Moroccan Street Food, Snails in Spice-Tea Laden Broth from Marrakech 'Djemaa El Fna'

With Morocco 'A Culinary Journey...' (Chronicle Books, June 2012), Jeff Koehler takes us on a visit of the country's various regions through their foods from 'spice-scented markets of Marrakech to the date-filled oasis of Zagora'.

I was not surprised to find sardines or steamed sheep heads in 'Street Food' chapter, yet did not expect to see snails in spice and tea laden broth served at Marrakech's Djemaa El Fna.

Om Djemaa El Fna Snails in Broth (babbouche) 

Snails are a street-stall staple, especially in Marrakech on Djemaa el Fna square, where a line of sturdy carts sells them by the broth-filled bowl. The flavorful broth sipped at the end is said to be a restorative and digestive. But what’s in it? One respected attar (spice seller) in Marrakech gave me a list of more than fifteen spices from thyme and licorice to lavender and tea leaves. “Which are the most important?” I asked. “They all are,” he said. “The balance has to be right.”

Here I have adapted the spice blend of Choumicha, the queen of contemporary Moroccan cooking. It’s a relatively simple one, but flavorful and balanced. 

Moroccan snails are white with distinctive chocolate brown whirls, smaller than the classic French escargot. Live snails added to boiling water will retract inside the shell and be hard to remove later to eat. When the snails are first cooked, it’s important to bring the water to a very slow boil. While live snails can be hard to find, many gourmet shops carry preserved ones in cans. 

Serves 4 to 6

2 lb/910 g fresh snails or snails in brine


Wine vinegar or other vinegar for cleaning snails

2 sprigs dried thyme

1⁄2 Tbsp aniseed

1⁄2 Tbsp caraway seeds

1⁄2 tsp gunpowder green tea leaves

Peel from 1⁄2 orange, white pith scraped away

Two 3-in/7.5-cm pieces licorice root or 1 tsp ground aniseed

2 bay leaves

1⁄2 tsp dried mint

10 sprigs fresh mint

2 small dried hot red chiles 

Morocco_Snails in broth

If using live snails, wash with plenty of water. Use salt and vinegar to scrub clean if the shells are dirty. Repeat as needed. Rinse well. Put the snails in a large pot with about 3 qt/2.8 L water. Bring to a slow boil over low heat—figure about 45 minutes for this—watching to keep the snails inside the pot. When the water reaches a boil and foam comes to the surface, drain the snails in a colander. Rinse the snails well with running water and rinse out the pot.

If using snails preserved in brine, drain the brine and rinse the snails well. In a large pot, add the snails and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Drain the snails in a colander. Rinse the snails well with running water and rinse out the pot.

Return the snails to the pot. Cover with 8 cups/2 L water, and add the thyme, aniseed, caraway seeds, tea leaves, orange peel, licorice root, bay leaves, dried mint, and fresh mint. Season with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, loosely cover, and simmer for 1½ hours. The snails should be tender and the broth rich and flavorful. Add the chiles and cook for 10 minutes. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Serve the snails hot in bowls with some broth. Use a toothpick to extract the snails from their shells.

(* Recipe from 'Morocco' A Culinary Journey with Recipes from the Spice-Scented Markets of Marrakech to the Date-Filled Oasis of Zagora by Jeff Koehler-Chronicle Books, June 2012- All rights reserved)

Previous Post

Art Not Berets for Sale at Rue des 5 Parts Pop Up Art Gallery during Jazz in Marciac 2012

Jul 23
For its 2012 edition, Jazz in Marciac festival is acting like a magnet and attracting more than musical talent. I told you last week about restaurant-bistro J'Go planting its flag in the city. I since learned that Perry Taylor, Jon Wainwright and Veerle van Gorp joined forces to open another pop up, Galerie Rue Des 5 Parts to showcase their art, gain new fans and hopefully sell a few pieces. Jon Wainwright paints landscapes from...
Next Post

Decanting an Older Wine is like Walking to an 85 Year Old and Shaking Her/Him Violently

Jul 24
A slightly lighter concierge workload has allowed me to catch up a bit on my reading. One of the tomes I started tackling this week is Brunello di Montalcino 'Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy's Greatest Wines' (University of California Press, Spring 2012) by Kerin O'Keefe, well researched yet accessible to any reader interested in wine, terroir and history. In her closing notes, she ponders the Shakespearan dilemna, 'Great bottles at home: to decant or...