In the breezy seaside town of Essaouira hungry visitors can enjoy a fresh seafood meal straight out of the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Rabat – I admit the process confused me at first. What sort of seafood restaurant doesn’t have any fish on the menu? Speaking of menus, why can’t I find one? Where is all this delicious-looking food coming from if I can’t order anything?
The answer, explained the Essaouiri couple seated next to us, enjoying a hearty plate of grilled sardines on a sunny Sunday afternoon, was simple.
First, you head to a fish market to pick out whatever sort of seafood your little heart desires. Second, bring it to one of the many eateries in the seaside town which specialize in cooking your catch to order. Third, sit down and enjoy the freshest meal you’ve had in ages.
It was the perfect opportunity to try something new, delicious, and local, and have a little adventure in the process.
Located on the Atlantic Coast, laid-back Essaouira boasts not one but two bustling fish markets. In the 1950s, it was the most important port for the sardine trade in all of Morocco.
The port is quieter now than it was half a decade ago. Competition from fisheries in other coastal cities, and unemployment have taken a hit on the fishing industry in Essaouira.
Hundreds of fishermen still make a living at sea, hauling in their daily catch to sell at the port to vendors, restaurants, and individual customers.
Just through the Bab al Mersa, or the Gate of the Port sits the larger of Essaouira’s two fish markets, or marché aux poissons. Here the tip of the harbor juts out into the water where fishermen launch their boats for a day of work at sea. On land, dozens of vendors sell fish fresh off the boat: eels, squid, red snapper, and sardines, sardines, sardines.
After making a selection and negotiating a price, you can head over to one of the several restaurants dotting the port, just a stone’s throw from the rows of fishmongers. Give your haul to the cook, take a seat, and enjoy the view.
Dozens of blue fishing boats line the piers, moored side by side.
Several vendors offer sea urchins, conch, and other mollusks straight from the shell, ready to eat straight off of the cart.
Across the marché aux poissons, dozens of kids laugh, taking turns showing off their diving skills as they plunge into the cool, bluegreen water.
Those who prefer a meal further away from the olfactory bouquet of the outdoor fish market, can head towards the centuries-old medina.
Just down a short passageway off Avenue Mohamed Zerktouni, the main throughway in Essaouira’s medina, sits another fish market, the Souk Laghzal. This smaller market has permanent stalls and offers a similar, but smaller selection of freshly caught seafood.
Customers can also pick up spices at booths near the entrance of the market if they want to add a little extra flavor to their meal. Be specific about how much you want, unless you want extra spices to take home with you.
Multiple restaurants sit tucked away on the myriad of winding side streets branching off of Avenue Mohamed Zerktouni, the main road running through Essaouira’s medina. These eateries grill the fresh fish brought by customers, serving the meals at colorful tables lining the walls of the medina. In the evenings, some offer a happy hour – salad, bread, and olives to go along with the main course.
As the evening draws to a close, the crowd thins and the last diners linger at their tables, savoring the last of their meal as the sun sets.