Moroccan cuisine is one of the most aromatic and colorful culinary traditions I have encountered. Intense aromas of spices hitting the nostrils at the Marrakech market and beautiful artisanal ceramics shimmering with vibrant colors tempt every culinary tourism lover here.
In this guide I will answer the question of what to eat in Morocco and present a dozen dishes typical of the country’ s cuisine. I tried most of them on my last trip, although that mythical camel spleen was unfortunately nowhere to be found….
In Polish: couscous. This name in our country is primarily used to describe a type of fine groats available in packets on the shelves of any supermarket, but what do Moroccans understand by this term?
These are numerous small, light, delicate grains, perfectly arranged in a pyramid and served on a platter at the end of a feast – this is couscous, Morocco’s national dish and a must-try in any Moroccan restaurant. The word itself refers both to the whole dish and to the fine grains of semolina.
Semolina is sprinkled with water until it forms fine granules, which are then pressed through a sieve. Couscous is usually prepared on Fridays for dinner, when whole families gather for the most important meal of the week. The dish is traditionally prepared in a metal steaming vessel called a couscoussier. At the bottom of the dish is a meat or vegetable dish, while small grains are arranged in a perforated basket on top. This allows them to cook with steam rising from above the stock.
Although couscous dishes are often full of vegetables, they are rarely vegetarian. Some classics include couscous with seven vegetables and couscous with raisins and caramelized onions, but there are many other variations, such as spicy couscous with chili peppers, sweet couscous with chickpeas, or a version with lamb and raisins. Berber-style couscous will be eaten with chicken, milk and turnips, and of the more interesting variations, we can find couscous with fish, fennel (fennel) stalks and wild turnips. There is even a dessert dish of couscous, served with butter, enriched with cinnamon and sugar.
After the couscous is applied, it is covered with meat, fish or vegetables, and the broth on which it was based is served separately – to pour over the dish.
Note, however, that in Moroccan tradition it is not a main course. They are classically served at the end of a long string of dishes to completely satiate the guest, according to the popular Arabic saying “no guest should go home hungry.”
Today, however, in restaurants in Marrakech, Rabat or Tangier, it is very common to find couscous as one of the staple dishes alongside tajin. Both are definitely worth eating in Morocco!
The word tajin (tajine, tajin, tajine, tagine) refers to both the traditional rich Moroccan dishes and the vessel used to prepare them. As for the vessel itself, it is a round and shallow clay or ceramic container with a tall, pointed, conical lid. It is also one of the most popular souvenirs that you can bring yourself from Morocco to then recreate this unique taste at home! However, be careful and ask the seller whether it is a tajine for cooking or just for serving food. While the latter are more ornate, they are not suitable for heat treatment of food.
The lid of a well-made tajine fits perfectly into the base, so that during cooking the steam condenses on its interior and returns to the dish. This results in firm, tender vegetables and meat that comes off the bone easily.
The tajines show Moroccan cuisine’s penchant for combining different textures and flavors, such as the well-balanced combination of spiciness and sweetness in the case of chicken with tomatoes and almonds, or veal with stewed pears.
A common ingredient in tajines is artichokes, spring peas and various nuts such as almonds or pistachios. These dishes are not infrequently served with couscous, steamed rice or fresh hot bread, and the variety is virtually unlimited – from tajin with seafood and tomato sauce, by tajines from lamb with vegetables such as onions, carrots or potatoes, to versions with fruits such as apricots and raisins, and lots of spices such as red and black pepper, cumin, saffron or turmeric.
Along with couscous, tajine is Morocco’s national dish, full of creativity and flavor. It must not be missing from your menu during a trip to this beautiful country.
Ras el hanout is a blend that often contains up to 40 different spices, with some versions said to contain more than 100. Literally translated, ras el hanout means the specialty of the establishment, suggesting that the blend is the best and finest thing a consumer can buy at a particular establishment.
In general, ras el hanout should be aromatic, warming, distinctive and slightly spicy, containing both typical and rather unorthodox ingredients such as dried lavender, cumin, galangal, various types of peppers, dried rose buds, and Japanese white ginger. It is said that sometimes ras el hanout can even contain hashish or powdered aphrodisiacs, but I have not encountered such a version!
It is a fairly versatile seasoning, so you can rub it on meat (dry rub), or mix it with rice dishes. In particular, however, it is known for imparting spicy and sweet flavors to Morocco’s famous tajines. While each spice blend is different and no particular spice should dominate, by working together, ras el hanout gives a unique flavor and aroma to Moroccan dishes.
