Is there anything that says ‘relaxing holiday’ more than sipping a crisp white wine in the sunshine while inhaling a salty sea breeze and leisurely tucking into a seafood feast? We don’t think so.
Which is why, upon arriving in Essaouira, we always make a beeline for Le Chalet de la Plage. Enormous fresh oysters, a huge hearty fish soup, and endless grilled fish is the order of the day here. If you’re smart you’ll book a table on the alfresco terrace overlooking the ocean – the sparkling diamonds on the sea on a still day, and the local action on the beach any day, can be as engaging as the endless plates of seafood coming out of the kitchen.
An added bonus is the constant reminder that you’re in a very exotic locale – how many other seafood restaurants have camels coming up beside your table or gnaoua musicians performing down on the sand? If you finish in the late afternoon – as you should – they also have an open air bar next door where you can enjoy the considerable skills of the local beach football players over some more drinks.
Another favourite of ours is the fabulously retro Chez Sam, located in a quaint boat-shaped building at the mouth of the port where the boats bearing the bounty bound for the restaurant tables cruise into the harbour. Chez Sam is your classic old-fashioned seafood restaurant. There’s not an inch to spare on the walls for another framed black and white portrait of a Golden Age movie star or faded photographs of the owner and visiting Moroccan celebrities. Memorabilia clutters every surface, only jarred by tacky plastic placemats.
But we’re not here for the décor – amusing as it is – we’re here for the seafood. Chez Sam’s version of fish soup is more like a bisque than the intense soup at Le Chalet de la Plage, but is delicious in its own way. Their prawn cocktail is straight out of a 1970’s seafood cookbook, served in the sundae glass that was popular in that era.
The grilled calamari is also a delight: a whole body grilled and served with cauliflower gratin – a reminder that this place is really retro. However, the standout flavour here is a pulpo tagine. While fish tagine is popular in Essaouira, the octopus is stunning – a spicy, tangy dish that reminded us of a cross between tagine and Spanish paella with its addition of rice.
One of the other notable seafood items to try while you’re lunching in the sun in Essaouira is the sea urchin. Morocco’s seaboard is famous for its sea urchins – and they say the ones you’ll feast on its fish restaurants are no different to the ones that lived 145 million years ago!
You’ll see plates piled high with these hedgehogs of the sea at every seafood place. We tried some on the breezy rooftop terrace at Taros, a French restaurant, café and lounge-bar. These soft, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth treats are an acquired taste but really are worth a try if you’ve never had them before. While you may have come to Essaouira to relax, it still has enough surprises to take you out of your comfort zone!