Jemaa El-Fnaa Market is a square & market place in the old city or Medina of Marrakech, used by locals & tourists.
During the day it’s mostly fresh juice stalls, merchants with traditional leather bags, jewelry & brass cups, youths trying to get you to pay for photos with monkeys & then there are the snake charmers. There are plenty of small cafes & restaurants to have a meal or Moroccan Mint Tea.
As the day progresses, the entertainment changes: late in the day the square becomes more crowded, with dancing/acrobatic boys (it would be against custom for girls to provide such entertainment), storytellers telling their tales in Berber or Arabic, magicians, and peddlers of traditional medicines or Argan oil lotions & such.
The souks with the spices & fruit are beautiful in their gorgeous colours & smells!
As darkness falls, the square fills with dozens of food stalls as the number of people on the square peaks. Steam rising from food stalls greets you, as do the greeters trying to invite you over for a meal.
The square is edged along one side by the Marrakesh souk, a traditional North African market: both for the common daily needs of the locals & for the tourists looking for something to take home with them.
On other sides are hotels, gardens & café terraces, narrow streets lead into the alleys of the medina quarter.
The square is so busy that you must watch as you go, for mopeds rush past at breakneck speeds! There are carts, pulled by donkeys, loaded down with fresh bread or fresh produce.
If you want to go into the alleyways we suggest one or two things: 1) Ask your Riad or hotel to find you a guide. You’ll pay them a little to help you not get lost & they’ll take you to what you ask to see. 2) If you don’t want a guide, always look like you know what you’re doing – if you don’t, some troublemakers take note & may try to pickpocket you or otherwise bully you into paying them some money. We chose a guide & had no trouble. Our friends went it alone, and did have a bit of an issue.
The best view of the market will be from a restaurant rooftop patio. We suggest https www.zeitouncafe.com You can enjoy the craziness from the comfort up above! You can hear the entertainment + the Calls to Prayer. Take a peek at our video here: https://youtu.be/xqKpYCBXhWQ
If you want to experience Moroccan cuisine there is literally no better way than to immerse yourself all in. And by all in, I mean sign up for a cooking class!
We booked this class through Viator after reading many excellent reviews about Chef Najla. And she did not disappoint.
As we started to arrive at the meeting point, we introduced ourselves, there was a young woman from Milan, another from Nottingham, a couple from Portugal, myself from Vancouver, Canada & then another couple, from Port Moody, Canada! Not far from me! What are the chances?!
They all were really fun people & we had a great time together. We were greeted warmly by Chef Najla in a little alleyway near a pharmacy & were asked what we wanted to cook from chicken, lamb, vegetable & meatball tajines. We decided upon chicken & meatball, then were given little shopping baskets as we stepped across the street to a fresh fruit & vegetable stand. Najla explained about choosing your vegetables & what to look for, explaining the Moroccan diet & why they eat the way they eat – bread is life – but fruit & vegs are also very important.
We moved along one stall to the butcher where we purchased the chicken, some choosing to see how the fresh chicken is caught & “prepared”. Then down another little alleyway to a beautiful doorway into the chef’s own home.
Her home was the style of the Riads we’ve visited but this one had a more enclosed “courtyard” where all the cooking classes are taught, her family meals are taken, and where she also teaches how to make Argan products by hand. The beautiful tile work & Moroccan decor was bright & welcoming. The home originally belonged to her mother’s parents & holds many memories. It felt very special to be there.
Najla is a lively, cheerful person who clearly loves what she does. We were made the most heavenly Moroccan Tea that I had the entire time we were in Marrakech. It was made with gunpowder green tea (which I purchased) & then infused with special herbs (I purchased the dehydrated version to take home). That was Anise, Spearmint, Peppermint, Lemon Verbena, Lemongrass, Wormwood, Rose Petals & Thyme. There is a certain way to boil & make the tea to “clean” the leaves & get a clear, flavourful tea. The teeny gunpowder tea is as small as caraway seeds but expands when boiled to so much more than you’d think! Then of course, there’s the sugar – they love their tea sweet!
