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Don’t get it wrong – Chez Chegrouni is not just another restaurant coasting on the laurels of the popular UNESCO ordained cultural heritage site, Jemaa El Fna. In fact, it is one of the most visited restaurants in the square, and for good reason too. Serving simple Moroccan fare for very reasonable prices, the restaurant boasts sprawling panoramic views from a terrasse upstairs as well as ground level views on a smaller patio at the front of the restaurant. There is a no reservation policy in effect so as a result, you will most likely see a line outside the restaurant and believe me, people wait. According to Conde Nast Traveller, even Michelin star chefs wait their turn, which says something.
From the outside, the doors to this 17th century palace look worn and nondescript, easy to miss to the unsuspecting eye. Located amongst specialty herb stores, leather makers and fresh orange juice vendors, Dar Essalam is marked only by a small placard that means almost nothing to outsiders. During the day, shadows cast by the makeshift straw roofing across the path through to Jemaa El Fna or “the big square” as the locals tell us, keep its presence relatively low key. Tipped off by the internet and a few friends, we paid a visit to the historic restaurant and were very literally led into another world.
By day, Jemma El Fna is populated primarily by orange juice vendors, snake charmers and monkey owners who offer their pets up for photos in exchange for a few dirham. Our time in Marrakech happened to coincide with Ramadan and the hottest time of the year. Walking through the square during the day was like wading through a thick, hazy hot mess. The air literally felt like it was on fire – any moment bare skin was exposed to direct sunlight, it felt like getting a first degree burn. To give you an idea of what we were dealing with at the time, temperatures hit highs of around fifty degrees.