Some people may prefer more refined establishments, but the longer I live in Essaouira, the more I live like a local…. Here are my top ten favourite street foods. You’ll find variations on many of them outside of Essaouira, and other cities and regions will have their own specialities. Bon appétit!
1. Macaroons at the bus station – I know you aren’t supposed to start with desert, but who cares?! The macaroons sold at the kiosk in the bus station cost a fraction of the price in a patisserie and are delicious: crispy and gooey. And you don’t need to be travelling by bus to enjoy them!
2. Couscous on a Friday – for a mere 13dh (<£1), you can enjoy vegetable couscous at one of the hole-in-the-wall cafes down the side of the jewellery souq, in an alley at the back of the Souq Waqa (the street that leads to Bab Marrakech). The plate isn’t huge, but it’s absolutely overflowing and at these kinds of prices you can ask for seconds! The seating is outside, so go on a sunny day!
3. Maq’uda – I enjoy these in the afternoon at Chez Ouazzani on Souk Waqa. They are like mashed potato patties and in a sandwich they are the perfect filler on the days when I forget to have lunch. And they cost pennies! The guy who runs this tiny restaurant used to be in the army and gets called everything from Colonel up and down the ranks. No matter, he’s a sweetie and his food is delicious and cheap!
4. Msimen and harira – I have written about the msimen cafe before. A plain msimen costs a mere 3dh and so for less than £1, you can have the perfect sweet/savoury combo of harira (tomato-based thick soup containing chickpeas and pasta, often eaten during Ramadan) and a flaky msimen pancake with honey. If the cafe I recommend is closed, there are others dotted around the city.
5. Sardines – Essaouira’s famous sardines are not to be missed. You can eat them with other tourists at he kiosks near the port, or buy your own at the fish market and get the guys at No Name Cafe to grill them for you. The local way is to pick the flesh off the bones with your hands, so buy yourself a lemon as well to take away the smell afterwards!
6. Fried fish – there are a couple of shops on Souk Waqa staffed by the most religious-looking guys in town. How their beards don’t stink of chip fat, I have never gotten close enough to find out! This is not haute cuisine, nor is it particularly healthy, but I am from Scotland so I recognise the benefits to the soul of the occasional deep fried fish!
7. Q’aramouss – in season (early autumn), guys wheel hardcarts around town laden with prickly pears (Barbary figs) eat them to your heart’s content, then the stallholder will tot up the carefully removed peels to give you the price. You can also ask him to peel them and bag them to take away!
8. Orange Juice – Moroccan OJ is the best in the world. Of the 4-5 stands between the main square and the port, my favourite is Soufiane, the guy on the far right (nearest the port). In season, he also squeezes incredibly sweet pink grapefruit. Delicious!
9. Corn on the cob – there is a definite siesta culture in Essaouira, and after about 4pm the town is packed with strollers, shoppers and hawkers. Just beyond Bab Doukkala, there is often a guy selling corn on the cob, hot and sweet.
10. McDonald’s at Bab Sbaa – Every nightclub has its local take away or burger van, and the cluster outside Bab Sbaa are no different. The locals joking call the pimped up handcart selling merguez (spicy sausage) sandwiches the ‘Moroccan McDonalds’. I’m a vegetarian, but even if I wasn’t, I think to be honest, I would avoid this one!
It was so hard to get my list down to 10. I didn’t mention the guys who sell ice-cream from a handcart or the ones who serve snails (and snail broth) of an evening beside those who sell boiled chickpeas and butter beans. But that’s because I’ve never tried them; I can vouch for all of my top ten…. except ‘McDonald’s’ 😉