Once we started the food prep, Najla explains the Moroccan spices & what they should (& should not) be used with as far as fish, chicken or vegetables. She explains about the timing & cooking using tajines, also depending on what’s in them. We did get to make some sides as well, one with fire roasted aubergine (eggplant), another with zucchini, also a tomatoe one & lastly, one with potatoes. All were delicious & refreshing!
My favourite thing to learn about was the preserved lemon! The flavour is amazing! It’s lemon only so deep and rich. I’ll be trying my hand at making my own.
It was very interesting to see the difference between the vegetables that we get in Canada from our grocery stores and the ones we chose in the market in Marrakech. Their tomatoes are so beautifully red & flavourful that it makes ours seem tomatoe-esque… the aubergine were a different flavour as well, everyone liked that side dish, even though they weren’t normally fans of the vegetable. I think the difference is that when ours have been shipped, they’re picked before they’re ripe so that they ship well, which means they won’t have the same flavours at all. I will be sourcing our produce directly from local farms from now on, as much as possible.
I have cooked millions of meals for my children, husband, grandchildren & extended family over the years & I still managed to learn some tricks! One: cut tomatoes in half then “grate” the insides out to get a fresh tomatoe base for your tajine(or stew or soup, even pasta sauce); two: take your garlic clove with the skin on – grate that too – you’ll be left with the skin to toss and nicely minced garlic; three: you can fire roast your peppers or aubergine right on the flame of your gas stove! Is it ever tasty!
We got to enjoy every bit of that meal, of course with fresh bread & was it delicious?! The best! We were able to purchase the Berber tea that we got to enjoy, tajines or any of the spices we used, even a few other items, like the Argan products Najla also makes. She does classes to teach people how to make oils by hand too.
As we said goodbye, we took each other’s information so we can follow each other’s further travels & so that we could receive the recipes to try making at home. I’m excited to try!
We would highly recommend this class & would take another ourselves if we were returning to Marrakech, for sure.
While in Morocco, we’ve got many events & activities planned & most had the same thing in common… the pickup each morning by the companies was at the El Fenn. We decided we should know where this is prior to going so went searching… we didn’t have far to go as it’s right around the corner from our own Riad.
We’ve learned to not assume anything from the front of a building here in Marrakech – some entrances are a huge wooden door in the middle of a stone wall, others are glass, but once you go inside, it’s usually quite something else. El Fenn was the most surprising yet.
The colours & art were bright & beautiful with an African feel. There was beautiful clothing, footwear, there was decor & jewelry, furniture & even a cool brass moped with a cowhide seat! Giant vases in a cerulean blue, lanterns upon lanterns lit up every corner, and brightly coloured bunting hung throughout the lobby. There was an amazing display of colourfully painted full-size branches in vases.
Then there was the stairway up to the rooftop… a shiny, red corkscrew of a staircase that lead up to a beautiful patio with stunning views of Marrakech & two of its spectacular mosques.
The lanterns swing in the breeze, there’s lots of plants & trees, comfortable seating, even futons. The tiles that Morocco is famous for did not disappoint here, herringbone green on the floors paired with the brick walls & mirrored bar made for such a lovely spot.
I had a refreshing Red City Rosé Cooler – Rosé wine, fresh strawberry, Triple Sec & sparkling wine – delicious. We were served spiced olives & salted peanuts as a snack.
Dinner was from the bar menu – a Spiced Lamb Burger with Feta & minted raita sauce & also a Red Bean & Mushroom Burger with Cheddar Cheese, both with tasty homemade, fresh cut fries.
We’ve learned that staff are not in a particular hurry in dining establishments, unlike on the streets where it’s rush, rush, rush. We work fast-paced demanding jobs at home so are learning to slow down here & take it easier, to relax & enjoy the moment. We were lucky to have gotten a spot on the patio it seems, as reservations are required for dinner service & we can see why.
We were able to capture tons of photos from inside while we waited, but also of the patio & its brilliant sunset, with the fading light overtop of the exquisitely lit mosques, where you can hear the Call to Prayer echoing.
We’d like to make a reservation for dinner at some point during our stay & see what the dinner menu & seating elsewhere upstairs will bring.
The perfect corner spot to sit, people watch & talk about our tour of the Saadian Tombs.
