- Posted October 20, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
African culture: street food
A Moroccan Street Food Experience
One of the most iconic Moroccan street food eating experiences is the nightly pop up market at Djemma el-Fna Square in Marrakesh.
By day, the square is filled with vendors selling everything from household goods, to pottery to medicine. Snake charmers and musicians complete the day market atmosphere. Starting late afternoon, the food vendors move in and set up their stalls for the nightly market.
If you’re like me, you’ll kick off your Moroccan street food experience by making a beeline for the snail soup vendors. I love snails. Grab a seat and then order either a small bowl or a large bowl. The vendor will hand you a piping hot bowl of soup filled with snails still in their shells. Use a tooth pick to pluck the snail from its shell. Once you’re done with eating all the snails, pick up the bowl and slurp up the soup. In all honesty, all snail meat tastes the same. What separates the vendors is the soup, which is purported to be flavored with a concoction of at least 15 different spices and is suppose to be good for aiding digestion and curing fever. If eating snails is not something you do not relish doing, you can just ask for the soup.
By dusk, the air in Djemma el-Fna begins to fill with smoke wafting up from dozens of wood-fired grills cooking up brochettes of meat (rubbed with salt and spices), spicy Merguez sausages and other delicious Moroccan food delights. The smell of the smoke is so enticing – we just let our nose guide us to a vendor.
I have to give it to the Moroccans – they are experts on the nose-to-tail eating. If you are an adventurous eater, let your dining experience begin with one of Morocco’s most ubiquitous street food specialties - sheep’s head. Yes, that would be the entire head but minus the fur and the eyeballs. If you’re freaked out by looking at a head, then this delicacy would not be for you. The meat is extracted from the head cut up and served with salt and cumin. If you’re an adventurous eater, you can also order brain and tongue….which I have to say, is actually pretty delectable.
Travelling around Morocco, we quickly learned that the best place to get the most delicious (and cheap) meat sandwiches was at the butcher’s shop. There, the butcher will take the fresh meat straight off the bone and either leave it in pieces or grind it, depending on your preference. They’ll then season the meat, throw right on the grill and then shove it into the open half of a piece of khobz, Morocco’s staple bread.
Our Moroccan journey took us through the Atlas Mountains. In a small town in the Dades region, on a cold winter’s day, we got to sample a very unlikely treat – boiled acorns. After I got back from our trip, I learned that the only species of oak tree that grows in the Atlas Mountain region is the Holm Oak (Quercus ilex). I know that cooking acorns is tricky but however they do it, the result is something that tastes like a much finer textured chestnut. Who would know that boiled acorns were so delicious! They turned out to be the perfect mid morning snack.
In the seaside port town of Essaouira, food revolves around what comes from the sea. Located stone’s throw from the town’s main square is an area filled with small food stalls specializing in serving up the day’s catch. There’s everything from fish to shrimp, scampi, squid, crabs and even sea urchin! You pick out whatever seafood you want and they will grill it up for you. The seafood is served up based on how long it takes to cook so whatever cooks faster, you get first. If you order enough variety, it seems like the food just keeps coming! They don’t do any seasoning but I don’t think the sweet seafood really needs anything more than just a squeeze of lemon and you’ve got a delicious meal! The stalls are small and don’t have much seating so be prepared to find a spot to eat!
We were in Morocco over the Christmas and New Years so it was the height of citrus season. One of my favorite street eating, actually street drinking, experiences were the fresh orange and grapefruit juice stalls. The fruit was perfectly ripe and sweet – a small, (disposable) plastic cup’s worth of the juice was the perfect bit of sugary refreshment that I needed to get through an afternoon of sightseeing…..so much better for you than an artificially sweetened soda!
Whether you’re an adventurous eater or not, Morocco’s street food scene is worth exploring!