Magical Moroccan Flavors Abound at El Bahia

Magical Moroccan Flavors Abound at El Bahia

A Taste of Marrakech in the Heart of New York City

As a kid, I have the fondest memories of celebrating birthdays and special occasions at a Moroccan restaurant in Los Angeles. I can still picture plate after plate coming to our table, brimming with delicious spices and new, exhilarating flavors. And of course, I can’t forget the embarrassing moments when my sister and I were peer-pressured into attempting belly dancing with a beautiful Moroccan woman – ah, the joys of going through our awkward phase. Embarrassing memories aside, those dinners stuck with me, and I’ve always yearned to experience the vibrant, magical world of Marrakech for myself.

Luckily, my dream came true a few years ago when my mom and sister were able to meet up with me there after I had been traveling for over seven months. We spent a total of 7 nights in Marrakech, and honestly, it was perhaps too long. Marrakech is colorful and magical, but also busy and loud. It was one of our toughest places to travel with kids, though they did get so much attention and affection from the locals. After a week in Marrakech, we were ready to escape to the tranquility of Portugal. But as ready as we were to leave, Marrakech really stayed with us. We went from saying how eager we were to put the Medina streets behind us, to only days later, reminiscing about how it was unlike any other place we had traveled to. And now, Morocco has reappeared on my travel list – I would love to road trip from Tangier to Marrakech through the Atlas Mountains, and end with some time on the coast in Essaouira.

Immersing Yourself in Moroccan Hospitality

Until I can make that dream trip a reality, let me share with you how we spent our week in Marrakech. Our riad, or traditional-style Moroccan home with a central courtyard, was hands down the best part of our time there. It was a quiet, peaceful escape from the busy streets of the Medina. The riad we stayed in through Airbnb was gorgeous, located in the heart of the Kasbah, the oldest part of the Medina. Every detail was perfect and thoughtful, and we couldn’t love it more. The real selling point, though, was the rooftop patio – so many places to lounge for an afternoon nap or to talk late into the evening, which we did. We practiced yoga at sunrise and celebrated with a drink at sunset. The French owners even met us in person to give us a tour and share Marrakech recommendations over mint tea. If you can swing it, a stay in a riad is an absolute must for your time in Marrakech.

We also stayed at an apartment outside of the Medina before my mom and sister arrived. The apartment was great, and the location, while far from the Medina, was central to grocery stores and walking distance to sights like the famous Jardin Majorelle. The apartment decor was straight out of an IKEA catalogue, which was oddly comforting.

Navigating the Bustling Medina

When you’re staying in the Medina, walking is really your best way to get around. But a word of warning – the streets are busy. Motorbikes, cars, donkeys, and other pedestrians – it was tricky walking through the streets with small kids. I always needed to give myself a little pep talk before we stepped out the door. When I would venture out without the kids, it was much easier to navigate. I do think our experience would have been more positive overall if we hadn’t been as concerned about the kids, which is something I don’t say lightly. It’s honestly the only place we traveled to that I felt that way.

Hiring a driver is very popular, especially when traveling at night or outside of the Medina in general. Our riad hosts gave us the number of their driver, and we used him often. He was so kind and gave us recommendations on where to go as well.

Navigating Moroccan Customs and Culture

There are a few important things to know about Marrakech that can help make your visit more enjoyable. First, haggling is an expectation in the Medina markets. Learn the art of negotiating before you begin. It’s a dance, not a fight, and you need to remember that this is someone’s livelihood. Be respectful, but don’t be afraid to test your negotiating skills.

Secondly, Morocco is a Muslim country, so Islamic laws and customs are upheld in Marrakech. Dress appropriately, with shoulders covered and pants or full-length skirts. You won’t be able to visit mosques if you’re not Muslim, but you will hear the adhan, the call to prayer, five times each day. It’s best to remain respectful, especially during that time, but generally, you’ll see people carry on with their day.

Lastly, alcohol is limited throughout Marrakech, especially within the Medina walls. Make sure to know the rules around drinking and be respectful when doing so. I cover more about where you can find a beer or wine in the “Drink” section below.

Dining Like a Local

We ate some wonderful food in Marrakech, but our best meal was prepared for us in our riad. Our riad hosts set us up with a home chef to come and cook us dinner. While we only had her prepare dinner one night, from the reviews, many guests have her prepare breakfast and dinner for them most days. In hindsight, we would have loved a second or third dinner cooked by her. We ate beef tagine, couscous, a traditional Moroccan salad, and cake and cinnamon oranges for dessert. The tagine was the best we had during our time in Morocco.

Some other notable dining experiences:

Cafe Clock – This restaurant was across the street from our riad, and we loved it for its food and casual dining atmosphere. We ate breakfast, lunch, and even went once just for dessert during our stay. The menu is much more modern than we had in other restaurants, and we enjoyed dishes like falafel and hummus bowls, berber eggs, and Moroccan tapas.

