The laid back, windy city of Essaouira is a family favorite. We love the coastal location and short distance from Marrakech. But, maybe most importantly we love the food! In big cities we’ve found great food, at higher prices but in Essaouira we consistently have found excellent food at low prices. Whether you’re dining alone or feeding a family here are some of our favorite recommendations and tips.
Essaouira has a large souq that is closed off to most vehicles (though you may have do dodge a motorbike or two). If you’re traveling with kids this can alleviate a lot of stress and sweaty palms. Doting these streets full of treasures are stands selling snacks. Sfinge (a yeast doughnut), crepes, and maakouda (fried potato patties) sandwiches are some choices. For only a few dirham you can satisfy the pleas of “but mom I’m still hungry!”
I’m going to share a little secret here. Moroccan breakfast is pretty much the same no matter where you stay. Whether it’s an upscale hotel or budget riad it’s all fairly standard. Some of the prices we’ve seen are upwards of $10 (per person) for breakfast! No, you can do much better than this! Every neighborhood has many hanuts – small shops that sell everything you can imagine. Stop by one, pick up some yogurt, bread, cheese, crepes, or other breakfast pastry. You’ll get these things for a tiny fraction of the price of your hotel breakfast. Then take your bags and make your way to a coffee shop. Order a coffee, mint tea, or juice and enjoy! This is totally ok in Morocco and I promise more cost effective. We would have paid at least $30 for breakfast where we stayed, instead this breakfast cost us under $10 for 4 people.
You can’t visit Essaouira without eating fish and seafood – it’s what this city is known for. You will find seafood abundant on restaurant menus but you can also choose to “pick your own” and have it grilled on the spot. If you feel really confident venture to the port and make your selections fresh off the boat. If you’re not quite as comfortable you will find many open air restaurants lining the end of Plaza Moulay Hassan (the big square just to the edge of the old medina). Choose what you want and they will grill it fresh for you. Then there’s a third option I wrote about in 2011. Whatever choice you make you’ll walk away happy and full!
Now, you might be asking what about picky kids? While my boys are pretty adventurous eaters, they really aren’t big on fish and seafood. The good news is you can pick up something else for them, a shwarma, pizza, or other take away food and they can eat this while you’re enjoying the seafood. It’s no problem!
If you asked MarocBaba why I go to Essaouira he would say for the crepes. You can find crepes in much of Morocco but they are usually only available at breakfast or late in the evenings at cafes. In Marrakech I find them to be pretty pricy, and always have orange blossom water added which I don’t really care for. But in Essaouira they are sold all over the place for at least 1/2 of what they are in Marrakech. A Nutella crepe with almonds is only around $2! Each location has plenty of sweet and savory options. It’s my go to snack and breakfast..and sometimes dinner! My kids also love them – and I’m sure yours will too.
It’s hard to find really great Moroccan food in restaurants when you’re used to eating home cooked Moroccan food. But, that doesn’t stop us from trying. We toyed with the idea of having dinner at a Thai restaurant we stumbled across but were swayed by the bright blue exterior, low seating, and cozy feel of Restaurant Laayone. The menu is traditional Moroccan (with some pasta mixed in) and is incredibly reasonably priced. We ordered two tajines, this chicken and rice dish (that I’ve never seen anywhere else), and a lamb and prune tajine. Our oldest son ordered spaghetti marinara. Our meal came with plenty of bread, but we brought in some gluten-free bread for MarocBaba – again no problem. We ended our meal with mint tea for everyone. Our total bill was under $20.
Restaurant Laayoune ~ 4 Rue El Hajjali ~ Essaouira Morocco
Having an afternoon or after dinner coffee/tea in Morocco is similar to having tea in England. It”s a daily standard. It’s also a great chance to take a break, grab something to sip, and people watch. During this trip, I happened to spot a man selling rugs out of the corner of my eye. We were able to get two really nice hand woven Berber rugs for $25! I would have totally missed this were we not enjoying our coffee. You can always get mint tea, and most places serve hot milk or hot cocoa a favorite of our kids. Moroccan coffee is called nouss nouss or kahwa hleb (you can make it at home too – here’s my recipe) and is at least 3/4 milk with a bit of espresso. Most shops now also give you a small bottle of water with your purchase. I have to admit slowing down and enjoying this tradition hasn’t been easy for me, but it’s now one of my favorite parts of the day.
Cafe de France (a Souari institution since 1917!) ~ Place Moulay Hassan ~ Medina Essaouira
Watch for more posts about our favorite things to see and do in Essaouira and more Moroccan cities! Have questions about traveling in Morocco with kids? Leave me a comment or drop an email and I will do my best to answer!