This October, Tasting Table is getting away from it all. Come away with us as we explore the world of travel.
I travel to Marrakesh, Morocco, a few times a year to get textiles for my shoe company, TEN & Co. There are some places I visit regularly, because, well, I'm lazy, but also because they serve delicious food. Moroccan cuisine is all essentially comfort food. It's salty and sweet and slow-cooked and deep-fried and spicy, and there are a lot of carbs involved. In a city where many of the winding streets have no discernable names, Marrakesh has countless restaurants, cafés and holes-in-the-wall. Here are five must-visits.
Stall #14 at Jemaa el-Fnaa: The fried calamari and eggplant dip at stall #14 in the Jemaa el-Fnaa market may be the best thing to eat in Marrakesh. Let me explain. Every night, rain or shine, the main square in the city's medina is turned into a giant street food market. You can get tons of traditional Moroccan dishes, like sheep's-head stew (more on that later), kofta kebabs, lentil soup and spiced snails in broth. But the real stars of the show are the fish stalls.
There are a few of them, but #14 is the best and is always crowded with locals waiting for a spot on the vinyl benches. The big things are the chunks of fried fish, but you should order the fried calamari, which is crispy on the outside and buttery on the inside, served with nothing but kosher salt and lemon. You'll never look at fritto misto the same again. While you're there, order the aubergine, which is smashed deep-fried eggplant with even more lemon and salt and which tastes far more complex than the simplicity of its ingredients.
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Stall #47 at Jemaa el-Fnaa: While you're in Jemaa el-Fnaa, look for the tangia stands, which you can identify by the sheep's heads displayed out front. I prefer stall #47. Tangia is a kind of sheep's-head stew, slow-cooked with preserved lemons and spices. Traditionally, Moroccans cook their tangias all day over hot coals that heat the hammams. You don't have to eat the head (they also serve whole brains, if that's your thing); you can opt for only meat, though I recommend getting tongue. Sprinkle a bit of cumin salt on it, sop it up with bread and you are good to go.
La Maison Arabe: La Maison Arabe is an upscale old-school hotel on the west side of the medina. Even if you can't afford a room, you can probably swing a meal at its Moroccan restaurant appropriately called "Le Restaurant." One of the good things about Marrakesh is that a very nice meal costs the equivalent of a regular meal out in New York City. Go here when you feel like splurging—and you'll find that you didn't really splurge after all. It has an excellent prix fixe with all the greatest Moroccan hits like tagine, Moroccan salads and pastilla (a sweet pigeon pie in flaky pastry dough).
Café Arabe: Not to be confused with Maison Arabe, Café Arabe is a four-story restaurant in the middle of the medina. I can't lie; one of the reasons I frequent this place is because it is one of the few spots in the medina that serves booze. As a result, it is a bit touristy. But it offers excellent tagines and couscous, and if you have been in Morocco awhile and are a little tired of Moroccan food, the owner is Italian, so there are a handful of pasta dishes made from scratch. The upstairs terrace is lovely despite the unce unce unce music pumped in from the rafters.
Unnamed Tagine Place: We're getting off the beaten path now. This must-visit hole-in-the-wall is open only for lunch and doesn't even have a name. You'll find it around the corner from Café de la Koutoubia on Boulevard Fatima Zahra. Look for the rows of tiny tagines on the cooker. Just signal to one of the guys how many you want and take a seat, if you can find one. The type of tagine they offer changes frequently, and they serve a hearty slow-cooked bean dish as well. If you've sopped up all the juices before you finish your meal, you can ask for a bit more—and you will want more. The best part of this meal is the price tag, which is about one U.S. dollar.
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