Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square of Marrakech can be an intimidating place. You won't need to make eye contact with a vendor to initiate a constant stream of "Hello, hello, hello, hello"; women will simply grab your hand and begin drawing a henna tattoo if you do not pull away fast enough. At any time of the day in the heart of the Red City, there are musicians playing instruments you did not know existed, Ray-Bans being hocked for prices too low to be profitable, fresh squeezed juices being brought forth from fruit on demand, monkeys to sit on your shoulder for a small pittance of dirhams, and locals playing carnival games where the prize appear to be a liter of soda; all of which can be overwhelming, especially when Jemaa el-Fnaa is usually the first place you see when you arrive in the medina of Marrakech. "Is it always this busy?" I asked to the guide walking us to our riad, and he grinned back at me "My friend, this is not busy. Not busy at all."
All of this craziness is during daylight hours, and once night falls, the square gets even crazier, with dozens of food stands invading the area, all numbered and individualized. As you get close to the area, you can hear the vendors shouting, each one a Puff Daddy level hype man for his stall. "One One Seven Take You To Heaven! Thirty Five Keeps You Alive! One Hundred And Four We Give You More! Stall Twenty Two, We Promise You No Bloody Diarrhea" Yes, someone actually yelled that last one. The dirty secret about the food stalls: Most of them serve the same menu of traditional Moroccan foods: olive and tomato salads, tagines, cous cous, sausages and lamb, with some serving more exotic fare like sheep's head. The second dirty secret: Most of them aren't very good. Our friend Amanda (Also known as MarocMama) says "Eat at your own risk....we've lived here three years, I've been visiting for almost ten, and eaten here maybe a handful of times." But you don't want to spend a tourist trip in Marrakech without at least trying out the experience of eating amongst all that madness. The key to finding something good to eat in a situation like this is to follow three pieces of advice:
- Find the place with mostly locals.
- Menus in English are bad.
- The stalls without people hollering at you, imploring you to come and eat there don't have them for a reason: the food speaks for itself.
It was using these rules we discovered the best thing we ate in Marrakech (and we ate some ridiculously delicious food). As we walked through the stalls, being accosted at every angle with menus and funny rhymes about numbers and enjoyable food, we spotted a stand in the middle of the pack besieged by Moroccans. There wasn't a white person in sight, and the menu was mostly Arabic, with two French phrases we could decipher: "Sandwich Petit" and "Sandwich Grand". As we hung back for a moment, watching the machinations unfold in front of us, a Moroccan patiently waiting for the vendor to make eye contact grinned at us, raised his eyebrows, and uttered three words, which Renee and I would repeat to each other the rest of our time in Marrakech. Whenever hunger would strike, and we would discuss what we wanted, it was the same. When we fondly reminisce about Marrakech in the coming years, what will we remember the most? We had done hours of research on what to do, where to go, and most importantly, what to eat, how is it possible we had not heard this phrase before? What was this best bite in Marrakech that had dozens of locals clamoring to catch the eye of the vendor like a gaggle of sorority girls at Señor Frogs on Spring Break?
Moroccan Big Mac.
Allow me to make your life complete. While some locals refer to it as "Tortilla", and our Riad host made a passing reference to it using the term “Crazy Bread”, we will stick with the classic nomenclature and refer to it as the “Moroccan Big Mac” for the remainder of this entry. The MBM goes like this:
- Cut open a piece of fresh made Moroccan bread (picture it as a cross between a pita and an english muffin)
- Spread a full pat of butter on said bread
- Open a hard boiled egg and mash it at the bottom of the pocket of bread
- Take two steaming peeled boiled potatoes and mash in to mix with the eggs
- Sprinkle a liberal amount of salt and cumin on the whole damn thing
- Spray what can only be described as a GANG of olive oil into the sandwich
- Glop on a dollop of spicy harissa sauce (Note: They’ll only do this if you holler “SPICY” at them while they’re on this step. It helps if you gesture wildly at the red sauce on the table. At least it did for me.)
The well oiled machine that is Stall Number 66 has two main attendants who are constantly pulling double duty by both making sandwiches and collecting money, and about a dozen people working in the “back” constantly boiling eggs, peeling potatoes, making sauce, and just overall yelling at each other. It’s an experience just watching the Rube Goldberg machine of deliciousness unfold.
But you don’t care about that, let’s talk about the MBMs that are at once creamy and spicy, crunchy and smooshy (Dave Jacoby would be proud - that’s an obscure reference), immensely satisfying even though you immediately want another round after you inhale your first. The bite of the salt and cumin cuts through the eggs and the starchiness of the potatoes, the harissa giving just enough spiciness to pull the entire thing together. It’s delicious, and the fact that there isn’t a hipster Brooklyn Food Truck run by two Broad City wannabes named something like “Moroccan Mamas” selling these for $4 each doesn’t make any sense to me.
Oh, and they only cost 8 dirhams each, the equivalent of about eighty cents. Make sure you go there when they’re busy and the potatoes are hot or your experience will be an 8/10 instead of a 14/10. You can also go directly across the aisle to the stall selling harira, a traditional Moroccan soup for a nice combo meal that will cost you just about $1 total. But just make sure you get a Moroccan Big Mac. You’ll most likely go back for thirds and fourths, as we certainly did. If you go nowhere else in Marrakech, make sure you visit Stall Sixty Six (We Don’t Need A Slogan Because Our Food Tastes Like What They Give You At The Pearly Gates In Order To Announce That You’ve Made It Into Heaven Because It Tastes So Good Moroccan Big Mac Is The Official Food Of HEAVEN YOU GUYS. This Was Probably Too Long Of A Joke And Isn’t Funny Anymore But I Can’t Stop………..Also Stall Sixty Six Pick Up Sticks would be a good one.)