The Night Market in Marrakech

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

If we were looking for chaos, we found it at the night market in Marrakech.

In fact, we found it within only a few minutes walking from our riad. After winding through several quiet derbs, we came to a main street that lead us to the markets in the center. The energy on this artery was instant and intense. Motorbikes sped and weaved around the crowds of people and carts pulled by donkeys, Pete took the outside lane to shelter me from the traffic. Around us, souks were hawking everything from bras to raw meat to household goods. Wonderfully colorful shops of shoes, fabrics and ceramics also brightened the way.

Bonjour, hello, everyone called, a grand smile on their face and an outstretched hand leading would-be patrons into their store or open stall.

We stopped to snap photos but were rather shy to take them. One shop owner yelled at me from across the way to stop. We became more sneaky and I pretended to pose so that Pete could zoom in around me and capture some of the street scenes.

Night Market Lanterns Marrakech
Busy Street in Marrakech
Moroccan Pottery

At one point I walked slightly ahead of Pete and we got separated. Within seconds, a small man with a wayward ball cap atop his head stepped in front of me, his eyes roamed my body from the feet up. “Very nice,” he creepily drawled. Becoming begrudgingly accustomed to this sort of unwelcome attention in Morocco, I casually stepped around him and into another crowd of people. Pete finally made his way back to my side.

We neared the market and the alternating aromas hit full force. We passed spice shops that temporarily distracted from the heavy diesel fumes of the speeding motorbikes, and it wasn’t long before we caught the scent of grilled meat which meant we were near the center square.

I began to get very nervous.

Snakes.

I hate snakes.

Earlier in the day, a lady staying at our riad told a tale of her teenage son being surprised by a man who draped a snake around his neck without warning. After much imploring to have it removed, the man then demanded payment for the experience. Such men and their snakes are speckled throughout the markets, and I had been keeping a careful eye out to avoid them. They are most commonly found near the food stalls.

“Do you want me to get bitten, poisoned and die?” I dramatically asked Pete as he mocked my fear.

Through a crowd of people I spotted a man holding three small snakes as he scanned for obvious tourists. We were just two of those many tourists, but I wasn’t taking any chances. When we were within twenty feet of him, I positioned myself on the farthest side of Pete and clung to his torso.

We passed unharmed, and I relaxed somewhat. But I was always tense and on the lookout.

The assault of the obnoxious dinner slingers soon began from the stalls of fresh food and grills lined up under white tents. Each had one man responsible for coaxing patrons to their tables. “But you look like you are starving,” one said as we pushed past him. We were searching for the highly recommended stall number 100.

We found it and immediately sat down, garnering small applause from all who worked there. Their charm was fictitious and obviously made for the crowds of foreigners. But it worked, and more people took seats around us.

“Do you want me to get bitten, poisoned and die?” I dramatically asked Pete as he mocked my fear.

Food Stalls in Marrakech Night Market

Our waiter led us up to the buffet of fresh, uncooked food so that we could pick out what we wanted. We ordered a round of mixed brochettes, veggies and sausage. I had asked our waiter about one pastry dish and he responded that it was traditional pastilla, filled with chicken and almonds. I didn’t order it, but it mysteriously showed up at our table with the rest of the spread anyways.

It was all so delicious.

Even the pastry thing (which, I learned later, is more traditionally made with pigeon meat). It was garnished with sugar and cinnamon which made it quite sweet for a chicken dish, but it was amazing.

Marrakech Night Market Grilled Meats
Moroccan Pastry

While we ate we enjoyed music from unrecognizable instruments just beyond. Several men pushing very large white carts walked past and tried to sell us a variety of desserts just as we were tucking into our grilled meat. More applause as more people sat down. The whole area was an electric whir of sounds, smells and activity.

We left quite full and I commented that I wished we carried a sign that said “We-just-ate-don’t-bother-us!” because we immediately were being guided to various stalls as we walked past. “Demain,” most of them insisted when we refused, “Come back tomorrow!” A couple of more aggressive men put their arms around Pete: “Mon frere, mon frere, remember me tomorrow!” Another saw the Canadian flag on our backpack and yelled out “Jim Carrey!” as we walked past.

We made our way across the medina, ever mindful of snakes, to have a drink at a restaurant balcony high above, exclusively for the better view.

From above we could see, and still smell, the clouds of grilled meat. The buzz of activity was mesmerizing to watch and capture.