The Zeitoun Cafe has a street level seating area but also a rooftop one. There is so much hustle & bustle around the neighbourhood where you’ll find the Saadian Tombs, located on the south side of the Kasbah Mosque, inside the royal kasbah (citadel) district of the city.
There are petit taxis or horse drawn carriages everywhere but we chose to walk so we could see the local businesses & people living their daily lives. Dodging mopeds becomes second nature as you go along the cobblestone sidewalks.
We enjoyed a refreshing cold drink called a Tutti Fruiti which meant it was full of all the local juiced fruits. We had the freshest of fruits & yogourt + some almond briwates. The finale was, of course, Morrocan Mint Tea with the perfect foamy pour.
The service was quick & friendly, the food was good & priced fairly. One of the hosts was a young man, full of life, who agreed to get some great video for us of a local barber shop across from where we sat, who were having a fabulous time singing & dancing!
Always on the search for the perfect personal item & the best carry-on… I’m going to give these a try:
Found a Kenneth Cole carry-on branded ‘Reaction’ at my local Winners store. It’s got zippered covers on each side to hold your belongings firmly in place + extra pockets inside. I like the easy movement of the double spinner wheels & the telescoping handle works well. There are protective corner pieces & a few spots with grip handles to make it easy to pick up at any angle. This one was about $90
I won’t travel without compression bags (or socks!) now. They make it so much easier to fit everything you want to take into just a carry-on. These ones don’t need a vacuum to seal them, just roll them up by hand. They also protect your clothing etc from any moisture. They cost about $13 for 4 bags.
From experience, I know good shoes make all the difference between enjoying your walking tour & totally not. I knew just where to shop local to get them too – Payton & Buckle Shoes in Downtown Chilliwack. These comfy little slip-on runners are by Vionic & are from their Beach line, they actually have arch support. I’ll wear these for our flights as well – easy on, easy off. They can be worn with my capris, skirts or dresses. I love that they’re washable. It’s going to be hot in Morocco so sandals are a must, these gold ones will be cool but are nicely padded & adjustable across the top of the foot. They’re by Aetrex. Pricing varies. www.paytonandbuckle.com
This time I ordered my new anti-theft personal item bag from Amazon, a co-worker had gotten a similar one that she took to Mexico & it worked very well. I have to have something with lots of compartments, this one has 2 + 18 pockets! I also wanted an extra USB charger, and something that was easy to get into. This one opens like a doctor’s bag & has padding for my tech so putting in my laptop, iPad, eReader etc is simple & safe. This bag has a strong carry handle or can be used as a backpack. It has the strap to secure it to your carry-on handle as well. There were other colour options but I wanted to somewhat match my carry-on & also not get so dirty., so black with grey it is. The brand is Lovevook and was just over $50. Here’s the link for you: amzn.to/3NvHpL3
I wanted to downsize my toiletry bag but couldn’t seem to find what I wanted until I came across this cutie with some travel size Moroccanoil products inside (no that wasn’t planned – Morrocanoil products to Morocco… lol) – extra volume shampoo & conditioner, a light treatment & a clean, light body spray. I learned awhile ago to take much less makeup & skincare. I’m never away that long so a decent wash of my face using my favourite Dermalogica wash, my good quality moisturizing sunscreen, my powder foundation with SPF by Eminence, a toothbrush/paste & some excellent lash extensions by my girl Tracey from Voila Lash Lounge (Downtown Chilliwack & Downtown Abbotsford), deodorant & my tinted chapstick with SPF are really all I need. www.voilalashandbeauty.com
It’s always so much easier to pack for a warm weather holiday than it is a cold weather one… no bulky heavy clothing & footwear, so a carry-on is all you really need. Lessons learned: always take pjs, an extra change of clothes, any medications & your toiletries in your personal item… checked baggage gets lost. A lot. This way you can at least change into pjs & wash the clothes you’re wearing, letting them dry overnight & able to wear your spare outfit until you get your luggage back. I always pack a couple of sheets of Tru Earth laundry strips, they melt easily in the hotel sink & despite not having a strong scent, or major suds, they clean very well. You can also take less clothing if you’re washing in between. I’ll do an update once I’ve tried these bags out.