Saturday, September 27, 2008

Djemma el Fna by night

My coverage of our honeymoon to Morocco last November continues. Michael helped write this post.

One of the unique draws of Marrakesh is the Djemma el Fna: the legendary square and market in the city's old medina quarter. Michael and I had been looking forward to visiting it right away, and despite our jet lag, it was our first stop after we arrived our first evening.

The Djemma is the center of activity every night for both tourists and locals. It features hundreds of food stalls and bright lights that are wheeled in by donkey carts in the late afternoon. Vendors tempt customers to stop and sit down for dinner with lavish meat and vegetable displays and touts who call you "my friend" and prevent you from walking any further.

The square is rimmed with cafes and restaurants featuring outdoor patios overlooking the show. Here's a picture we took from one such cafe.

The other section of the square hosts a dizzying variety of entertainers. You find small groups of Arab and Berber musicians, story tellers (interesting even when one doesn't understand their words), male bellydancers dressed in drag (female bellydancers would not be tolerated in a public space like this in Morocco), snake charmers, traditional dancers, and more. Each has a lantern and a large group of Moroccans and tourists around them.

Here's a view of this area from the same cafe:

Each entertainer has his own shtick. One sings with a chicken on his head or his instrument. Michael took a picture of me with the chicken man. Of course, this was in exchange for a number of dirhams. If anyone attempts to take a photo of an entertainer without paying up, said entertainer will make a spectacle of the photographer. We saw this happen with one particularly scary looking male bellydancer.

We had to work up the courage to actually eat at the Djemma. Well, let me correct that. I had to work up the courage. Michael would have eaten at a stall the very first night. But I wanted to go with something "safer" at the beginning of the honeymoon -- a well-known restaurant on the square called Cafe Argana. But later on in the week, we decided to try the stalls.

Here's Michael as we sat there at a stall, waiting for our food.

We had traditional Moroccan fare: I had a seven vegetable couscous, and Michael had some sort of meat dish. After that, we actually tried out a few more stalls. I got a freshly squeezed orange juice, and Michael tried a steaming bowl of snails!

Imagine the feel of a county fair, but with twenty times more food vendors and all of them right next to each other. Then imagine them with strange and exotic dishes, signs in Arabic script, and sounds of tribal-like drumming in the background. That's what it's like to be in the heart of the Djemma food stalls.

For more Djemma pictures, check out This is a VERY accurate representation of what the Djemma looks like at night...including snails.

For some travel advice, check out this NYT article about Marrakesh that was published exactly when we were there!

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