The whole area was an electric whir of sounds, smells and activity.

Jemma el_Fnaa at Night

We gave up our ringside seats on the balcony and walked towards the souks behind the food stalls. Being almost nine p.m., they were closing for the day. We bought some almonds, marveled at the perfect stacks of spices, and then began the artful exercise of dodging obstacles on the crowded streets back to our riad.

Spices in Marrakech Night Market

We were amazed at how just a few steps off the main street, and other than for the few polite locals we passed, silence so quickly befell.

Marrakech Back Street

Where We Stayed

Many thanks to Riad Linda for our discounted stay while in Marrakech. For a full review, please click here.

63 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own

  • Eurotrip Tips
    January 23 2012

    Pastilla is my favorite Moroccan dish ever. Such a surprising sweet taste! There used to be a Moroccan restaurant in London that had the best pastillas I’d ever tasted, but it has closed down since. Pastillas would probably be a good enough reason for me to visit Morocco one day – even though it means I have to get used to chaotic markets!

  • January 23 2012

    I loved eating in the market at night…it was a really interesting experience! The food was amazing. I like the pics you were able to sneakily get-so many great colors. However, I think I got anxiety from all those motorbikes…I was convinced I was gonna see someone get run over!

  • January 23 2012

    I am REALLY excited (& now a little nervous about snakes) to experience this when I’m there in 4 weeks!
    Seriously, though, I’m not scared of snakes but if anyone puts one on me I will hiss at him!
    Kit Whelan recently posted..Essential Gear: Compression Packs

  • January 23 2012

    having heard about Morocco and these night markets for so long, I really can’t wait to go someday. Love the neatly stacked spices and description of the quiet when leaving.
    Margo recently posted..Attention Cupid: Travel Belles (and Beaus) Love Hotels

    • January 24 2012

      I still want to know how they get the spices stacked like that!! An evening in the markets really is quite an experience.

      • Abi
        January 25 2012

        Good point! Have seen quite a few spice pyramids but very few people maintaining them…
        Abi recently posted..Jordanian Food: Sumac, Spice & Slice

        • January 25 2012

          And what would happen if the wind picked up? That’s what I’d like to know. :)

  • January 23 2012

    It seems an interesting adventure you’ve had there…. For me this is natural as I am originally from Tunisia, and it’s almost the same as in Morroco… But it’s interesting to see the point of view of a foreigner travelling in the kind of country I know…. Thanks for sharing with us
    tunimaal recently posted..Cosplay Interview: Coh the newbie cosplayer – August 21st 2011

    • January 24 2012

      Our time in Morocco was just that – an interesting adventure! I knew that for our night market experience I just wanted to write a step-by-step occurrence of all that happened to give people a real feel for what it would be like. Interesting to hear it is quite similar to Tunisia, I hope to make it there someday too!

  • January 23 2012

    Great shots of all the food in the Marrakech market. I just remember seeing a million stalls selling snails

    • January 24 2012

      Snails, and sheep heads! I wish I had gotten a picture of those…

  • January 23 2012

    Ah, I am reliving my time there with this post! I spent three days in Marrakech and it was really difficult. The market, the medina, the constant need to feel on-guard was really tough for me. I wrote about it here if you want to check it out … http://www.dtravelsround.com/2010/08/03/thoughts-from-a-riad/

    • January 24 2012

      Yes, I couldn’t handle much more then that either, even with Pete. I think he got tired of me clutching on to him so furiously as we walked the streets (especially to avoid the snakes!) LOVED your post on your experience – such vivid descriptions!

  • Martin Blake
    January 23 2012

    Ciao Dalene and Pete, I’m the father of the “snake boy” you referred to in your post, we are currently in the countryside of Tuscany, quite a different environment to where we last saw you in Morrocco. Your post brings back fond memories of the “Madness of the Marrakech Medina” and the peace and tranquility of Riad Linda. Looking forward to hearing about your camel trekking experience.

    • January 24 2012

      Martin! So nice to hear from you! Yes, thanks to your family for that inspired piece in our story! Glad to hear all is well in Tuscany, hope the weather isn’t too rough for you. :) Our camel trek was such an awesome experience, posts on that coming up shortly! Give our best to your family please. :)

  • January 23 2012

    Wow that sounds crazy and amazing at the same time… I love the pictures! It remembers me a little of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul but more hectic and bigger!
    Sebastian recently posted..Airline Review: Lufthansa

    • January 24 2012

      I’ve heard that Istanbul’s is crazier! Hmmm…will be there in March so will have to compare!