Pastilla (also bastilla) in Morocco has two meanings. I usually encountered the latter (described below as ktefa) in Moroccan restaurants, but the classic pastilla is a stuffed pastry – at once sweet and savory, filled with an unusual mixture of chicken meat or…. pigeon, as well as eggs, almonds and cinnamon. It is commonly prepared for special occasions such as holidays, weddings and parties. I encountered a version with a pigeon at Dar Zellij in Marrakech, however, I ordered the lamb tajine there.
The name of the dish is derived from the Spanish word for cake. It’s a time-consuming dish, but well worth the effort, as the end result is an extremely flavorful, crunchy warqa dough hiding spicy meat and spices such as saffron, nutmeg and ginger, topped with fried almonds and a pinch of powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Although outwardly quite sweet, this dish is a main course, not a dessert. The pastilla contains everything you need, and the seemingly contrasting spiciness and sweetness play together in unison.
Among lovers of fusion cuisine, the modern seafood pastilla , filled with fish, squid, shrimp and Asian rice noodles, is gaining popularity.
As I mentioned above, under the name pastilla you can also find a completely different dish, which is already a full-fledged dessert. In Moroccan restaurants it is usually called milk pastilla. Its local name is also ktefa or jawhara.
This is a layered Moroccan dessert that consists of paper-thin sheets of fried warqa dough. The filling between the crumbly layers is usually made from a combination of roasted, coarsely chopped almonds and sugar, and the whole dessert is topped with a thick pudding cream flavored with orange blossom water.
The ctefa consists of five to six layers and can be decorated with flaked almonds, cinnamon, powdered sugar, mint or fresh fruit.
Msemen is a traditional Moroccan flatbread that is made from a combination of flour, semolina, sugar, salt, yeast, warm water, oil and clarified butter. The dough is kneaded until it is smooth, and then the pieces are flattened and formed into squares.
After the dough is folded and formed, it is cooked on the griddle or fried in a pan until it becomes crispy on the outside and meaty on the inside. Although msemen is traditionally eaten solo, as a side dish for coffee or tea, it can also be stuffed with a variety of meats and vegetables.
Harira is a rich, insanely flavorful tomato soup with a velvety smooth, creamy texture, fragrant with an array of Moroccan herbs. The word hareer means velvety in Arabic, which suggests the texture that harira should present.
It is the most popular soup in Morocco, symbolizing the unification of people during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in the Muslim calendar. According to religious law, followers are not allowed to eat or drink anything between dawn and sunset. At sunset, when the cannons strike, Moroccans eat the first meal of the day – the obligatory harira soup, to which dates, figs, coffee or milk are added, and fried honey flower-shaped cookies sprinkled with sesame, called chebakia.
Harira is prepared with various legumes such as lentils, broad beans and chickpeas, as well as tomato sauce, harissa paste and fresh herbs and spices such as parsley, turmeric, saffron, cumin and coriander. Lemon slices are also added at the end. However, each region in Morocco has its own version of this soup.
In some cases, whisked eggs or poured noodles are added to the soup at the end of cooking to give it a slightly different texture and to emphasize its density. Harira can also be found with couscous or thin strands of noodles.
Spicy, peppery, nutritious, rich in vegetables and meat – harira is a true delicacy in the world of soups. It is definitely worth eating in Morocco.
Chebakia or mkharka is a crisp, crunchy and fragrant Moroccan dessert that is made by arranging strips of dough into the shape of a flower. It is then fried, topped with honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. This sweet treat is traditionally prepared during the month of Ramadan and is usually served with harira (see above).
Preparing chebakia takes a lot of time and effort, which is why Moroccan women often ask their sisters, mothers or friends to help them prepare large quantities of these cookies, turning the process of preparing them into a real family bonding in the kitchen.
Chermoula (shermula) is a North African marinade consisting of: lemon juice, olive oil, cilantro, parsley, garlic, cumin, sweet peppers, chili peppers and salt.
The end result is a paste with a rough texture, which is traditionally used for fish or seafood dishes. Although chermoula is mainly used to impart flavor to fish, it can also be used with meats and vegetables, or even as a dip or dressing for salads.
Baghrir is a soft and spongy Moroccan pancake made from semolina flour. It is characterized by numerous holes on the surface, which are the result of the formation of air bubbles in the yeast dough, which burst when the pancake is cooked. Baghrir is cooked on one side only.
It is recommended to serve baghrir with fruit jams or a syrup of butter and honey. This is how we started each day in Marrakech!
