A highlight of our stay in Marrakech was our trip to the souks in Medina. Medina is the old section of the city and the souks are the market stalls. We spent the majority of a day shopping and eating in the souks.
We were worried that since my Mom, sister, and I are all blond that we might stick out too much and receive unwanted attention. It actually wasn’t much different than going to the markets in Italy. Two things did help us out. First, we wore conservative clothing that covered us from the shoulders to the knees. Secondly, we hired guides.
The souks are massive – this photo just shows a mall section of the Medina from above. It’s an overwhelming maze that is difficult to navigate. We hired a local guide to lead us while we went shopping. He took us to several different souks selling carpets, metalwork, spices, clothing, and leather goods. He was a straightforward guide that took us from place to place making sure we didn’t get lost, but he didn’t teach us much about the Medina.
We had thought that having a guide might help us to get better deals, and to avoid people trying to aggressively sell us stuff. When we returned to the souks on our own, we learned the opposite was true. The guides are in on the deal at the souks, and people seemed to be charging us more. We had an easier time on our own in the souks.
There is some amazing shopping in the souks. I bought a massive rug/blanket that is so big that it is being cut in half. I also picked up some beautiful ceramic bowls. The ceramics were stunning, but I didn’t want to buy too much for fear that it wouldn’t make it home in one piece. I found the comfiest slipper shoes. And my favorite purchase was a Berber wedding blanket with sequins that will look great on my new couch.
My sister loved the metal lanterns. I wanted to buy some of the big lanterns but I wasn’t sure that I had a spot to put them at home. We all bought spices, and Mom picked up mini tagines that are used to hold salt and pepper.
Conveniently, you are able to pay with credit card at the souks, and shipping is available. I paid $200 for my massive rug/blanket and the price included the shipping. I thought it was a great deal. I came to Morocco ready to shop – I brought a big empty duffle bag with me – something I tend to do when I am traveling internationally.
At night we shifted gears and met up with Noura for a three-hour food tour. I highly recommend this. There can be a language barrier in the souks, so it might be hard to understand what is in each food without the assistance of a guide. Noura was able to make sure that vegetarians and people with gluten allergies were served foods they could eat. Going with a guide also gave us extra reassurance that we wouldn’t end up with food poisoning.
We ate so much on the food tour! We started off at a tiny restaurant in the souks and had beef tagine, steamed lamb, and lamb tanjia. This was a big meal for the start of the tour, but it was so good that I couldn’t stop eating it.
A tanjia is similar to a tagine, but it is cooked in an urn shaped clay pot. We thought it tasted similar to tagine. I was glad that I got a chance to try this. The super friendly border control agent at the airport recommended it. (Seriously, this guy was almost too friendly for his job – he was striking up conversations with everyone … so the line didn’t move very quickly).
I loved the savory pancakes that were filled with tomatoes and onions. These pancakes are only made by women, and are served rolled up.
Sometimes the pancakes are served with cheese, or plain with toppings on the side. We ate these pancakes for breakfast in the desert, and we either drizzled them with honey or spread nutella on top.
Next we got doughnuts that were served dipped in honey. Doughnuts are best when they are fresh and warm, and these were being made to order. The honey in Morocco was lighter in flavor and consistency and it’s found in many recipes. We couldn’t stop talking about how much we liked it.
Sardines are a local specialty, and we stopped to try sardine cakes. These were made from ground up sardines that were formed into patties and cooked. They are served with a sauce made of diced tomatoes. I am not going to lie, this wasn’t my favorite food on the tour.
The couscous stand was run by women and it was our favorite stop. The couscous was made by being steamed three times in a special pot, and it was served with bit chunks of potatoes and carrots on top with a light vegetable broth.
The last stop was at a bakery where they made the most delicious cookies. Many of the cookies in Morocco are made with almond and nut flours. You don’t hear much about Moroccan cookies in the U.S. and that is a shame because they are wonderful.
If you find yourself in Marrakech, set aside a chunk of one day to visit the souks in the Medina. We all loved the food tour (here is a link), and I think it was 100% worth the price, especially considering the fact that none of us got sick from the food. I would be a bit nervous to try food at the souks otherwise.