  • January 23 2012

    Wow…All the information I need to navigate a Moroccan market and a fantastic pick-up line to try on my wife later on tonight!
    Possibly your most educational post ever!
    Steve recently posted..Stretching the Truth at Hotel Check-In

    • January 24 2012

      Haha Steve, yes, let me know how that line works with your wife! Didn’t quite do that dude any favors. :)

  • January 23 2012

    Talk about sensory overload! What a fun experience. I’ve only been to Tangier and Asilah, but am really interested in heading to Marrakesh.
    Christine recently posted..Life Lately via Instagram

    • January 24 2012

      Sensory overload – exactly. Can only be done in small doses! I wish we had spent more time in Tangiers on our way down.

  • January 24 2012

    Great reporting – I could hear the noise, smell the spices and the foods, see the people milling around.
    InsideJourneys recently posted..Travel Disasters: Do You Have an Emergency Plan?

    • January 24 2012

      Thank you Marcia! :)

      • January 24 2012

        You’re welcome, Dalene.
        Can’t wait to see what you’ll cover today. And what photos you’ll have to sneak to take. Hahaha!!
        I smiled when I read that ’cause I’ve done that so many times, especially if I think they might say no if I asked.
        InsideJourneys recently posted..Travel Disasters: Do You Have an Emergency Plan?

  • Donna
    January 24 2012

    Though the market looks busy, it looks clean and tidy. I understand why you were avoiding the snake persons. I enjoy watching them in the distance but I am not a big fan up close since I don’t want to take chances as well. The things they are selling in the market sounds interesting especially the food. I like the shots you have taken and they look delicious.
    Donna recently posted..DTS Home

    • January 24 2012

      Thanks Donna! Yes, they were fairly clean and tidy. And even though we went to stall 100 (as a recommendation), I think most of the stalls would have done fine, they all do look quite clean with fresh food. And the food was so good!

  • Linda
    January 24 2012

    I love how the lights made the market attractive. I prefer visiting there at night as well. It is cooler and less dusty. I love the photos of the selection of food. They are just how I remembered them.
    Linda recently posted..How To Get A Girl To Like You

    • January 24 2012

      It was COLD at night this time of year! But still the best time to visit the markets – it just comes alive, and the lights do add to the atmosphere.

  • January 24 2012

    Really enjoyed your description of Jemaa el Fna at night – I was there a couple of months ago and it is a total assault on the senses.

    There is a real energy about the place. I was pleased to see that not everything was put on just for the benefit of visitors (street theatre, musicians etc). It’s one of those places that you really have to experience.
    Jack recently posted..Is this the Best Sandwich in the World? Falling for Porto’s Francesinha

    • January 24 2012

      I agree Jack, although it does seem fairly touristy at times, the energy and atmosphere still just have to be experienced. I really loved it (minus the snakes).

  • jan
    January 24 2012

    I understand the fear of having a snake placed around your neck. Too bad about the leering men. The market itself sounds exciting, and the riad delightful.
    jan recently posted..HELLO HANOI!

    • January 24 2012

      The riad was our haven away from all the craziness (it was SO remarkably quiet), which is needed after all that excitement in the markets.

  • January 24 2012

    Awesome photos guys, of course you know I love any and all food photos. The spices look incredible.
    Ayngelina recently posted..The colours of Burano

    • January 25 2012

      I wish I could have seen how they stacked the spices that way. Some had completely perfect peaks.

  • January 24 2012

    The snake thing is pretty scary and creepy, but I’d love to experience the energy of the night market in Marrakech sometime. Great photos.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Crossing the Vltava: Prague

    • January 25 2012

      Of course I am sure I was greatly overreacting, but I know I would have screamed like a school girl and put on quite a show. We normally walked quite a wide berth of the medina to stay away from that, but to eat there we had to risk going right through it! Still worth it though! :)

  • January 24 2012

    If it’s in a market cooked on a stick, it gets my vote.
    Laurence recently posted..Places I’d like to go in 2012

    • January 25 2012

      That’s a pretty broad statement!! I don’t think I could say that, it has to be a recognizable meat! :)

      • January 25 2012

        I’m not going to lie.. I have eaten some weird stuff following this principle…
        Laurence recently posted..Places I’d like to go in 2012