Moroccan loubia is a traditional dish consisting of stewed white beans. This dish is very popular in Moroccan homes, where beans stewed in a spicy tomato-based sauce are usually served with Moroccan bread. It is a comfort food that can be served both as an appetizer – garnished with cilantro or parsley – and as a carbohydrate side dish – especially with fried fish.
Simple, quick and delicious – no wonder loubia is commonly eaten in homes throughout Morocco.
Tangia (tangia, tanjia) is a unique Moroccan specialty that is made by cooking sheep meat in a clay pot along with additives such as saffron, cumin, garlic, lemons and olive oil.
This dish is particularly popular in Marrakech, where dishes are filled with all the necessary ingredients and then placed in the coals of a public bath(hammam) so that the dish slowly cooks overnight – until the meat is so tender that the bones begin to come off.
Originally, tandji was created and cooked exclusively by men in the open air.
Although its roots are in Morocco, matbucha is also a favorite dish in Israel, where it was brought by Jewish immigrants from the Maghreb.
This dish consists of roasted peppers and tomatoes, seasoned with garlic and paprika. In Morocco, matbucha is usually eaten as a mezze, one of many small dishes served in ornate ceramic dishes.
Matbucha should always be served drizzled with plenty of olive oil, with warm bread in a basket beside it.
Maakouda are traditional potato pancakes that are popular throughout the Maghreb – especially in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. These pancakes are usually prepared solo, but can also be stuffed with meat, tuna or cheese.
Maakouda is made with potatoes, parsley, garlic, flour, salt and pepper. The potatoes are boiled, mashed and mixed with other ingredients into small disks, which are then fried in hot oil until golden brown. Maakouda is traditionally served as an appetizer, side dish or component of a baguette, which is usually sold as street food and served with harissa, cilantro and lemon juice.
These pies are especially popular during Ramadan, but they are worth eating anytime in Morocco.
Khobz (chobz) is a traditional Moroccan bread that is formed into round, flat loaves and baked in the oven until the crust is crispy. It can be made with different types of flour, such as wheat, bran, barley or semolina. Some bakers like to add anise, nigella or cumin to enhance its flavor.
Bread often replaces utensils and cutlery and is used to scoop sauces, dips, meat and vegetables in many Moroccan dishes. It’s even common to see homeless people with entire armloads of khobz on the streets of Marrakech.
In restaurants, khobz is served with tajine and mezze.
That’s how they refer to shakshuka here, although the form we know in Poland also features on tables. Moroccan tacouka is a healthy and nutritious salad (so not a hot egg dish!), consisting of cooked tomatoes and green peppers grated into a purée. This dish is often served as an accompaniment to grilled meat and fish dishes, although it can also be used as a dip when eaten with crusty khobz bread (see above).
It is recommended that tacouka be garnished with freshly chopped parsley or cilantro and drizzled with olive oil.
Tihane is a dish I have not had the opportunity to eat. It will be rather hard to get it in a restaurant, so the only chance to consume it is if you meet some locals heavily involved in promoting local culinary quirks.
Tihane is nothing more than…. stuffed spleen of a camel! It is a traditional Moroccan specialty prepared from tehal (camel spleen), which is stuffed with the meat of that mammal, lamb, ground beef and spices, olives and hump fat. The whole thing then goes into large bread ovens.
After roasting, the stuffed camel spleen is sliced, fried and served as a sandwich with Moroccan bread. The filling can be enriched with vegetables, eggs and herbs, and the texture of the stuffed spleen is described as creamy and soft, with a gamey flavor.
Peppermint tea is the most commonly drunk beverage by locals. By this term, Moroccans mean a richly sweetened infusion of green tea and fresh mint. Consuming mint tea is an essential part of Moroccan culture and the experience of being hosted by the locals. Although I don’t sweeten my tea on a daily basis, here I made an exception and enjoyed this deliciousness every day.
Traditionally, it is prepared in berrad teapots, in which the tea is first brewed to produce the so-called spirit (essence), which is preserved for later use. The mint leaves are washed and then brewed with the addition of essence and water.
In Morocco, mint tea is associated with social gatherings and is the ultimate sign of hospitality. You can get tea without sugar in restaurants on request, but it’s like asking in Poland for Russian dumplings without the starches.
The streets of Marrakech’s medina, as well as other Moroccan cities, are teeming with street vendors offering freshly squeezed juices. Depending on the season, one can encounter a variety of colors, aromas and flavors of fruit essence.
In November, for example, the pomegranate season is in full swing, so you can get a glass of freshly squeezed juice from this fruit for the equivalent of five zlotys. It’s much tastier than anything you’ll buy at the store in a plastic bottle with the logo of a well-known corporation.
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