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Topics include Dining Scene, Morocco: For Foreign Visitors & more!
Here are a few recommendations from an American ex-pat living in Marrakech.
Meat vs Vegtarianism: Moroccans love meat. Luckily, if you request it, a vegetarian tagine can be made. Expect the same one everywhere--you will not get to taste the sweet tangines from the mountains or any variety, so get it once or twice and order something different otherwise. Don't eat the harira -- sometimes known as Moroccan soup, it probably has meat in it and if request it without they will probably just take the chunks out and serve it to you regardless; they don't understand the concept of not eating meat, so be firm. A last item of vegetarian advice is make sure you say no meat to them, loudly and clearly -- la lahm --means no meat in arabic, learn, love it. Also, Earth Cafe=vegetarian restaurant in Marrakech.
Bread: Eat lots, forget about avoiding carbs, you are on vacation and this bread is awesome, better than perhaps the best bread you've had in your life. The bread is best in the mountains where they cook it on fires, but it usually is amazing everywhere. To eat it like a true Moroccan: break it and take out the insides, using the outer part as somewhat of a spoon to scoop up your food with.
Fruit: aka Fawaki, if you want to get a rise out of the locals, they love when you speak Arabic. The fruit is great! It's exported to all over Europe so odds are you've eaten it before. After most meals they will serve a bowl of fruit with knives--use the knives to peel your fruit, especially oranges, which Moroccans cut off the tops and bottoms and slice just the peel on around the sides before peeling.
Dates: Yes, it is a Muslim country, so dates are all the rage. At special events and when visiting a Moroccan household don't be surprised if you are offered dates and milk, it's a Moroccan tradition, eat it with a smile on your face.
Fish: Samak in Arabic. Houd are sardines.They eat lots of fried fish (samak makli) in Morocco... yay, sodium! Americans be wary, the fish will have bones in it, so enjoy! If you are with Moroccans, they will eat it with their hands, peel the right and left sides off before taking off the front and back--one side will have skin on so take that off too. If you try to use a fork it will take forever and you will probably barely get any meat, so just use your hands, its normal there. When you are done eating, take a lemon and rub your hands around in it, it takes away some of the smell and is common to do, usually they will bring out some water for you too.
Almonds: Expect them in nearly every dessert and on any plate of snacks, Moroccans love them.
In general, expect to be outside your comfort zone, if you don't like it, stay in your hotel. Everyone shares dishes, literally eating out of the same dish, sharing drinks, none of this is abnormal, so if you are freaked out by germs stay away. Don't expect everything to be clean, Moroccans have a much more relaxed standard on this compared to Americans. Also, be daring, use your hands, you're in Morocco, try to be Moroccan.
American Food: If you crave American food and are in Marrakech, try visiting Carrefour, a large supermarket in a shopping centre located just off the route d'Agdal on the road towards the Atlas Mountains.There are other closer supermarkets too, Acima, Aswak Assalam, Carrefour Market (previously Label Vie) and Marjane. On Activities: Yes, Djemma al Fna (central to the medina) is great, once (or maybe twice if you want to go in the evening). It's packed and touristy, but does accurately represent Marrakech. You might want to go into this area with a guide, it's just altogether better this way, they will help you to not be bothered, harassed, or ripped off.
The Koutoubia: Go see the big mosque (the Koutoubia)! It's near this area, is super old and provides some great history. Gardens. Most of the gardens in Morocco are not beautiful botanical gardens as found in the U.S., but are rather filled with orange trees and dirty hagglers. The exception is the Jardins Majorelle. Agdal gardens is more of a local venue, only open on Fridays and Sundays. The Palmaerie.
Tours: Do it! Do a camel tour, quad tour, or bicycle tour (see bicycles below). This area is great, just a desert of palm trees. Legend has it when they closed the city gates, people would congregate here and throw their date pits which eventually made the palm trees, or something along those lines. If you're wondering why the road is curvy and at some points only big enough for one car, it's because if you cut down a palm tree you must pay the equivalent of 1000 USD, a small fortune to most Moroccans.
Atlas Mountains: Worth the day trip. Many different sites here, hike, bike it, drive it. You have to go. Great restaurants along the river where you walk over crazy wooden bridges (don't worry they are safe) to get to. Known for the best tagine--at least by the local family. Beautiful surroundings. You get to see beautiful Berber villages cut into the sides of mountains. The Berbers are quite a change from Marrakech, incredibly friendly and just plain hospitable. They will literally invite you in for tea and bread--if you are offered, except as everything is homemade and you get a piece of culture.
Berber life is quite interesting as they are mostly self sufficient and sometimes have villages with only walking/donkey access, can you imagine, no cars? Bicycles, cycling, etc. T
If you LOVE mountain biking, in Morocco, it is, well, awesome. There are quite a few different tours on offer in different areas of the mountains with one guide who is quite extreme, loves doing tricks and lives by mountain biking, and another who grew up in the mountains and knows all the ins and outs. take these tours and you get the local experience, in English, probably with some Americans tagging along, and you get to eat some of those great tagines previously mentioned.
So you aren't a great bike rider but still want to see the mountains without hurting yourself? A simple mostly downhill ride, ON ROAD, lets you see all the atlas have to offer, and still, you get that great tagine. And you know, you need a guide for this one as wandering around may get you quite lost. On this tour your guide will actually be American... don't worry though, he lives right by the Palmaerie and this tour is his baby... its a great, easy off road tour for those who want to go off road but aren't that extreme, definitely try it!
If you are a road bike enthusiast, come, enjoy some hardcore road biking. There are tours you can take, but if you hate tours, just rent a bike. Biking in Marrakech may seem scary at first, but the drivers are more aware then you think as people are constantly walking in front of cars, etc. One can manage to get by without any accidents and had never biked in a city or really anywhere with cars before.
On running: good for avid runners. Those of you who love this sport may be hesitant to do it in Morocco as most sites warn against it. Well, shame on them. There are plenty of great runs to be had in Marrakech, just expect lots of pollution and people yelling things at you. The best thing to remember is people generally won't do anything to harm you as the king is trying to ramp up tourism and anyone who messes with tourists is in deep trouble . Have a route planned out and if you get lost, find a hotel because hotels = english. Women, you may not want to wear shorts, but either way you're going to get shouted at, so put some head phones on and roll with it. Don't be afraid, Moroccans run too.
On buying stuff: Try to get a Moroccan to do it for you if you know a trustworthy one. Speaking some French and/or Arabic helps, even just the greetings, if you are foreign, you will get ripped off. It's just fact, sorry. Rule of thumb: Coca Light (what Moroccans call Diet Coke) costs 5 dirhams for a bottle anything more unless in a restaurant is a rip off. Just be wary, and HAGGLE. Haggling is expected. if you don't like the price, don't take it, they sell the same stuff everywhere, go explore.
If you want to take something home truly Moroccan try a pair of house slippers--another Moroccan thing, TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF! when you enter a Moroccan home, its polite, even if they don't ask you to. They may look bizarre, but they are a Moroccan thing, a part of the culture. So you think these slippers are just too ugly, don't blame you. Try a nice silver bangle bracelet! Or if you like 'moroccan' oil, try buying some Argan Oil--obviously they don't call it Moroccan oil in Morocco.... but just beware of who you buy it from as they may put some non argan oil in the bottle to rip you off. If you want the true stuff, take a trip to Essouira, where goats climb up Argan trees.
Back to souvenirs, take home some dates--the dates in the states can't compare.
Well, this is advice to American tourists in a nutshell, there's plenty more to say, but it can't all be written down. Hope this is helpful and enjoy Morocco!