Derek Workman‘s gastronomic adventures are not for the faint of heart.
Jmaa el Fna, North Africa’s most vibrant and exotic square, the ancient heart of Marrakech, where snake charmers, storytellers and acrobats entertain the passing crowds. By day it bustles with henna artists, potion sellers, fresh orange juice vendors and red-robed water sellers, but when dusk falls handcarts are wheeled into the square and unfolded in an intricate pattern to reveal portable grills, tables, benches, pots and pans, and the curling smoke of 100 barbeques spirals over the largest open-air restaurant in the world.
There are stalls to fit every taste and every pocket; a bowl of harira, a traditional rich tomato and lentil soup with beef or chicken, seasoned with ginger, pepper and cinnamon, or bsarra, white bean soup with olive oil and garlic; add a sandwich served in a khobz, a small, round flat loaf with the top nipped off to form a pocket, filled with freshly deep-fried slivers of liver dribbled with a green chilli sauce, or a handful of merguez sausages, and you’ll be set up for a stroll around the souks – although you may want to leave the tajine of sheeps or calfs feet and the sliced camels head to the locals to enjoy, and it would take a certain amount of culinary fortitude to sample a bowl of sheeps testicles.
On the west side of the square, a row of white-capped chefs steam mounds of snails in battered enamel bowls. The menu is simple – snails or snails, but as the little gastropods served in a tantalising broth are a gastronomic institution in Morocco, it isn’t always easy to get a seat at these stalls. Wonderful for the digestion, locals drain the broth after having their fill.
The beautiful chaos of the food stalls is entertainment in its own right, but once you’ve eaten there’s still the raucous street entertainment of Jmaa el Fna to keep you from bed.