Marrakech, Part 4

{Read Marrakech Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first}

On our final day in Marrakech, we enjoyed our last fantastic breakfast at our riad, now that our stomachs were nice and stretched out from the previous night’s street food tour, and then we headed over to the Jardin Majorelle.

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Outside the Jardin Majorelle

We aimed to get there right when it opened, and that was a good call because it does get quite crowded with tour and school groups. The garden is much more idyllic before the hordes descend with their selfie sticks.

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And inside the Jardin Majorelle

French painter Jacques Majorelle fell in love with Marrakech, and moved here in 1923, purchasing a vast palm grove. In 1931, he commissioned an architect to build him an artist’s studio in Art Deco style, and paint it “Majorelle Blue.”

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Around the studio, he designed a garden, a living work of art, composed of exotic plants and rare species collected during his world travels. Majorelle spent years creating this lush oasis in the “ochre city.”

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He opened the garden to the public in 1947, but after his death in 1962, it fell into abandon.

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It was rescued in 1980 by Pierre Bargé and Yves Saint Laurent (the famous fashion designer). They restored it and opened a museum dedicated to Berber culture inside the painter’s studio. Right before our trip, a museum dedicated to YSL opened next door (but we didn’t have time to do that as well).

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The colours and textures in the garden are so bright and exciting, especially after spending a few days surrounded by the earthy hues of the medina.

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We enjoyed the Berber museum as well, before it was time to go collect our things and head to the airport.

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A few more photos from the beautiful garden:

We loved Marrakech, and would love to go back. Next time I’d like to venture out of the city and into the desert, too.

I cannot say enough good things about the Riad al Massarah. In addition to the great accommodations, the food was fabulous, the rooftop deck was serene, and the service was above and beyond anything I’ve experienced at a hotel or guest house before. Plus, they get high marks for their commitment to the environment and the local people.

I’m so glad we stayed in a riad in the medina, the old walled city, and not at a resort somewhere. The medina feels genuinely traditional. You won’t find modern chain shops and restaurants here. There’s no Starbucks, or Subway, or Gap ruining the authenticity of the old city. Let go of the familiarity of the outside world, drink some mint tea, and enjoy the break. There’s a Starbucks waiting for you in the Marrakech airport.

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Marrakech, Part 3: Street Food Tour

{Read Marrakech, Part 1 and Marrakech, Part 2}

One of the things M really wanted to do in Marrakech was go on a street food tour. This one had very high ratings online, and it did not disappoint. Even if you don’t eat at every stop (I certainly didn’t want to), you will not go hungry! We both really enjoy learning about different cultures through their food, and this tour offered just that.

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The tour meets at the big square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, in the evening, and ours separated into two groups of 6, each with a licensed local guide.

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There are snake charmers in there somewhere… I didn’t get too close

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Our group’s first stop was at a place I may not have even known was a restaurant if I’d walked past it. They serve steamed lamb, which is cooked down in a hole in the ground all day, as well as lamb cooked in tangia pots… and sheep’s head.

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Center of photo: the cover to the hole in the ground where they steam the lambs

You can BYO lamb carcass to be cooked here. Women show up first thing in the morning with their lamb, pay a small fee, the lambs go down in the hole where they are steamed over a fire of olive wood, and then the women return at noon to pick up their steamed lamb in time for lunch.

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Tangia pots

Alternately, people can load up their own tangia pots at home, typically with lamb, garlic, preserved lemon, and saffron, and bring them to be cooked there, again for a small fee.

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Lamb with preserved lemon and spices

We were served both styles of lamb, the plain steamed lamb as well as the tangia-cooked lamb, plus a sheep’s head. And mint tea, of course. Always.

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I don’t eat lamb, as I draw a pretty firm line at eating baby animals, but I did manage to scoop up a bite of it with some bread and give it a try. I just couldn’t do the sheep’s head, though. Too baaaaad.

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Sheep’s head

Our guide said they typically season the sheep with just some cumin and salt. “We use cumin a lot,” she said; “we call it Moroccan Imodium.”

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Our wonderful guide

Our second stop was an olive stall, where we tried all sorts of olives with different seasonings and learned that green, purple, and black olives are not different types of olives from different types of trees, they are simply olives picked from the same trees but at different stages of ripeness. I didn’t know that.

The third stop was I think my favorite food on the tour. Massimon pancakes are dough stretched out and fried in fat, with different topping options (kind of like ordering a crepe), rolled up and handed to you, hot and fatty and delicious. They cost about 50 cents.

The ones we were served were topped with onions and seasoning, but we found a street stall the next morning making them and chose a chocolate spread for those. Yum.

Also at this stop, we tried a typical Moroccan soup made with chickpeas, which they use to break the fast during Ramadan.

Stop 4 was another place I wouldn’t have known what they were serving if I hadn’t been on this tour. It was grilled sardine sandwiches, with olives and tomato, but it didn’t taste fishy at all. The grilled sardines looked more like falafel or meatballs. I was surprised by how much I liked these sandwiches!

Stop 5 didn’t actually have anything for us to eat. It was at a public hammam, to see where they have the fire to make the steam for the baths. The connection to the food was that people also bring their prepared tangia pots here to be cooked by the steam.

A public bath that doubles as a public oven, pretty efficient!

Stop 6 was spleen (I think a sheep’s? Probably?). I didn’t try it. M did, though.

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Stop 7 was snails.

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Again, M was MUCH more enthusiastic about this stop, but he did talk me into trying one small snail.

Rubbery.

 

Our eighth stop was for traditional couscous with vegetables, which ended up being nearly identical to our lunch that day. At this point in the tour, I was full (even without eating half of what M did!), so I didn’t eat very much, though it was very good. If it had been the first stop on the tour I would have eaten a lot more of the couscous.

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M pouring the mint tea for the table

I enjoyed some refreshing pomegranate and mint tea to cleanse my palate after all the different flavors.

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Our final stop was for dessert: traditional Moroccan cookies and fresh “juices” (the juices were more what we would call smoothies).

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I had a mango-orange-pineapple, which was fantastic, but M’s avocado-date-almond was even more amazing.

We were absolutely stuffed after the 3-hour, 9-stop food tour. Our guide brought us back to Jemaa el-Fnaa, where the nighttime entertainment was in full swing.

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We wandered around for a while, taking in the sights and sounds while we digested our feast.

I would highly recommend the Marrakech food tour to anyone, even if you aren’t as brave as M about trying new and different foods. You need to go with an open mind, though. And an empty stomach!

Read more about our trip to Morocco: {Marrakech, Part 4}