I wouldn’t think twice about eating from a market stall in Dublin or Budapest or London or anywhere in Europe, but move me to another continent and the doubts set in. Horror stories from friends who have spent large chunks of their holiday wearing a path between the bed and the bathroom flood to mind. And while usually quite adventurous, I find myself erring on the side of caution. Okay, in some places it’s the flies. I can’t eat anything that has flies dancing on it. In other places it’s the grime. The sink has to be clean. In more places it’s the greasy hair or the grubby fingernails. But in fairness, if I’ve not been warned, then I usually don’t think about it at all. And if I’m travelling with someone blessed with the constitution of an ox and a penchant for street food, it makes it all the easier.
Such was the case in Marrakesh. The food markets were amazing. The food was excellent and great value. I don’t know what they do with their eggplant – I’ve never had it taste so good. And as for the lamb – I was in heaven. I figured I could spend the week eating just like this. I had eggplant with fish. Eggplant with lamb. Eggplant with chicken. Eggplant with just about anything I could find to go with it.
Tagines are the Moroccan speciality. Stews made from all sorts cooked in large conical clay pots (called Tagines), miniatures of which are sold by the truckload as souvenirs. In the city, they cook them on gas. In the Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains, they’re cooked over charcoal. Other than this, everything is the same, but the taste – so different. Slow cooking seems to be the way to go. Couscous is also another staple in this carb-intensive diet. The breads way too good though and the kilos could easily pile on.
We did go posh one night – to the La Pearl du Sud. And it was there that we discovered Pastilla. Filo pastry filled with savoury chicken and all sorts and covered with icing sugar and cinnamon. A different take on the old pasty, one I’ve made a goal to perfect when I get back to Budapest.
Being a Muslim country, alcohol is in short supply. In Marrakesh, it’s a rarity inside the Medina but across in the New Town, with its hundreds of new hotels, neon-lit fountain, and wide promenades, it’s available. The contrast between the two sides of the city is stark. The Medina, with its narrow, winding passageways, old riads, and suicidal scooter-riders pulsates with life. Gueliz is more like a Vegas wannabe, complete with casinos and private clubs. With more than 1000 hotels/riads in the city and 2 million visitors each year, the much-loved king – Mohammed VI – has embraced tourism and development. As you drive out of the city, the wasteland stretches for miles just begging to be built on. Golf courses and water parks offer something quite different to the riad experience. Personally, I can’t imagine coming to Marrakesh and not staying in the Medina. And eating the street food? That’s a must.