“Holy shit, is like dey close down the Savannah, pave it, and put the all the Debe doubles vendors, the Breakfast Shed, Shay Shey Tien and he 50 Chinee cousins, and have Machel and David Rudder singing easy kaiso and soca at the same time … they have to have some blasted corn soup in here”
There has been much written online about the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech. It IS Morocco’s most famous square and attracts travelers, romantics and thrill seekers from every corner of the globe. Countless documentaries, pictures, travel logs, magazine articles paint this almost mystical picture of the the “Djemaa”, yet walking here at night is an experience that is something ethereal, primal and magical all rolled into one. Every night, there is an almost magical transformation from concrete pitch party to into an open air extravaganza of gastronomic delight, yet the Trinidadian in me, could only think about that statement above.
Walking from the Le Meridien N’Fis to the “Djemaa” is about a 20 min walk along Avenue Mohammed VI and there is security everywhere except along the stretch of road to the medina doors. This is my first true experience in Africa and unfortunately I still have the biases and infection of “Western media” in my head, so my initial forays have been marked with a bit too much caution. Tonight, was no different, walking on the streets, I was hyper vigilant, even though I was wearing my Black and Gold Jellaba.
A tip for anyone coming to Morocco for an extended period of time, spend a bit of money, and buy a decent Jellaba. They’re comfortable, easy to maintain, allow space for ridiculous eating, a great USEFUL Moroccan souvenir and allow me with my brown skin and universal facial feature set to blend into the background here (as long as I remain as silent as I can … the minute I open my mouth, I give away the Moroccan illusion).
Once I got into the medina, finding the square was “ah breeze”. Just follow the people and sounds and you’ll be where you need to be with the snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkeys & musicians the transform this concrete pitch party into that medieval circus that I’ve read so much about.
Djemaa el Fna means ‘assembly of the dead’ because once upon a time Christians and criminals were executed and made an example here. To locals it is known simply as “la place” (the square). Djemma el Fna was once also a destination along the Sahara Caravan Route. Until 1000 BC caravan traders would journey along this route carrying items such as gold, medicines, slaves and spices. It is said that the entertainment that remains today is similar to that when the Caravan traders were around.
The square turns into one of the world’s busiest open air restaurants. Food is prepared hot and fresh everywhere along the lines of countless food stalls. The entire square is dark except for the gas lamps lighting up the food vendors cooking area and illuminating the towers of greasy smoke sailing over the Djemma.
As the sun sets, the sheds and stalls are set up, tanks of propane roll off of any transport, be it, car, truck, or donkey cart, with huge canvas sacks of charcoal being unloaded. It is a community and people affair and within some elastic Moroccan time, smoke begins to fill the air, and by the time the sun goes down, everybody is up and cooking.
And the crowds come … it can be a ridiculously touristy affair. Tons of tour buses descend on the square along with the natives. On a Monday night till about 10pm, it was filled with tourists, but as the night progressed with my very kind Moroccan couchsurfing friend Mohammed and his friends, it became calmer and more peaceful. However, there are obnoxious touts out to get you to come have a special tagine or a “best of its kind” fried fish and they harass EVERYONE not just tourist but locals as well, but they’re the minority and easy to ignore in the face of so much good (and good looking) food everywhere you look.
After coffee at the Cafe du France in the “Square”, and the obviously ridiculously great view from the rooftop terrace, it was on to most food at Cafe N’Zaha.
I feel almost ill at the prices of things … I ordered three huge tagines (Kafta, Viande and Poulet au Lemon) for everyone to share with tea and sodas .. it came with some decent Harissa and tons of bread for the grand cost of $12 CDN. I feel like I’m committing some huge fraud or robbery to these hard working people … but when a Tagine is $3.50 CDN … my pocketbook will take it every day. I can’t wait to go back tonight … seriously
Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at firstname.lastname@example.org