, we paid the price.


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Posted on 1 August 2007, in Mostly Photos, Tales from the Road and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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