Intriguing Food Stalls of Jemaa el Fna, Marrakesh

Bubbling cauldrons of soup, steaming bowls of snails, sizzling meat skewers, steaming lambs’ heads, and piles upon piles of fresh green mint–welcome to the incredible Jemaa el Fna, the grand square at the heart of Marrakesh’s ancient Medina!

A green food cart is setup and ready to serve tea and sweets in Jemaa el Fna, the main square in Marrakesh.
Well before the restaurant food stalls are ready, this spiced tea and sweets stall is ready to serve those that need a quick snack.

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Beautifully decorated Tagines, clay cooking pots, on display in a shop in the Marrakech Medina.
Tagines, traditional ceramic baking dishes, are sold in the Marrakesh main square.

The Main Square of Marrakesh

Jemaa el Fna market or souk is hustling and bustling all day long. You will encounter snake charmers, hat twirlers, monkey trainers. You can buy everything from a new jean jacket to spices. Not too many people leave without picking up their own fez, a traditional felted hat from days gone by.

An orange vendor, wearing a blue plastic basket for a hat, sells fresh oranges from a cart in Jemaa el Fna.
Fresh oranges, and other fruit, can be found throughout the city.

No matter what time you go, you will be verbally accosted by touts, tour salesmen, helpful locals and so much more. If it gets a little to chaotic to be in the midst of, sometimes watching from the sidelines will do the trick.

Two-wheeled carts, piled high with equipment, are actually pop-up restaurants with seating, tables and cooking equipment.
Carts are piled high as they are pulled into the main square and turned into a restaurant right before your eyes.

Setting Up the Jemaa el Fna Food Stalls

Every evening, about 5:00 PM, the market square comes to life as the first of the various food stalls is trundled into place. A confusion of iron bars, padded seat covers, lattice work awnings, and of course, heaps and heaps of fixings for the days’ meals are unloaded and expertly assembled.

Some of these vendors have been in business for decades and have been going through this daily routine of setup, sell out, and tear down non-stop day after day after day for years.

A pop-up food stall in Jemaa el Fna even has a built-in kitchen sink.
This cart comes complete with its kitchen sink…of course.

The whole square acts as an enormous, open air entertainment district. You’ll enjoy the show before and after dinner as fortune tellers predict the future, impromptu bands belt out traditional favorites, and street performers show off their acrobatic skills. Somehow, I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening in Marrakesh!

The square really gets hopping just before sunset. Now, you’ll need to be extra careful to avoid being run over as the night time vendors show up with cart after cart for the last minute rush to setup and prepare for the diners.

A man stands on top of the awning framework of a pop-up kitchen making sure it’s properly assembled.
Each food stall building crew member has his own job. This man is making sure the top is secure before pulling up the tarp for coverage.

The food stalls of Jemaa el Fna are the original pop up restaurants. They roll in on a car sized trailer, with everything needed to build and operate one restaurant for the evening crowds. Sometimes two or three carts are assembled together into one large dining room with seating for thirty or forty hungry visitors.

These guys have been setting up the same food carts for years. Insert tab A into slot B, fold and twist, every part has its place and they could do it with their eyes closed. The average time to go from loaded cart to packed restaurant with food on the tables is about one hour.

Nearly assembled food stalls, with counters, seating, and awnings, will soon be ready for customers in Jemaa el Fna.
Customers grab a seat as soon as they are available.

What to Eat at Jemaa el Fna

“5 times guarantee. No diarrhea!” touts a food stall vendor. We still didn’t stop at that one. I’m sure you know why.

You can find almost anything to eat in this ultimate pop-up food court. We tried the snails, some fried calamari, one or two kebabs, tajine (of course), and we ended the night with a soothing glass of Moroccan mint tea.

A bowl of steamed snails served in their own broth.
Barbouche – a bowl of boiled snails.