        • January 25 2012

          Haha, I believe you! I leave that sort of thing to Pete, instead I am the cultural drink connoseur. :)

  • January 24 2012

    Great post! I had an experience of such snake madness whilst in a busy market in India. The result was a very un-ladylike barrage of loud swearing!
    Snakes aside, Marrakech looks amazing. I’d love to visit one day.
    All the best :)

    • January 25 2012

      Oh Fiona – that would have been me FOR SURE. I even walked around brandishing our tripod as a weapon, just in case! :)

  • I still have yet to visit a night market on my travels. This one looks full of energy (and good food).
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..One for the Bucket List: Trekking on a Glacier

    • January 25 2012

      The food was really, really good. And the night markets are definitely worth experiencing – although I have to say that our one visit was probably enough!

  • January 25 2012

    I can’t believe they’ll put a snake around your shoulders and then make you pay to remove it! That’s just… wow. In those types of situations I never pay out of principle, but having a live snake on you ups the ante….
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Budapest in Photos

    • January 25 2012

      With all due respect to the defenseless snakes, that poor sucker woulda been dead had he been draped around my neck.

  • January 25 2012

    I do love markets but they do exhaust me terribly. I would have welcomed the silence for sure. <3
    Erica recently posted..Hostel Hopping with Hostebookers!

    • January 25 2012

      They do get AWFULLY exhausting. Especially when having to be on alert for creepers like snakes. If it wasn’t for that, I think we would have gone down every night.

  • January 26 2012

    wicked photos! :)
    cailin recently posted..The Pickleback

  • January 26 2012

    I went back to the night market in Marrakech in September, and I forgot how delightful it was in all of its sights and sounds and smells (minus the snakes).
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..An Almost Snow-Less Snowcial

    • January 26 2012

      Ah, if only there were no snakes, I would have relaxed and enjoyed it a bit more I think! But it was still a pretty cool experience.

  • January 27 2012

    Visiting night markets is one of my favourite things to do when traveling. This certainly looks like a place I’d enjoy checking out.
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Smiling Faces Travel Photos Official Launch!

    • January 27 2012

      We have been to no other night markets so have nothing to compare it to! But I am sure you would enjoy it.

  • January 27 2012

    This was probably one of the coolest market encounters I’ve read about. Love it being from the personal perspective.

    That mountain of spices is AWESOME.
    Candice Walsh recently posted..Montreal is a Feeling

    • January 28 2012

      I loved those spice mountains too. I was tempted to sneeze by one and see what happened. But I didn’t.

  • January 28 2012

    I’ve heard about Morocco and these night markets for so long, I really can’t wait to go someday. Love the neatly stacked spices and description of the quiet when leaving.
    Stephen Mayer recently posted..The Black Sea Coast

    • January 29 2012

      The stacked spices everywhere were quite a sight to see. Loved them!

  • February 3 2012

    Now you got me thinking… Snakes around my neck? God no! We are supposed to book our flight to Marrakesh tonight! Do these snake guys act during the day to? I’m having second thoughts.
    Laura recently posted..5 Budget Ways to Travel Across Europe

    • Pete
      February 4 2012

      Laura, they are easy to avoid. If you just make a wide berth around the market you will easily avoid them. When in the market, just keep a lookout for them. I don’t think they will do it if they could see you would be freaked out by it.

  • June 24 2012

    You seems to have fun there and morocco are hiding a lot of thing and surprise there, like small street with local and market! I loved it

  • November 12 2012

    On the strength of your blog (but I guess mostly because a goal is better than none!) we headed to Stall 100 in the market – and really loved it :)

    • November 14 2012

      Yay!! So glad you loved it! There are so many stalls there, I am sure that the vast majority of them are good. But, like you, we went to stall 100 just because someone said so. :)

  • November 2 2014

    I know it’s very different but somehow this night market reminds me a little bit of the ones we went to in South East Asia, in Taiwan or Thailand for instance. I loved them not so much for the amount of uncooked meat and fish on display that sometimes smelt too much for me, but for the colours, the people walking around, the hustle and bustle of the whole thing.
    The story about the snake scared me though, I touched and held a huge snake ones, but that didn’t help me to get rid of my uneasiness around them, I still have plenty of work to do :)
    Franca recently posted..Second Chances And The Street Art Of Montpellier

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