L’Adresse – We had a delightful lunch on their rooftop patio, overlooking the famous Jemaa el-Fna open-air market.

Dar Essalam – This restaurant is the type of place I had dreamed of visiting in Marrakech. Room after room of ornate decor, with sofa seating around a circular table. The restaurant dates back to the 17th century, and people like Winston Churchill and Alfred Hitchcock have dined here. Hitchcock even filmed a scene from “The Man Who Knew Too Much” at the restaurant. We enjoyed Moroccan dishes like lamb tagine, chicken pastilla, and chicken with lemon and olives. My favorite, though, were the Moroccan salads – or what we would call dips – that came at the beginning of the meal.

Embracing the Moroccan Lifestyle

In addition to the delicious food, there were plenty of other memorable experiences during our time in Marrakech. Taking a guided tour through the winding streets of the Medina was a highlight. Our guide, Chafik, was incredibly knowledgeable and happily answered our many questions. We visited the bustling souks, Jamaa El Fna, the public oven where bread is baked each day, and tried a popular local juice called Panache.

We also visited the synagogue and Jewish cemetery, which was an aspect of Moroccan history that we didn’t know anything about. Because we had 6 people in our group, we had our own private tour, which was great with small kids. Chafik found things that would interest them, especially treats to try from different vendors.

Another must-do activity was visiting a traditional Moroccan hammam, or public bath. After my experience at a hammam in Istanbul, I knew I had to try one in Marrakech with my mom and sister. We visited the hammam at the 5 Elements Spa near our riad. It didn’t quite compare to the hammam experience I had in Istanbul, but we all still had a wonderful time.

Wandering through the bustling souks and Jamaa El Fna market was also a highlight. You could spend days exploring the vendors, from hand-dyed fabrics and spices to light fixtures and wood carvings. Remember your haggling tips and bring your cash. Jamaa El Fna is a must-see, but we were advised by many locals and travelers to only visit during the day with children. In the evening, the market is packed with people, and not safe to visit with little ones. We kept our distance from the animals, kept a close eye on our belongings and children, and then enjoyed our 15 minutes in the market.

We also made sure to visit a few historical landmarks, like the Saadiens Tomb, with its small courtyard of citrus trees and stunning Zellij Moorish geometric tilework. And of course, no trip to Marrakech is complete without a visit to the lush, colorful Jardin Majorelle and the accompanying Yves Saint-Laurent Museum.

Finding Oases of Calm

Marrakech proved to be the hardest place for us to travel with our kids. In addition to the busy streets and crowds of people, there was also a lack of safe, well-maintained play spaces for them. We did find a few playgrounds, but most were rundown, missing swings, and had unsafe structures. There was one playground near our apartment at Parc El Harti that the kids loved – the dinosaur slides were a hit, even if you technically couldn’t slide down them anymore. The rest of the gardens were beautiful, and it was a great place to let the kids run around.

When we needed a break from the bustling city, we sought out oases of calm, like the tranquil Parc Lalla Hasna, which doesn’t have a playground but is a beautiful space to let the kids run around with a view of the 12th-century Koutoubia mosque.

And of course, no trip to Marrakech is complete without indulging in the abundant sweet treats. From the pastilla of flakes with cream and almonds at Dar Essalam to the meringue-style cookies from a local street vendor, and the delicious ice cream at Cafe Clock, we savored every bite. As a non-sweets person, I especially loved that oranges with cinnamon are also a ubiquitous dessert in Morocco.

Escaping the Chaos

Running in Marrakech is not for the faint of heart. The traffic, exhaust, and overall congestion make it a challenge to find a safe, enjoyable route. Trent and I had the best luck finding routes outside of the Medina, on the west side, where we could run alongside the outer perimeter. Generally, that’s where the sidewalks are more well-kept and there are more trees to provide shade.

When it came to drinking, while alcohol is generally off-limits in Marrakech, we did find a handful of places to enjoy a beer or wine. Overall, you won’t find alcoholic drinks on the menu at any restaurants in the Kasbah, and drinking alcohol in public or outdoors is not done. The one exception was Kosybar, a rooftop patio within the Medina where we could enjoy cocktails, beer, and wine.


Our time in Marrakech was a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and flavors. While it proved to be one of the tougher places we traveled with our kids, the memories we made and the magic we experienced will stay with us forever. From the opulent riads to the bustling souks, the delectable cuisine to the calming oases, Marrakech left an indelible mark on our hearts.

So, if you’re looking to embark on your own Moroccan adventure, head to El Bahia in New York City. Let the magical Moroccan flavors transport you to the vibrant streets of Marrakech, where dreams and destiny converge. Who knows, you might even be inspired to plan your own trip to this captivating country.

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