Some other items you can order:

  • tajines, chicken or lamb
  • Harisa soup
  • egg sandwiches
  • merguez sandwiches
  • all kinds of offal
  • sweets, like sellou -an almond paste
  • fried vegetables
  • salads
A man deep frying fish filets at a food stall in Jemaa el Fna, Morocco.
Frying fish, the cook invites us into the stall for a taste.

Choose Your Food Stall Carefully

It’s imperative to do your homework before planning to eat your evening meal at the Jemaa el Fna food stalls. Many people have later complained of stomach issues afterwards. Even though the four of us were all fine, we do pay close attention to a few things before we choose any restaurant in a foreign land, much less a street food stall.

A Jemaa el Fna food stall vendor holds up half a grapefruit to show the freshness of his fresh-squeezed juice.
A smiling fruit vendor showing his wares. On a warm afternoon, a fresh-squeezed juice is just the right snack.

The homework is simply asking your host or hostess which stalls they would eat at. They will ask you what you like to eat, and you should answer them. You should also ask them what foods are local and would they recommend you trying. I tend to ask everyone I come in contact with when I’m researching where to eat.

A vendor with his cart decorated with garland and Moroccan flags serves mint tea to a customer.
Mint tea and sellou are sold here for anyone taking a short break.

Nowadays, you can check some websites with reviews, and of course they are always helpful. However often times they are written by foreigners who have no idea what the local food should taste like or how much it should cost.

The Jemaa el Fna food stalls, are quickly assembled and already serving customers.
A restaurant food stall is built, and ready to start serving customers.

Other things to look for when choosing a safe food stall:

  • A crowd of locals – this is a time when waiting in line will assure you freshly cooked fare.
  • The cooks are right in front of you. Before eating at a stall, just watch. Do they wear gloves, wash their hands, clean off the dishes right away?
  • Are the people eating looking happy or quizzical? Are they finishing everything on the plate? Are they ordering more?
  • Is there a tout that just harangues you? Does he hand you a menu with several languages on it? This could be a bad sign and the stall could be catering to tourists who really don’t know what good local food is.
Food stall cooks work over steaming pots and grills to make Moroccan street food for crowds of people in Jemaa el Fna.
Busy cooks hurry to make meals for the throngs of customers patiently waiting for dinner.

Pro Tip: Wherever we travel, we visit the old parts of towns like the Medinas in Marrakesh and Fez. We find them fascinating, and if you do too you might also enjoy a Berber market. If your travels to or from Marrakesh take you on the old highway between Marrakesh and Fez on a Tuesday, stop in the small village of Azrou and visit the weekly Berber market

Where We Stayed

We stayed a the comfortable and intimate Riad des Arts, right in the Medina. We highly recommend it!

However there are plenty of wonderful riads to try in this exotic city. You can compare prices and amenities by clicking here.

Jemaa el Fna gets even busier in the evening as it becomes the Marrakesh night market.
The Jemaa el Fna market comes alive at night.

Conclusion

Our trip through Morocco was a constant Disney e-ticket ride of things to see and do, and probably the one that stands out the most is our dinners and wandering we did around the main square in Marrakesh, Jemaa el Fna. We loved the entire show of setting up the food stalls to discovering all the delectable foods to try.

Have you been to Marrakesh? Were you tempted by the intriguing food stalls of Jemaa el Fna?

11 thoughts on “Intriguing Food Stalls of Jemaa el Fna, Marrakesh”

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  6. I have seen so many pictures and videos of this place … It is really one of the top places I want to visit. As food lovers, I think you can understand why is that. #TPThursday

  7. Jemaa el-Fnaa is a market, entertainment, and food all rolled into one. I like how each of the restaurants/carts is numbered so you can return to the same place every day. Although most of the dinner carts have the identical menu, some taste better than others. Just don’t look at how they wash the dishes 🙂

    1. Rhonda, Sometimes you can’t get caught up in the small stuff. I think the carts pretty much are put up in the same place everyday, but not by number. You just have to memorize its location.

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