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Dining in Morocco

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ghutcher Jan 2, 2013 03:48 PM

As a regular user of Chowhound, I have noticed that there is very little information about where to dine in Morocco. There are often many requests, but few responses -- so I thought I would list the restaurants my family and friends tried over the last week or so as we travelled across the country.

in Rabat, we had a nice lunch at Le Dhou, a new restaurant on an antique boat docked near the harbor. The setting was beautiful and the food was good with a more modern flair than many of the other restaurants around the country. We had dinner at Le Dinajat, which is in a beautiful riad, and the menu of traditional Moroccan fare was executed well. We particularly liked being greeted by a man with a lantern who guided us from our van to the restaurant in the medina.

In Fes, we loved the restaurant in the Palais Amani Riad. The setting and food were A+. The menu was a modern take on Moroccan fare -- semolina soup with cilantro, Medfounah and banana beignets for dessert. The owner was very personable as well and his family had dinner in the restaurant next to us. The next night we had dinner in our riad, Al Kantara in the medina. The owner had friends over who entertained us and each other with some traditional and modern music before dinner The service was well intended and the food was authentic and hardy. Dinner our last night in Fes was at Maison Blanche in the Ville Nouvelle. The food was international and executed quite well in a modern setting.

In Merrekech, we really liked lunch at Catanzaro. The thin-crust pizzas were really good even when compared to our options in New York City. The restaurant had many locals and was located in the Ville Nouvelle. Our first dinner was at Dar Moha. The setting was beautiful (restored 19th century riad) particularly by the pool, and the traditional Moroccan food was good--not great. We liked Al Fassia Guetiz better. It is run by Berber ladies with wonderful traditional food from around Fes. The service is a little abrupt and the space is nothing special, but go for the food. We took a day trip the next day to the high Atlas mountains and had lunch at Kasbah Tamadot. It is a must! The food was creative and the outdoor tables surrounded by the mountains and the hotel's property were amazing. While some in my group like Dar Yacout the next night, I did not. It is billed as the best restaurant in Merrekech--don't believe it! While the riad is truly beautiful (designed by Bill Willis), the menu is fixed and formulaic and the place is full of tourists. The food was uninspired and left me feeling like a number. The wine choices are red or white... We went to Le Comptoir for New Year's Eve. What a scene. It was expensive (over $300 per person), the food was odd and the show (including the belly dancers) was low rent. We were very disappointed but to be honest others looked like they were having a good time. I highly recommend taking a cooking class at our riad, Riad El Fenn with chef Hafid. We had a great time shopping in a local market with him and cooking up fine (if I do say so myself) tagine and tangines. We were served our creations on the roof terrace with some fennel salad and lentils for lunch. We also had a nice lunch at Le Jarnin in the medina. The place was kind of groovy and the food (international fare) was pretty good too.

I hope this helps future travellers to Morocco and sparks more discussion on Chowhound from locals and others about the many dining options available.

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    obiwan RE: ghutcher Feb 15, 2013 02:36 PM

    Thank you! We are heading there in March 2013. Will try to report back.

    1 Reply
    1. re: obiwan
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      oskibear95 RE: obiwan Mar 16, 2013 04:10 AM

      Ate at Le Petit Beur last night near the Gare Rabat Ville. Food was good, but nothing to rave about. True to order couscous taking but were told they were out of it. Got the Tajine Berber instead. Sort of like a basic beef stew (beef, potatoes, carrots, onions). Also preferred the pastilla de fruits de met. Flaky philo dough stuffed with seafood. We hear pastilla is more a specialty of Fes, where they use pigeon. Looking forward to trying in Fes.
      This restaurant is a Lonely Planet (2011 ed.) top pick. Staff was friendly. Place gets crowded due to guide books' rec. most people there seemed to be foreigners. They take reservations, but maybe only for larger parties >4? We tried to make res for 2,but were not able to. Showed up and were able to be seated at the bar.

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      obiwan RE: ghutcher Apr 8, 2013 10:43 AM

      Finally had time to unwind after our return from Morocco. In general, I found there aren't a whole lot of fine dining options there. And when there are, they don't compare to elsewhere: sort of like something I read about Moroccan hotels -- five star hotels in Morocco are like 4-star hotels in the rest of the developed world. One driver I spoke with said Morocco doesn't really have a middle class, so most restaurants are for foreigners. I asked our guide if there is more to Moroccan food than tajine, couscous, grilled fish, pastilla, and brochettes; his simple answer was no. I think there are many variations on these dishes.
      If you want to eat cheap, eat the street food. The most prominent thing I noticed was a Moroccan sandwich, consisting of hollowed out khobz bread filled with meat: you can add egg and hot sauce as well. It is also common to sit at one stall and order from others. We saw some locals doing this when we were in Fes. Following are some memorable food experiences during our 19-day trip:

      Rabat: We stayed at Riad Kalaa, which we thoroughly enjoyed. The breakfasts there were some of the best we had during our trip, if only because they made slight, daily variations to the usual menu of flat bread (reminds me of Chinese green onion pancake without the green onions), khobz, another pancake like bread that reminds me of crumpets, yogurt, and freshly squeezed orange juice. They also offered eggs, cooked to order.

