On My Travels : The First And Best Sardines I’ve Ever Eaten, Essaouira, Morocco

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.

Essaouira, Morrocco, fish, sardines

The best sardines ever

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.

Essaouira, Morrocco

Cannons looking out to sea, Essaouira

Essaouira, Morocco, architecture

Essaouira means ‘well designed’ and is a mixture of European and Moroccan architecture

But as soon as you enter the walls, the heart of a thriving Moroccan medina awaits.

Essaouira, Morocco

Spices in the souk

Essaouira, Morocco

Carpets, rugs and blankets in the medina

Essaouira, Morocco

Gleaming beads in the jewellery souk

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.

Essaouira, Morocco

Fresh and plentiful

Essaouira, Morocco

Take a seat and await your feast

Essaouira, Morrocco

My girls were not amused

 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.

Essaouira, Morocco

The grill. Hot enough to kill any bugs!

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.

Essaouira, Morocco

Prawns caught just 30 minutes before we ate them

Essaouira, Morocco

Surprisingly tender squid

Essaouira, Morocco

Everything comes with unlimited salad

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.

Essaouira, Morocco

View out to sea from the walls of the fort

What are your seaside memories?  Have you eaten somewhere you’d like to return to? 

37 responses to “On My Travels : The First And Best Sardines I’ve Ever Eaten, Essaouira, Morocco

  1. beautiful pictures of fresh and succulent food. Like you my most happy memories are of fish restaurants on the beach in Goa.

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  2. Gorgeous photos! Love how colourful they are! Morocco is definitely on our travel list. I’ve always been fascinated with their souks and cuisine. Amazing use of spices and great flavours. Glad you’re enjoying your trip there.

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  3. Oh.. and my seaside memories.. pulau perhentians, off the eastern coast of peninsular malaysia. we ate while the waves touched our feet & at night, had freshly grilled catch-of-the-day while we watched the sky fill with lightning. and there was hardly anyone near us. bliss.

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  4. The more I read of your travels in Morocco, the more I want to visit the country. A few years ago we stayed at a hotel with a view over a bay to Mt Etna – in the evening we sat on the terrace and enjoyed a glass of red wine made from grapes grown on the slopes of the volcano… that’s something I plan to do again some day. But now I’m off to check out flight prices for Morocco!

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    • £648 for 4 leaving dec. I’ve just checked! I didn’t get tontine desert with the girls so contemplating going back already!! The wine sounds divine by the way. I want TK go back to Sicily too. But maybe not with the girls as it was our honeymoon place. :-)

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  5. Absolutely stunning pictures – I’ve always wanted to visit Northern Africa, but might wait until the children are a bit bigger. My best seaside meal was in Greece, in a taverna right beside the sea, eating freshly grilled barbouni, red mullet. Can’t tell you where it was – I was 8 or 9 at the time – but I can still taste it.Thanks for reminding me of it!

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    • I hope my girls think the same of their meals on holidays. Morocco is very child friendly. They just doted on our girls everywhere we went. Plus the tour guides we took for walking tours were very observant of their little pace and stopped frequently to get cold water. I was blown away by the little gifts they received everywhere in local villages. Such kindness.

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  6. Oh you make it sound so magical. I soooo want to go back to Morocco.

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    • Me too! We are looking at visiting again in December. Id like to go back to the desert but when it’s a little cooler do we can do the camel safaris with the girls.

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  7. glamorous glutton

    Wonderful pictures, so very Morocain. I really want to go back. GG

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  8. Wow! Such beautiful photos, my mouth is watering! I feel like packing my bags right now and heading over to Morocco!

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  9. We absolutley loved Essaouira too, it was well worth the long journey from Marrakech. When we visited, the fishermen wore boxes on their heads to protect them from the heat. We had sardines too and I remember they were so very fresh, all they needed was a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Perfect.

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    • We arrived in the evening and got a hire car and so incredibly lost. We stayed just outside the town and needed a local police escort to get us to our villa. That made it an adventurous start to our holidays!

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      • We had to get the Police to take us back to our Riad inside the city walls – so embarrassing – I’m sure it happens all the time now I’ve read your message – and I still have no idea how they got us back there. We walked around for hours trying to get back before we had no choice – they got us back in ten mins!

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  10. I’ve always fancied Morocco, and your beautiful photos and writing have just sold it to me even more. I reckon it’d be lovely for a romantic getaway minus the boys….

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  11. Beautiful photos, Morocco is definitely a place that I’d like to visit one day

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  12. Beautiful pictures :-)

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  13. What wonderful memories. Having met your girls, one of the things (of many) that I love about them both is that they are adventurous and joyous eaters — so good to see this as so many of my friends have kids the same age who eat nothing but nuggets and ketchup, I kid you not.

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    • Ha! They were on sardines from toddlerhood. In fact their favourite meal during high school musical phase was tinned sardines on toast with corn on the side. We called in Wildcat dinner. No idea why!

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  14. Thank goodness I have already eaten or I would be making quite a drooly mess of my keyboard. Stunning images – and not just of food, those beads are stunning! I have been wanting to go to Morocco but never quite made it. It has just gone shooting up my list of places to visit. Thanks for this Urvashi. Lovely post.

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  15. We normally have a holiday in Portugal but decided to do a few different things this year. Looking at these photographs with longing!

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  16. Of course I meant Morocco. Blame it on the heat!

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  17. Pingback: Fabulous fish – learning what to do with it | My Custard Pie

  18. Great post. Lovely evocative photos. I love your jump-into-it attitude. Looks like great grilled seafood. Wild photo of the Moroccan “pharmacy.” Ken

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  19. Stunning photos, Urvashi. They make me want to pack my suitcase immediately and board the first plane to Morocco to go and devour seafood!

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  20. Pingback: The Rise of Food Tourism

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