Mechoui Alley is Marrakech's go-to spot for <i>mechoui</i>, whole roasted lamb and mutton that's sold by weight and requires no more seasoning than a little bit of salt and cumin.
Marrakech's Mechoui Alley attracts food lovers from around the world who want an authentic experience in Morocco. The shops on this street are family-owned; many of them have been in operation for five generations or more. Each shop has three things on the menu: tanjia, mechoui, and roasted sheep head.
While mechoui is cooked in underground clay pits inside some of the shops, tanjia is sent away to be cooked. The men who operate the furnaces that heat the water for hammams in the medina also keep the coals warm to cook tanjia overnight. In the morning, you'll see bikes loaded with urns going to restaurants.
Tanjia is a Marrakech specialty. The ingredients are simple but the unique cooking method ensures flavorful meat that's fall-apart tender.
Roasted sheep head is not eaten regularly in Morocco—it's a special treat. The cheek meat has a smoky flavor. True aficionados will dig for the eyeball.
Salt and cumin are the only spices you need to accompany the head meat.
Inside mechoui shops, there's always round hole in the center of the floor. Open the hatch and you'll discover a dozen or more whole sheep roasting.
The tools of the mechoui trade are straightforward: sharp knives, a scale with weights, and a cutting block.
Jalal and Tarik are two of the younger men running the front of the shops. Jalal's dad owns one of the most well-known restaurants on this street. He grew up in the business and it was never a question that he'd one day be a part of it.
Mechoui is cooked as-is. When it's served, cumin and salt are sprinkled on by the customer. It's always eaten with bread and mint tea.
Everyone calls him m'alam (which roughly translates to "owner"). His dad was "the king's mechoui man" and would make mechoui for the late King Hassan II. Today, he runs the shop. You'll find him at his booth 15 days a month; the other 15, he's off while another takes the helm.