When in Marrakech, eat where the locals eat.
And they’re packed to the gills tonight at the food stalls in the centre of the ancient city’s Jemaa el Fna Square.
We had to patiently wait for a spot on one of the benches at the stall selling the steaming harira vegetable soup for a few dirham (about 40 cents).
Both it and the little plate of dates that came with it were delicious.
Then it was over to one of the restaurants lining the square for a plate of meat done in a Tangier tagine.
Unlike the well-known conical tagine, the Tangier tagine is a clay vase-shaped pot which is filled with meat, in this case beef, lemon, garlic and spices and slow cooked over coals for at least 12 hours.
You know dinner is cooked when you hear a rattling noise from the bones inside as you shake the pot.
Sweet green olives and bread came with our meat.
We capped off our dinner back in the square with a steaming ruby red potion that contained ginseng, ginger, mace, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and rosebuds – very Christmasy and invigorating.
The Jemaa el Fna Square is one of the world’s oldest and biggest public places.
At night, steam and light rises from its centre where the food vendors have set up their tent restaurants.
Pastry sellers push huge carts of all types of sweet treats along the rows.
Above all this, dart-like toys shot into the air light up blue and red before spinning to earth like little helicopters. You can buy them and fire them for 10 dirham.
We returned to the square the following night for a feast of soup, salads, shrimp and calamari. It cost us about three dollars each. We had more of the ruby red potion and a cake made from the same ingredients from the same stall.
Earlier in the night, we watched a couple of boxing matches between children.
An old man with leathery skin and a growly voice was both referee and fight promoter.
He called and cajoled, prowled and growled as the crowd placed bets and the boys, who looked about 11 years old, dressed in street clothes but with big red boxing gloves, stood idly by.
The first fight lasted only two minutes. One of the boys retired with a hurt hand and a smaller boy took his place.
He practised his jabs as the crowd, about 40 strong and almost entirely local, threw coins and notes into the fight area.
The boys traded punches. The taller boy was smiling, but his opponent looked worried.
The taller lad was declared the winner after he delivered a flurry of punches. There was no particular skill to it.
We left as a boy, older, taller and with a bigger grin than the winner entered the area to fight him.
About 50 metres away, a trio of men dressed as women in black veils and sequined top-to-toe gowns minced about and posed with the tourists for small change.
By day, the plaza is the place to buy pretty well anything.
Tourists outnumber the locals in the bustling plaza where clothing, phones, jewellery, fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts, perfumes, tools, glasses, shoes and almost everything else are there for barter.
“Where are you from? Where are you from,” the stallholders call to the cashed-up passersby.
The snowy Upper Atlas Mountains provide an awesome backdrop as men with wide grins offer to take your picture with their Barbary Apes for just a few dirham.
Magicians make silver one dirham coins disappear and reappear as snake charmers attempt to put their animals around your neck – another photo opportunity for a couple of dirham.
Sweet Berber cactus figs, the colour of beetroot, can be sampled for one dirham (about 10 cents) or be bought by the bag.
Sticky honey-soaked triangles and crispy iced cakes are five dirham each.
Women with their faces covered by their traditional Arabian niqab veils sell chewy, eggy macaroon-style cookies for one dirham each.
Rows of glasses hold mint sprigs and giant sugar cubes, higher than their edges and ready for hot tea.
A KFC is nestled behind rows of green horsedrawn carriages and a cinema just off the square is showing Robocop and Machete Kills.
As far back as 1050AD the square was a place for public executions hence, according to Lonely Planet, its name, “assembly of the dead”.
In 2011, the bombing of the Argana Cafe in the plaza killed 17 people.
Police and army officers stand in pairs throughout the place.
We are told there are many more undercover police there to protect tourists.
* The writer travelled as a guest of Peregrine Adventures.