Step into Jemaa el-Fna — Marrakech's main square — in the daytime and you’ll be greeted by vendors selling everything from clothing and elaborate jewelry, to dried fruits and nuts, to henna designs for random body parts. The shopping and price haggling are plentiful and the colors surrounding you are striking. Step into Jemaa el-Fna at night and you’ll be greeted by all of this multiplied by approximately 10.
Prior to arriving in Marrakech, I had read that the best time to visit Jemaa el-Fna was around dusk when the crowds come and the activity picks up, but I didn’t quite get it until I was walking through the streets of Marrakech’s medina just as dusk arrived. The motorcycles that had been haphazardly navigating the streets doubled as the groups of people I had to pass through seemed to triple. And this was all as I was walking from my riad to Jemaa el-Fna. Once I got to the square, it became apparent to me that this was the place to be, for locals and perhaps more so for tourists. Tables upon tables had been set up selling everything from calamari to my favorite Moroccan treat, chebakia. Hands reached out and voices sprang forward as everyone attempted to get people to sit at their tables and eat their food. I wanted to follow the locals, who could clearly be identified from the more scantily clad tourists, but we were a large party of (also clearly) tourists and so we went where prices were accommodating and seats were available.
I can’t recall the specific names of the vendors but I do recall that the service was quick everywhere, as the goal was to get a lot of diners. I started off with something I would describe as a fried potato cake that somewhat reminded me of a hash brown but crunchier and better. Next I decided to go with mixed meat brochettes and couscous with vegetables, which I had yet to have since arriving in Morocco and is one of Morocco’s most famous dishes. The brochettes were, for the most part, good. I had one or two that I didn’t care for as much but overall I enjoyed the dish. As for the couscous, it was fantastic. You can never go wrong with the combination of couscous, vegetables and meat. At least I don't think you can.
Jemaa el-Fna is great any time of the day, but my preference is nighttime when the square is packed with activity and the air is cool and ripe with tantalizing smells. Next to the food stalls are mini circles with performances going on. In one area I saw a drum circle while in another area a very concentrated game of Get The Small Circle Around the Soda Bottle Mouth (I made the name up but I’m pretty sure if there is an official name, this is it). If you’re looking for a slightly more relaxed atmosphere, go in the day, but it's really once the sun goes down that Marrkech’s main attraction lights up.