      Fes: Our first 2 nights we stayed at a home/hotel (Korriche), run through the Ziyarates program and ate a home-cooked meal. Our first taste of couscous on this trip and it was delicious. Another night we ate at Le Jardin des Biehn, which was the best meal up to that point (maybe because we were tiring of the usual Moroccan fare). They served a delicious salad with lettuce, avocado, squid, and grapefruit: the vinaigrette dressing was very good with a distinct flavor I hadn't tasted before (I wonder if they used Argan oil). Our mains were well prepared as well, though not very memorable. The gardens are nice, so if it is warm out, take a table on the patio. Cremerie la Place in Place Seffarine is a nice spot to sit and get a drink/eat cookies. The people who run the place are very friendly and also run a restaurant across the square. Cafe Clock was good, but not great. I had the camel burger there, which I like, but my wife did not.

      Marrakech: Based on ghutcher's review of Le Comptoir, we decided to skip it. We also read good things about Catanzaro, but were not able to try it. Our riad owner, Sandy, at Riad Olema et Spa recommended Grand Cafe de la Poste and Maison Arabe, but again we didn't try either. Speaking of Riad Olema, the food there was good. In hindsight, I think if you want traditional Moroccan fare, you can't go wrong with any of the nicer riads. On Sandy's recommendation we took a cooking class with chef Rachida Sahnoune at Riad Monceau. We cooked a lamb and a chicken tajine, and we have to say they were the best tajines we had on the entire trip. We even purchased the cookbook that they publish. Mam Ti Lee was probably the best meal we had on our entire trip. The restaurant has a nice ambience and the set menu (2 choices per course) is a great value. The menu uses seasonal ingredients and is creative, though I didn't think the pairing of dates and duck quite worked for me. Terrace des Espices was good, traditional Moroccan food, though I think there are other options as well. The setting is great: a terrace atop the souks. Bo+Zin: don't waste your money. Food is good, but not innovative. US$300 for fancy Asian and Moroccan food (but not fusion: dishes of each ethnicity are separate). I got fooled into ordering "Chinese Chicken Croissants", thinking they'd be some interesting comination of French and Chinese. Instead, they ended being potstickers (US$20 for five!!). And, you have to pay way above market rate for a taxi to take you there and back. If any of you decide to try Bo+Zin anyway, I'd suggest asking your petit taxi driver for his cell phone number, and negotiate a price for him to come pick you up after dinner. The grand taxis waiting outside the restaurant know you have no other options and gouge you accordingly. Djemaa el Fna: find a stall where the locals are eating. I forget the number, be we ate at one in the second row away from Mosque Khotoubia. It was a seafood stall where they sold all sorts of fried seafood. Seems like all the stalls sell the same stuff, and at about the same prices.

      Essaouira: La Chalet de la Plage: so-so seafood place on the water. Generous portions, though. I preferred our lunch at the fish stalls, where you order and pay by the kilo. Would have liked to try the restaurant at our hotel, Heure Bleu, but did not have time. We enjoyed a little snack place "Delices Snack" in the medina. The guy working there was so friendly and kind. They make crepes, pizzas, etc.

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        mayache RE: ghutcher Apr 29, 2013 12:21 AM

        I went with my girlfriend to Morocco last year, we stayed mostly in Marrakech as well as 2 days in Essaouira. I would say the main theme in terms of food was that sit-down restaurant food was usually mediocre (with some exceptions), but much of the more casual/street food was fantastic. Unfortunately, much of Moroccan food (e.g. couscous and tagine) doesn't lend itself well to restaurant cooking, and the best traditional meals we had were in a "home" environment, such as our riad (Dar K -- *highly* recommended). I may be a bit more demanding as I grew up eating much of this food, since my family is from North Africa. Some more specifics:

        Marrakech: We were really excited for al-Fassia, but were disappointed. Not bad, but not outstanding. The tagine was clearly pressure cooked, and the couscous had been sitting so it was not fluffy like it was supposed to be. The food was very good at Le Foundouk, with an enjoyable atmosphere too -- felt very expat though. The real culinary highlight was the Djemaa el-Fna, some of our favorite stalls there were #14 (fried fish, as well as unexpectedly good french fries), #31 (merguez), and the mechoui guy in the first row, don't know the number. Stick to places that only serve a few dishes, and that have mostly Moroccan clientele and you'll do great. Don't let the guys pull you into the restaurants they work for! We also had a nice lunch at Restaurant Place des Ferblantiers near the Badi palace. Dar Tim Tam was recommended by the Lonely Planet, so we stopped for lunch there, but it was overpriced and mediocre. The breakfasts at the riad were really great, fantastic orange juice, fresh breads, Moroccan crepes, etc.

        Essaouira: Our first meal here, which was amazing, was grilled sardines picked up from the fish market in the medina, then taken to one of the local grill places where they cook what you bring them. We bought bread straight out of the oven from a bakery down the street, which was quite possibly the best piece of bread either of us had ever eaten, and for only 10 cents! Outstanding. Dinner was at Restaurant Laayoune, excellent fish couscous and a calm atmosphere, as well as some Moroccan cookies. The next day we went to one of the more touristy fish grills near the port and the fish was good but not as memorable as the more local places.

        We also took a day trip to the Atlas mountains and had lunch at Dar Imlil, which is a guest house there. Not normally open for meals to the public, but our guide made prior arrangements with them. The tagine there was the best one of the trip, clearly cooked slowly and traditionally over many hours. Much closer to home cooking.

        Overall the theme was generally that the simplest and sometimes most unexpected things were the best -- bread, french fries, mechoui (roasted lamb shoulder) -- while complex dishes at restaurants could be good but were often disappointing. If you go and have a chance to eat traditional food in somebody's home or a place where they really do homestyle cooking (such as a riad), I highly recommend you take the opportunity. Traditional Moroccan food is phenomenal when cooked with love and attention

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