My husband tells me that one of his favourite memories of us is in Essaouria, Morocco. The sun is setting and we are sipping cheap rose wine and stuffing ourselves with freshly grilled sardines at the edge of the port. I have sardine juice running down the sides of my mouth and a look of pure bliss on my face. It was the very first time I had been brave enough to try a ‘fishy fish’ on the bone and with eyes in tact (vs filleted for me and all bodily parts removed). The portions were generous and served with unlimited tomato and onion salad and baguette. The salad had no spices or flavouring. Just quartered, red ripe tomatoes and sliced onions. Enough acidity to cut through the oily sardines.
A UNESCO heritage site
I have never wanted to return to a town as much as I wanted to revisit Essaouria and specifically the fish grills by the docks. I wanted to take my girls there and see sardine juice running down their chins. It was therefore the first stop on our Morocco tour. At a glance it could be a Portuguese or French town with it’s fortress walls and cannons looking out to sea.
But as soon as you enter the walls, the heart of a thriving Moroccan medina awaits.
Grilled fish by the kilo
Once you have drunk the magic of the medina and bartered for your souvenirs, the only place to eat is the fish grills. Just head to the main square and walk towards the port if your nose fails to be your guide.
There are no menus here. Just walk by all the stalls and then let yourself be charmed by the waiters and seated.
A choice of grilled or grilled
I will not lie. The hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. The plates are scraped and washed as soon as people leave, the tables are wiped down and reset in seconds but just don’t look at the water they use for this. The grill is out back and primitive may be too kind a description.
But don’t dwell on any of this. Arm yourself with a few tissues to give the plates an extra wipe and lose yourself in the moment. We literally licked our plates clean as we could not be sated and were not sick.
When you’ve had your fill, drift over to the fortress walls and take a seat. Nature provides the best screenplay and the soundtrack is pretty awesome too. Squawky seagulls, crashing waves and wind. A three piece orchestra you don’t have to pay a penny for.
What are your seaside memories? Have you eaten somewhere you’d like to return to?
- On My Travels: Making Tagines in Essaouira (thebotanicalbaker.wordpress.com)
- The 5 Best Types of Fish for Grilling – Tips from The Kitchn (thekitchn.com)
- Georgia – a guide to food and feasting (mycustardpie.com)
- Breton Lobster (judemagee.com)
- Newlyn Fish Market, Cornwall (fussfreeflavours.com)